An Emerging Stratum: China's Entrepreneurs

Editor’s Note:
Global China Business Meeting is the foremost annual business meeting on China, open to entrepreneurs of leading companies from China and around the world. 2013 Horasis Global China Business Meeting took place in The Hague, The Netherlands from 10-11 November 2013. During the meeting, Dr. Liu Jingyi, the Editor-in-Chief of Global China Insights, had a featured interview with Mr. Huang Nubo (黄怒波), the President of Zhongkun Investment Group, China (中坤投资集团) and Mrs. He Zhenhong (何振红), President of China Entrepreneur Magazine (《中国企业家》) on the emerging stratum of Chinese entrepreneurs.

Huang Nubo, Founder and Chairman of Beijing Zhongkun Investment Group, which is the only private enterprise in China that operates a world cultural heritage - Hongcun (宏村) - a famous scenic ancient village in southern China. Listed by Forbes as a billionaire, Huang Nubo has given over one billion RMB (€0.12bn) to charity. He is known as a famous Chinese entrepreneur, poet and mountaineer. His poems have been translated into ten different languages, and during the last ten years he has reached the highest summits of the seven continents of the world, and successfully arrived at the North and South Poles.

He Zhenhong, President of China Entrepreneur Magazine (CEM), President of China Entrepreneur Mulan Club (木兰汇), Director of the Organization Committee of China Entrepreneur Summit, Director of the judges of CCTV annual Top 10 Economic Person. Active as a journalist and news editor, she is considered an expert in macroeconomics, industrial economy and corporations. She was awarded the title of Top 10 Best Journalists, Top 10 Best Editors by the Economic Daily Group and had the honour of being National Distinguished Media professional.

Liu Jingyi: Mrs. He, I have been a loyal reader of your magazine and I am very much impressed by the position of CEM: the business and life of a Stratum (一个阶层的生意和生活). Could you please tell our readers what the stratum of China’s Entrepreneur is like?

He Zhenhong: China Entrepreneur Magazine was launched by Economy Daily Group in 1985 and it was the first magazine given the name ’Entrepreneur’. With the core idea that “the competition of national strengths lies in enterprises, while enterprises’ in entrepreneurs”, we advocate the spirit of Chinese entrepreneurs, and give them a reputation as the most respectable people and the mainstay of the society. If you want me to depict what the stratum is like, I think, a vivid model is just sitting here: Mr. Huang Nubo. To give a collective profile, I think, first, Chinese entrepreneurs have made great contributions to China’s economic development. This contribution lies not only in the gross economic growth, but also in the fact that they are the main force in transforming China into a market-oriented society, which is huge contribution in my view. Meanwhile, the entrepreneurs are making efforts to promote the social development leveraging their own sense, reflection and advocating action. They do not restrict themselves in enlarging the scale of the enterprises, but tend to spend a lot of energy on environment protection and other social responsibilities. Their spirits and social concern are leading and molding the social culture, which empowers transformation of the society, bringing it to a new level. They are also a group of people who are bringing China’s culture into the international arena.

Liu Jingyi: I think that is rather an important point regarding China entrepreneurs’ cultural mission and efforts. Could you tell me more?

He Zhenhong: As you just saw in the award ceremony of China’s business leaders of the year, the prize winner Mrs. Xia Hua (夏华), President of Eve Group (依文), took Chinese costume design to the Opening of London Olympics Games and sharing the story of China’s brand with internationals. Mr. Huang Nubo is extremely respectable for his great action to reach the summit of Everest three times and I understand it not just a sport for him; it is a process in which he ponders over the significance of life by–challenging himself. The project Faces of Humanity Initiative, which Mr. Huang launched recently, is another one of his impressive actions with the aim of reserving the world’s culture heritage, which shows the world the pursuit, spirit and efforts of China’s Entrepreneur to communicate with the rest of the world.

Liu Jingyi: Thank you, Mrs. He! Right on this point, Mr. Huang, I would like to hear from you: what is your definition of the spirit of a Chinese entrepreneur?

