Picture an atomic bomb 550 million times more powerful than that of Hiroshima, or one that’s equivalent to 370 years worth of energy use in the United States, sitting on the ocean floor 19 miles below the northern waters of Simeulue island in the Indian Ocean. Now, imagine it’s December 26, 2004, and the bomb you just pictured detonated. In reality, that bomb was an earthquake with a magnitude of 9.1—the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake—the third most powerful earthquake that the world has ever experienced, which triggered the deadliest tsunami in recorded history.

Jet Li and His Family

Faced the Deadliest Tsunami in 2004

jet li tsunami

The earthquake was so powerful that it caused our entire planet to vibrate as much as 1 centimeter, which doesn’t seem like much. But it literally shook the world to its very core as the shift of mass and massive release of energy actually altered our planet’s rotation, shortening the length of a day by 2.68 microseconds.

More significantly, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, it claimed 227,898 lives in fourteen countries. Indonesia was the worst affected area as they had nearly 75 percent of the total death toll count. The tsunami waves there, specifically off the western coast of Aceh in Sumatra, were as high as 100 feet.

Meanwhile, the night before while tragedy still loomed on the horizon, Jet Li, his wife Nina, and two daughters Jada and Jane who, at the time, were one and four years old arrived at a Four Seasons hotel in the Maldives. The next morning, he and his daughters head out to frolic at the beach along with their nanny while Nina stayed in their hotel room. All was well until suddenly the tsunami’s waves reached them with swift vigor.

“In that instant, the water rose to my knees,” Jet Li explained. “I took two steps and the water was at my hips. Two more, and it was at my chest. Then it was just under my nose. I put Jane on my shoulder and was trying to hold on to the nanny’s hand; she was struggling because her head was already underwater. I turned back, and everything—the beach, the swimming pool—was gone. I was just standing in the ocean, in nothing.”

Several onlookers at a fortunate vantage point spotted the ensuing struggle, swam toward them, and saved baby Jada and the nanny while Jet Li took care of himself and Jane.

Jet Li Founded One Foundation to Help People

jet li tsunami

That night, all the hotel residents camped in the lobby. Jet Li cradled Jada in his arms as she slept, but he couldn’t sleep himself, and instead sat wide-awake in deep reflection.

He recounted his experience that sleepless night, “I saw people of different colors, speaking different languages, helping each other. It was very much like in the movies, with people putting women, children and the elderly first, and I thought that if everybody helps, if everybody does a little bit, it will make a big difference.”

That simple thought paved the way for him to create One Foundation, a Chinese NGO dedicated to worldwide disaster relief and humanitarian response. Their formula is very simple: one person + one dollar per month = one big family. They have not only become one of China’s most charitable organizations, but also are an exemplar NGO in terms of exercising transparency and being embezzlement-proof. To date, One Foundation has raised a total of $5,532,190.41 USD since 2010.

jet li tsunami

Perhaps one silver lining is that the tsunami swept away Jet Li’s ego, washing ashore a surface for him to self-reflect and see his newfound purpose, one that he has since devoted his entire self to.

His near-death experience marked the beginning of a philanthropic ideal imbued with equal parts introspective depth and humanitarian sensibilities for the entire planet. Just remember, a vibration worth 1 centimeter shook the world to its very core. 1 cent, 1 dollar, 1 microsecond, 1 minute, or 1 day could make all the difference like that centimeter did, because all it takes is one.

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