The history of a country is always the history of its people. Of their lives and thoughts, of their hardships and successes. If you want to understand the rise of Asia’s economic power, is there a better way than knowing the personal stories of those business people who, born into poverty, struggled to become wealthy? I believe that such individual stories will allow future generations to understand much better this era of astonishing economic and social change in the Far East.
If Japan is the “pioneer” of Asian capitalism, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore belong to the second generation of Asian “economic miracles”. They shocked the Western world – which in its arrogance believed to be destined to exercise a monopoly over progress and economic development forever – by the unprecedented pace of their industrialization and their long-lasting economic success.
Chang Yung-fa (Traditional Chinese: 張榮發, pinyin: Zhāng Róngfā, born in 1927 in Taiwan), founder of the global shipping and aviation conglomerate Evergreen, is one of those businessmen whose life is intertwined with the era of economic rise of East Asia. Therefore, his life is more than a personal account. It tells us something about the generation that made Taiwan the economic powerhouse it is today. In his memoirs, entitled “Tides of Fortune”, Mr Chang tells the story of how he rose from a humble sailor to one of Taiwan’s richest men.
“Dr Chang Yung-fa’s memoirs,” writes Great Britain’s ex-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the foreword of the book, “provide the reader with more than a description of a phenomenally successful business career: they offer too a unique insight into Taiwan itself. Who could have imagined fifty years ago, when the Kuomintang leadership withdrew to that island from mainland China, that by the end of the twentieth century Taiwan would have become one of the region’s most astonishing economic success stories?”
Of the third generation of mainland Chinese who had moved to Taiwan from Fujian Province, Mr Chang was born into a poor family. His father became a seaman at the age of 25. Though “seafaring was considered one of the most perilous professions”, Mr Chang says, “jobs were scarce and life […] harsh during the Japanese rule.”
His entrepreneurial career started when he became the owner of his own ship in the 1960’s. In 1968 he founded Evergreen Maritime Corporation, which grew into a world leader in the container shipping industry. In 1991 Mr Chang launched Taiwan’s first private international airline, Eva Air.
Chang Yung-fa’s memoirs offer a deep insight into almost a century of Taiwanese history, from the Japanese rule and the first decades of the Republic of China on Taiwanese soil to the modernization and rise of the “Asian Tiger”.