Huang Nubo: I think Ru Shang (儒商), which stands for Confucian Businessmen, would be a suitable concept to explain the spirit of Chinese entrepreneur, which should be a combination of traditional Confucian ethic and modern entrepreneurial requirement. I just had a conversation with Professor Tu Weiming (杜维明), a professor of Beijing University and Harvard University, about what Ru Shang is, details of which have been given a full-page spread in the Economic Observer Newspaper. You know, the Western economist Joseph Schumpeter placed an emphasis on innovation in his definition of entrepreneurship; he pointed out that it is the entrepreneur, and no other, who disrupts the monotonous equilibrium of the economy and who is the prime cause of economic development and increases societal wellness. By taking high risks, the entrepreneurs create high opportunities. I think his concept is one side of Ru Shang, who are innovators in the market environment. The opening-up of China in the late 1970s released the spirit of Chinese Entrepreneurs, which in my opinion is the greatest significance of this policy. It became possible for entrepreneurs to innovate by disrupting the certain equilibrium to create wealth and promote social development. Then back to the concept of Ru Shang, the other side of this concept, I think, is the Tianxia Qinghuai (天下情怀), the high regard and concern for the world or the society. It’s different from the western enterprise ethics, which, according to Max Weber, is the protestant work ethic, including engagement in one’s work, accumulation of wealth for investment, fulfillment from the work and also being thrifty in life. While the spirit of Chinese entrepreneurs can be traced back to Confucian advice: to be rich and benevolent (为富且仁), to be rich and honorable by highly respecting and nicely performing the norms and rites (富而好礼).

Liu Jingyi: This reminds me of the dialogue between Zigong (子贡) and Confucius in the Analects.

Huang Nubo: That’s right. You know, Zigong is the greatest Ru Shang in history and one of Confucius’ students. He asked for the comments from Confucius on his beliefs of “Poverty without flattery, rich but not arrogant (贫而不谄,富而不骄),” and Confucius said that is not enough. You should achieve a higher status: “Being poor in life, but enjoy learning the Dao (道); Being rich in wealth but also honorable in manner (贫而乐道,富而好礼).” Actually, these ideas developed into my concept Tianxia Qinghuai, the high regard and concern to the world. Chinese entrepreneurs need to follow the advice of Fan Zhongyan (范仲淹): one should first be concerned about the world and enjoy oneself after the entire world has become fine (先天下之忧而忧,后天下之乐而乐). Entrepreneurship is a reflection of concern to the world; entrepreneurs want to contribute to the country and to the world by increasing the scale of the enterprises and paying more taxes to the country and being more charitable to the society. You can also see the entrepreneurs keep working so hard on innovation, even when they seem very successful already, for example, Liu Dongsheng (刘东升), Liu Chuanzhi (柳传志) and Ma Yun (马云). As they have surpassed the personal wants or self-demands, they concern more about the rest of the world. They would like to do their best to improve the world in a way they can manage. So Chinese entrepreneurs are a group of people who have the highest regard and greatest concern to the world and are also very brilliant at innovation in the market; that is the Rushang, Confucian businessmen.

Liu Jingyi: That is a very classic annotation!

Huang Nubo: It seems the very topic of your Confucius Institute: The mission of Confucius Institute is to promote Confucian thoughts, right?

Liu Jingyi: That’s right one of our missions. And I do hope we can invite you to give a lecture on Ru Shang in Groningen someday.

Huang Nubo: My pleasure. Thank you!

Liu Jingyi: I read the news that you have sponsored Beijing University (BU) with a number of funding projects, including Chinese traditional culture and Chinese poetry. What is your initiative about these funding?

Huang Nubo: I graduated from the Chinese Language Department of BU and it is natural to think about something I can do for my Alma Mater. The reason that I specially sponsor poetry is based on my own passion for poetry. I think Chinese poetry is a perfect carrier of Chinese culture, history and philosophy. I found in the recent decades of development in China, we are too materialistic. We cannot build our lives without poetry, the world and the society cannot stand without poetry. But how are we going to get poetry back? I think BU is a good resort since Chinese new poetry started from BU and I think it should resume and be promoted by BU as well. This poetry foundation has really successfully promoted the development of Chinese poetry in recent years. The number of poetry centres has increased from 10 to 600 in China since 2006 when I started funding BU. I think it is really worthy and significant as this is a way to restore the aesthetic value and aesthetic sense of a nation. I am very happy and proud of my decision to donate 30 million RMB (€3.54 million) for the development of poetry instead of buying a house for myself. It is easy to spend such an amount of money on a house nowadays.

