One of Hong Kong’s most prominent defenders is in a Chinese maximum security prison, sitting in 35-pound shackles in solitary confinement. His story, however, is being brought to the world courtesy of the Acton Institute’s recent film, The Hong Konger: Jimmy Lai’s Extraordinary Struggle for Freedom, which follows business tycoon Jimmy Lai (Lai Chee-Ying) from his flight from mainland China to his entrepreneurial success and rise to becoming one of Hong Kong’s most outspoken advocates for democracy and the free market.
Lai came from humble beginnings, leaving his hometown of Guangzhou and stowing away on a boat to Hong Kong in 1959 during the Maoist Revolution. Arriving in Hong Kong at 12, Lai worked his way from being a child laborer in a garment factory to an owner, creating an international clothing company, Giordano, by his twenties. Lai’s capitalist ventures made him an affluent businessman, but his goals were never limited to selling Asian fashion. Since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, Lai had been a voice for democracy, creating a publishing house for pro-democracy media, including Next Media in 1990 and Apple Daily in 1995, a publication that would become one of the country’s most popular. These endeavors forced him to sell Giordano under pressure from Beijing.