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Top doctor Tony Mok reveals family’s rags-to-riches past

ONE OF HONG KONG’S best-known doctors revealed that his family came from a rags-to-riches background. Oncologist Tony Mok Shu-kam, also known as a TV host and magazine columnist, revealed the extraordinary early life of his father.

When Mok Senior was just eleven, living in Hong Kong during the Japanese occupation, he lost his own father. By the age of 12, he realized that he had to become the family breadwinner. Desperate to find a way to make money to buy food, he and his friends decided to make kerosene, then used widely as cooking fuel in Hong Kong. Many homes did not have electricity or gas.

“They were actually relatively innovative, distilling diesel into kerosene,” Tony Mok told interviewer Patrick Tsang on Friday Beyond Spotlights. [Part 1; Part 2] “And they built their own device and I’m surprised it did not explode and kill every one of them.”


After peace returned, Mok’s father worked as an office boy.  “But at the same time he went to night school to learn English and to learn how to use a typewriter,” he said. Mok senior went on to start an import-export business at the age of 20 by making calls using a telephone in a general store near his home. (As recently as the mid-1990s, most shops in the city would provide a phone on the counter for the free use of customers.)

The young entrepreneur rented a typewriter so that he could create bills and invoices for his customers. After adult-hood and marriage, Mok Senior went on to have ten children, which  meant that his import-export business had to be successful—and fortunately it was.

Tony Mok said that the Mok family also had the traditional Chinese respect for education. That made life very expensive. Not only did all ten of the children go to university, but they all have more than one degree – which adds up to a staggering amount of tuition fees.

Tony Mok revealed that he had moved to Canada as a youngster but then decided to return to Hong Kong in 1996 at the age of 36. (He is 61 now, but still has the debonair good looks of someone much younger.)

By then he was a qualified doctor, but chose to take the academic route, becoming known for his research skills. Asked to write a piece for a magazine, he found that he enjoyed sharing his thoughts – and went on to write one or two pieces a week for many years. These are periodically collected into books, which means that he has seven volumes of them now. And he also appears regularly on television.

But his real passion remains in medicine. Today he is professor of the Department of Clinical Oncology at Chinese University of Hong Kong, director of the Accupuncture Center for Cancer Patients at the same university, and an honorary professor at the Guangdong Provisional People’s Hospital.

And what of the future? Mok admits that he is now fascinated by how fast everything is changing, not just in Hong Kong, but in China and the wider world. He likes to invest in exciting new bio-tech ventures, and believes that that field is going to be a major area of growth in Hong Kong.

During the show, host Patrick Tsang asked Tony who he would like to thank, if he could thank anyone, alive or dead.

Tony Mok chose his father, who died one and half years ago. And the family still own the old man’s original typewriter.

Tony Mok Shu-kam was taking to Patrick Tsang On-yip in Friday Beyond Spotlights.

Season One of Friday Beyond Spotlights is hosted by Patrick Tsang On-yip, Vice-Chairman and Executive Director of i-Cable Communications and CEO and Director of Chow Tai Fook Enterprises; and Nick Chan Hiu-fung, a lawyer and elected lawmaker serving on the National People’s Congress.

All images come from the show.

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