A Different Kind of Soft Power

Li Shu-ying and the Global Federation of Chinese Business Women

2018 / April

Chen Chun-fang /photos courtesy of GFCBW /tr. by Geof Aberhart

The Global Federation of Chinese Business Women brings together leading ethnic Chinese businesswomen from around the world to promote their place in business, as well as doing philanthropic work and contributing to diaspora affairs. Through these efforts, it has become a for­mid­able female force in civic diplomacy.

Previously the federation had drawn its chairwomen from its Taiwanese membership, but in 2016 it broke with this tradition to appoint its first overseas­-based chairwoman, Li Shu-ying. A long-time resident of the United States, Li started her career as a dance teacher before moving into hos­pit­ality, working her way up from the front desk and room service to become a hotel manager. Today she runs her own chain of several hotels. In this article we take a look at the challenges faced by ethnic Chinese businesswomen through the experiences of Li Shu-ying.



Since its establishment in 1994, the Taiwan-headquartered Global Federation of Chinese Business Women (­GFCBW) has taken as its mission “envisioning the world, embracing trends, establishing networks, and developing the economy and trade.”

Today, its membership has grown to comprise some 62 chapters worldwide in countries as far apart as the US, Brazil, and Vietnam.

By our powers combined...

The ­GFCBW comprises hardworking female entrepreneurs and professionals from fields as diverse as medicine, education, cosmetics, and hospitality. Encouraging a familial atmosphere, the members all address one another as “sister,” and the federation serves as a way for ethnic Chinese businesswomen to come together and share experiences.

The membership share networks and resources, and the various chapters each hold a range of activities, including the Hua­kung Academy, economic forums, and business visits to help everyone work toward even greater career achievements.

Federation members are not only successful in business, but are also active philanthropists, including participating in activities like traveling to a Panamanian children’s hospital to help young cancer patients cel­ebrate Children’s Day. And whenever disaster strikes, the ­GFCBW calls upon the sisters’ strength to extend a helping hand. After Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston, Texas, last year, the federation rapidly raised some US$80,000 across its various chapters to help.

The Chinese have a long history of setting up shop around the world, and women’s contributions and struggles, whether in helping their husbands start businesses or in starting their own, cannot be underestimated. It was in light of this that the federation launched the Hua­kung Award in 2001, recognizing the top ten Chinese women in world business. Current chairwoman Li Shu-ying is a former recipient herself, with her recognition in 2007 marking the start of her ties to the federation.

Building an empire step by step

Li Shu-ying is a long-time resident of the US and started off as a dancer, opening her own dance school in Houston. When the American economy went into recession in 1988, she and her husband Steven Hsu seized the opportunity to invest cheaply in their first hotel, starting down their joint path as entrepreneurs.

Coming to the industry as an outsider, Li started at the bottom, working the front desk, doing cleaning and so on, learning from her staff as she went. In the early days, her husband continued with his day job to help make ends meet while Li handled hotel affairs, making the long commute there and back each day by herself.

The following year, an investor came in and paid a high price for their hotel, and so the couple took the money and used it to buy a second hotel, beginning to expand their business. When they invested in their third ­hotel, Li’s ­husband left his job and the two of them founded Allied Hospitality Inc., USA, with Li as vice president. Having majored in mathematics, Hsu put his skills in financial analysis to use heading up operations management, while the ever-smiling Li took responsibility for marketing and PR. Between the two of them, the couple have worked hard and now own a chain of several hotels.

In addition to buying existing hotels, Li and Hsu have also successfully started one of their own, the Hilton Garden Inn, from scratch, in a previously un­developed part of Houston. The 2004 opening of the hotel helped spur development in the area, with several major retailers setting up nearby, transforming the once-barren district into a thriving center for international business.

The sizable investment in their hotel empire has not only created job opportunities, but also helped them develop good relations with local businesspeople. And as enthusiastic participants in overseas community affairs, the two have also become a powerful source of support for overseas missions.

A price gladly paid

Alongside her success in the hotel business, Li’s first love remains dance, and for 20 years she has been an overseas cultural teacher for Taiwan’s Overseas Community Affairs Council (OCAC).

Li travels around the world, bringing with her traditional Taiwanese dance forms, including Aboriginal dance and the tea-picking dance which she teaches to fellow emig­rants and second-generation overseas Chinese, and even the children of local officials. She has tailored her teaching to her students—for example, the elderly learn elegant fan dances, while children don wooden geta (Japanese clogs) and tip-tap through a geta dance of Li’s own creation. The final performances are invariably astonishing events that delight audiences in Taiwan, and prompt Taiwan’s diplomatic partner nations to invite Li again and again.

Under Li’s traveling tutelage, students have been able to take the stage at events from local Chinese community events to ROC National Day and Lunar New Year celebrations. There is even a group of mothers­-cum-students who are ready to travel the world at the drop of a hat, their suitcases kept packed with makeup, costumes, and props, to sow seeds of Taiwanese culture around the globe.

Girl power shining bright

Li Shu-ying’s efforts have even earned her an Overseas Chinese Teachers Award. She has also served as president of the Taiwan Hotel-Motel Association of Greater Houston and is currently a commissioner of the OCAC, working to help boost the influence and status of ethnic Chinese entre­preneurs abroad. Li has earned a reputation not only in business, but also for her commitment to serving the community, which is what earned her the Hua­kung Award.

That award is both an honor and a responsibility, with recipients serving as role models in the global community of Chinese businesswomen. Whenever the GFCBW holds the Hua­kung Forum, past winners of the award are invited to share what they have learned in their journeys through the world of business. Li herself has, since receiving the award in 2007, traveled to various places to speak, as well as serving as chair of the ­GFCBW in the Southern USA, along with two terms as deputy chairwoman of the entire ­GFCBW. In the latter position she traveled to chapters all over the world, actively working to expand the reach of the foundation and gradually elevate its global reputation. In the past, the foundation’s chairwomen were customarily drawn from the Taiwanese membership, but as its overseas presence has grown, so too has the need for leadership skilled in international affairs. Thus it was that Li Shu-ying emerged as unquestionably the best candidate.

As the first overseas-based chairwoman, Li has used her influence to help extend the ­GFCBW’s reach. In the first year of her two-year term, she oversaw the establishment of nine new overseas chapters.

With new chapters popping up in Vienna, Pe­nang and elsewhere, the foundation is continuing to achieve its mission of bringing together ethnic Chinese businesswomen around the world. The goal is for there to be a space for sisterhood, mutual support, and community contribution wherever there are Chinese businesswomen, thanks to the Global Federation of Chinese Business Women.     

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世界華人工商婦女企管協会 黎淑瑛総会長

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世界華人工商婦女企管協会(Global Federation of Chinese Business Women、以下「世華会」と略)は1994年に創設された。世界の流れに関心を寄せ、ネットワークを作り、経済を発展させることを目的として活動してきた。アメリカ、ブラジル、ベトナムなどにもその足跡があり、今では世界に62の拠点を持つ。























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