He was born in 1914 in the city of Chaoyang in Guangdong province, and moved to Hong Kong with his father in 1931. In 1945, and started a factory manufacturing garments in Sham Shui Po for export. Lim earned himself the nickname of "African King" in the 1950s when he exported cheap military uniforms to African countries. His company, Lai Sun Garment, was founded in 1947, and later listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
He successfully diversified into real estate in 1987 when he set up another vehicle, Lai Sun Development. In the same year, Lai Sun acquired the Crocodile Garments business.
Deeply attached to his hometown and mainland China, he would start a massive program of donations in the 1980s. He founded four secondary schools in Shantou. In 1994, he would found a technical college there with a donation of 35 million, and endowed Shantou City Education Foundation with a further ?10 million.
He is said to have made in excess of ?700 million in donations to causes throughout China, of which Shantou's share was more than half.
Lim was arrested by Taiwan's Bureau of Investigation on accusations that he offered 200 million in bribes to several officials of the Taipei County Land Administration Bureau, including its former director.
Lim owned some land originally slated for farming and industrial use. After Lim bought it, officials allocated the land for the new National Taipei University, allowing him to sell the land back to Taipei County for more than NT$890 million, an estimated NT$300 million above market value. He is alleged to have bribed officials to rezone the land.
In 1999, he was found guilty on charges of bribery and money laundering through the land deals, but his prison sentence of 38 months was reduced by one year.
His appeal of this conviction was still under consideration at the time of his death.
Lim was "married" four times and seven children. His is legally and officially married to his first wife, Lai Yuen-fong ; his second wife, U Po-chu , is a 50-year veteran of the garment industry, and is a non-executive director of Lai Sun Garment.His third wife is named Gu Shui-ying and fourth wife is a divorcee Choy Yim-yu .
Lim's eldest son is Lam Kin-ming , works for Lai Sun's Crocodile Garments brand. His second son, born of his second wife, is Peter Lam head of Media Asia Group and the Lai Sun Group. Their relations were under considerable strain when Peter acquired Furama Hotel Enterprises without consulting him. He has a socialite daughter, Pearl , who is estranged. He has an adopted son, Lam Kin-hong
On 10 December 2004, he gifted his 33.73% stake in Lai Sun Internatational equally to Peter and his mother. Lim died on 18 February 2005 of a lung infection.