Uncle Tom's China

ILLUSTRATION FOR TIME BY JON BERKELEY

Most of the business flameouts of Asia's Internet bust followed a familiar pattern: dotcom forms Web portal. Dotcom raises millions in an overhyped, undercooked public stock offering. Dotcom blows millions trying to get big. Dotcom vanishes in a flurry of unpaid bills.

One surprising exception has been Tom.com, the Net-age offspring of Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing. When Tom.com went public in February 2000, it looked to be a cynical attempt to cash in on Web fever. The portal had few assets, no track record and a vague business plan. All it offered, really, was the blessing of...

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