Don’t feel badly if you’ve never heard of Lai Chee-Ying. Neither had I until recently. You might know him by his other name, Jimmie Lai, but, even there, chances of recognition aren’t much better.
Jimmy Lai has been in the papers lately. He is a billionaire. He lives in Hong Kong, and right now he lives in a Chinese jail cell in Hong Kong.
Jimmy Lai’s story is remarkable. Not the story about how he survived the Chinese civil war, saw his mother sent to a labor camp, fled to Hong Kong on a ship as a 12-year-old stowaway and began work in a clothing factory. Not even the story of how he became an extraordinary entrepreneur founding Giordano, an Asian clothing retailer or Next Digital, a huge media company and the popular newspaper, Apple Daily.
The remarkable story is about Jimmy Lai, the man: the man committed to democracy and Christian principles. Lai is a man so committed to his principles that he has demonstrated time and again that he is willing to sacrifice all that he has and, indeed, his life if necessary, to uphold and promote those principles.
Lai is deeply committed to the Roman Catholic faith. For his faith he was persecuted in China. As he grew and prospered, his faith grew as did his belief in the principles of democracy.
By the late 1980s, his clothing business was doing very well. On June 4, 1989, the Tiananmen Square massacre occurred and Lai actively supported the demonstrators who were being run over by Chinese army tanks. He began manufacturing pro-democracy shirts and started a magazine that covered the ongoing scandal in the Chinese Communist Party. For this, he lost his clothing business and many other assets. Telling the truth about what was happening was, to him, more important than material things.
From that time, Lai has relentlessly fought the forces of evil and it has cost him dearly. He has been arrested, imprisoned and intimidated. A week or so ago, the 73-year-old was sentenced to 14 months in prison for participating in pro-democracy demonstrations, “unauthorized protests,” the authorities said, in 2019.
Lai also faces other changes that could carry life sentences.
Lai sent a note from prison which read, “It is our responsibility as journalists to seek justice. As long as we are not blinded by unjust temptations, as long as we do not let evil get its way through us, we are fulfilling our responsibility.”
Jimmy Lai has suffered for his convictions and continues to suffer, but he told the Napa Institute, “If you believe in the Lord, if you believe that all suffering has a reason and the Lord is suffering with me, it will definitely define the person I am becoming so I am at peace with it.”
“I am what I am. I am what I believe. I cannot change it. And if I can’t change it, I have to accept my fate with praise.”
Lai is a deeply committed man. Committed to personal values, religious values and democratic values. His commitment has changed much in this world. Not his money and not his position but his commitment.
It is hard to watch the news on TV or read a paper and observe the greed and lack of values on display. It is truly distressing to watch the debasement and devaluing of the human soul, watching executives, athletes and politicians worship evil to achieve what they see as gain. There is no real meaning in their lives, just the pursuit of more.
From Christopher Bedford in BBC speaking about the debauchery of the world’s leaders today:
“What is and should be,” labor economist Clyde V. Prestowitz asks, “the price of these souls?”
“In Western Universities and board rooms, souls are cheap. But Lai’s is not. What separates Jimmy Lai from many of this era’s modern-day princes is that he deeply cares about something beyond his own money, power and status.”
We could use a lot of people like Jimmy Lai right now.
Dave Ball is president of the Washington County Republican Party and a Peters Township councilman.