It is every Chinaman's dream to fa cai - make a fortune – and Houng's grandfather succeeded. He was born into a Houng clan in the countryside near Meixian (present day Meizhou) in 1880 and grew up in a tu lou, a communal circular building shaped like an angel food cake with a hole in the middle. Each member of the eighty-strong Houng clan had a slice: ground floor for livestock and food storage, and the first floor for living. The main entrance was on the south-side; the grassy area in the centre was used as a common grazing area for cows, goats and hens. Tu lou's were built like fortresses to withstand attacks from bandits: Hakka people were not local to Kwangtung (present day Guangdong province) and had been pushed to the mountainous fringes of fertile plains to eke a living.
After consultation with a local fortune-teller, Grandfather was named Houng You Ling, alias Yong Cheng. He was a strong boy, with lips like a garoupa and Buddha ears. A joyous celebration was held one month after his birth. The villagers drank fiery rice wine and gorged on freshly roasted pig, while strings of fire-crackers punctured the chilly air to fete his parents' good fortune for having a son.
Grandfather's life ran smoothly until his sixteenth year, when it hit a rock. Two rainy spring seasons had washed away all their crops and during the autumn of the second, his father – Houng's great-grandfather - caught a mysterious illness and died. 'Ignorance is night without moon or stars,' he told his son from his death-bed. 'I could have been a fine general, a doctor or an engineer if fate had dealt a more favourable hand. I urge you to take care of your mother then leave these barren fields and seek your fortune elsewhere.'