Liu Jingyi: I have heard that you describe yourself as a first-class mountaineer, a second-class entrepreneur and a third-class poet. Climbing mountains, managing a company and writing poems are all interesting things. Is there synergy among these three roles of yours?

Huang Nubo: Definitely. The reason that I regard myself as second-class entrepreneur is that I believe there is always something that I can learn from others. If you think yourself first class, you do not have the capacity and potentiality to go further. Third-class poet is a modest name I gave myself. I will not be humble at all when it comes to climbing the mountain. I can say I am a first class mountaineer. I, four times, have climbed and reached the summit of the Everest and that is a great challenge for my will and spirit. But, as you said, these roles are interactive and mutually enhanced. For instance, as an entrepreneur, one needs to challenge the uncertainty, which goes the same for climbing a mountain; an entrepreneur also needs to have great concern and affection, which can be cultivated from poetry. On the other hand, climbing a mountain serves the goal of improving your enterprise; one should always be aware that you can go beyond the current status. There is no such moment that you are really perfect or never need to surpass your current status. So never be arrogant, something that is easily learned from the experience of climbing great mountains. Many entrepreneurs feel self-changed after the climbing experience, like Wang Shi (王石) and Yu Liang (郁亮); they both turned to being more gentle, humble and easy. And poetry is a way to purify your mind. So add up all, you will naturally pursue to be a Ru Shang, not a Jian Shang (奸商), profiteering merchant.

Liu Jingyi: To this point, I actually would like to ask Mrs. He as I know you are also a personal friend of Mr. Huang. Based on your observation of more entrepreneurs, do you think Mr. Huang is a typical China entrepreneur or an untypical case?

He Zhenhong: I think in the beginning, he was not typical but special. But in recent years, he has become more and more typical.
Huang Nubo: I am curious about your explanation.

He Zhenhong: When Mr. Huang started climbing mountains and writing poems, many entrepreneurs were struggling to make money and to manage companies. Gradually, Mr. Huang’s action has become a leading force and is greatly influencing other entrepreneurs. The pursuit of Mr. Huang and his passion to experience human life and constantly surpass himself became trendy in the circle of China’s entrepreneurs.

Liu Jingyi: Great comments! To some extent, China Entrepreneur Magazine has also contributed a lot to the growth of China entrepreneurs in the last 28 years, right?

He Zhenhong: I dare not say CEM has contributed greatly to the growth of China entrepreneurs, but our significance is to accompany and record the growth of the stratum. We are very honoured to have experienced 28 years after opening-up, together with a lot of entrepreneurs. As you may realise later in your life, what is most precious is that somebody who has accompanied you and shared all of your experiences and has progressed with you. CEM has witnessed the history of a lot of enterprises and also anticipated the promising future of China’s entrepreneurs.

Liu Jingyi: Regarding the future, what do you think is the key factor to nurture the next generation of China’s entrepreneurs in terms of education or other social systems?

Huang Nubo: Education is very important for a nation. I recall the growth of myself, the experience of the Cultural Revolution was a disruption of the regular education, but on the other hand it created certain opportunity for our generation to protect the entrepreneurship by avoiding the tame of education. I mean our current education has to be reformed to release the spirit of entrepreneurs and to encourage the innovation and creativity. Currently too many students are working hard for a good score, that is not beneficial for cultivating entrepreneurship. Another problem is the unfairness of education. If there is not a thorough change, Chinese society will encounter big problems.

He Zhenhong: I think the reform of the education system is very important but challenging. China’s education system did not do well in stimulating the potentiality and creativity of the students. But I think it is difficult just to depend on the education system alone to nurture this new century’s entrepreneurs. I think if there can be open opportunities for the other social forces to join in the education and it naturally will change the ecosystem and the practice will tell what the right way is.