The Kadoorie Family first arrived in Hong Kong in 1880, when Sir Elly Kadoorie emigrated from Baghdad in search of business opportunities in the Far East. Over the following decades, Sir Elly gradually built up a business empire centred in Hong Kong and Shanghai, based on a successful and durable blend of enterprise, long-term vision and community service.
The dramatic events of World War Two and the overthrow of the Kuomintang regime in Mainland China led the Kadoorie Family, now under the leadership of Sir Elly's sons, Sir Lawrence Kadoorie (later Lord Kadoorie) and his brother Horace (later Sir Horace), to concentrate their attentions on their Hong Kong interests and activities, notably China Light and Power (CLP) and The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels; the owner of the world famous Peninsula Hotel. At the same time, the Kadoorie's philanthropic activities continued to grow, bringing benefits not only to Hong Kong, most prominently through the Kadoorie Farm, but also through their charitable projects across the region.
These business and charitable works grow and thrive today under the direction of Sir Michael Kadoorie, Lord Kadoorie's son, with the support and commitment of the other members of the family.
The history of the Kadoorie Family is part of the history of Hong Kong. The family, their businesses and their charitable works have been a common witness, alongside Hong Kong's people, to a dramatic century of colonialism, war, industrialisation and reunification with China. The characteristics of the family businesses have meant that they have both mirrored and supported the growth of Hong Kong. For example, CLP has met Hong Kong's increasing electricity demand while supporting the manufacturing and industrial boom of the mid twentieth century. The Peninsula Hotel and Peak Tram are not only icons of Hong Kong, but an enduring expression of Hong Kong's status as one of the hubs of Asia; a meeting point for travellers and businessmen alike.
Hong Kong has been home to the Kadoorie Family for over 135 years. The family has been welcomed in Hong Kong and given an opportunity to prosper. The family has always believed in making a contribution to the social and economic wellbeing of their fellow citizens in return for this great opportunity.
In recent years, Sir Michael, again with the backing of the family, has become increasingly aware of the need for active steps to preserve Hong Kong's heritage for the benefit of all members of the community. This need is heightened by two considerations – the passage of time, meaning that memories of the dramatic events of the 1930s, 40s and 50s were being lost, and the increasing velocity of history, whereby rapid changes in Hong Kong life, such as its transition from a manufacturing colony to a service-based economy within China are leading to a rapid loss of previous traditions and ways of life. At the same time, the increased interest in preserving local heritage icons has shown the growing attachment of Hong Kong's people to their collective heritage and that this is an emotion shared by young and old alike.
Against this background, Sir Michael initiated the Hong Kong History Project (HKHP) to acquire, collate and make available to the public, documents, photographs, film and testimony relating to the history of the Kadoorie Family, its businesses and charitable work in Hong Kong and elsewhere.
At first, we expected this project to be characterised by a narrow focus on the Kadoorie Family, CLP, The Hongkong and Shanghai Hotels group and other specific business and philanthropic interests. In practice, we rapidly discovered that the links between the Kadoorie Family and Hong Kong were so close and so intertwined that it was impossible to tell the story of the Kadoories without telling a great deal of the history of Hong Kong.
And so, HKHP grew to be not just the story of the Kadoorie Family, but a lens or window through which the history of Hong Kong can be told and part of its heritage preserved for future generations.