Thank you all very much. Leo, I am honored by your kind words, and by the hospitality of the Oxford China Forum.
As Leo noted, I am known in China as an “angel investor.” The term derives, of course, from those angels who are said to visit a chosen few delivering their joyful announcements. I have the far less lofty calling of simply delivering money. No wings to carry me, no trumpet to sound – but I assure you, I have seen great joy at my arrival.
A different kind of errand brings me here today, to this thousand-year-old citadel of learning. And what a happy sight it is, standing at Oxford in the company of so many young men and women from China. The mere fact that you are at this university reveals much about you. Something made you choose Oxford... something made Oxford choose you. In both cases, there is ashort answer: Each one of you has great talent and great promise. And I would add, a sense ofadventure... an openness to the unfamiliar... a desire to be at home, not just in China, but in the world.
To study abroad can be a more fateful decision than we understand at the time. It removes more than geographical limits on our personal journey. No doubt you have started to realize this for yourselves. Even if you came here to master a particular subject, your new options do not end with that subject. I am surely not the first to tell you that, having come this far, you have options that most people can only dream of having. What can you do next, after Oxford? Amazingly enough, you can do almost anything.
Good choices have a way of leading to more good choices. You Oxford students are on a winning streak, as we might say in the investment business. And investment decisions, of a kind, are exactly what you are making. I’m not one to understate the importance of financial investing, but there is another kind of investing that is deeper and more important. And that is how and where we invest our lives.
So in a sense, you can look at this conference on “China Today” with the eye of a prospective investor. You have human capital to deploy as you will – your own ability, energy, and aspiration. And when you think of next steps, no one but you can truly discern the right answer. I was once on that kind of search myself, and it didn’t exactly lead me on a straight or simple path.
Many of you know I was a music student in Canada a long time ago. After I received my Master’s degree in 1993, I went back to China to pursue my dreams in the music business. I spent a whole year inBeijing and exhausted every possibility, only to see my hopes come to nothing. I returned to Canada, even poorer than when I first arrived in 1987.
It was a miserable time. Why had I failed? The answer is simple: I started a music business. I knew music, but I didn’t know business. I failed for lack of the skills to build a business. But so what? “Failure is the mother of all successes,” that old Chinese adage, served as a prophecy for when I next returned to China.
You might also know of Wang Qiang, co-founder of New Oriental Education and co-founder of ZhenFund. He, too, had ventured far from his country, finding an excellent position at the Bell Corporation in the United States. In 1996, he left it all behind and returned home with a glorious mission: to help people in China master spoken English.
Wang Qiang accomplished this and became a legend in China. His story in the forming of New Oriental, along with Yu Minhong, the founder and CEO, was featured in a 2013 box-office hit movie called “Chinese Partners.” I confess that I was also portrayed in that movie, but only as a minor character in the shadow of Yu Minhong and Wang Qiang.
A real-life success story, definitely. But what you don’t know isthat Wang Qiang, early on, almost abandoned his China journey because of the many frustrations he encountered resettling in his own country. It took more than a year to restore his Beijing Hukou, and you know how important a Hukou is to living and working in China. Often he would drink beer with Yu Minhong and me, vowing in anger to go back to America. Luckily, these were words only. Wang Qiang persevered, and he triumphed.
If I may share but one more story here, let me tell you of a bright, pretty young woman by the name of Gu Ji. She graduated from both Cornell and Stanford – impressive, though of course nothing to boast about to an audience of Oxford students. And Gu Ji wanted to pursue a career inChina. So one day she asked me about an offer from a start-up company. I told her this: “I don’t know which company you should choose – I know only that you should choose China.”
Gu Ji took that offer and moved back to China, only to find that the position was not right for her. She left the company, and for a brief time despaired about her future. But soon she found her passion and created a training program for startup entrepreneurs called [失败研修院] – meaning, literally, business school for losers. Only those who have squandered at least half a million dollars are qualified to apply. The program helps people with failing startups to regain their original strength and vision. The school was an immediate hit; and some applicants have tried to ingratiate themselves with me so I might help them get in.
Gu Ji and her work are thriving today. And I rejoice in her success, because when I encouraged her to come back to China I all but promised that she would succeed. Why I was so confident? China is filled with opportunities, and they cannot be yours unless you are there.
For many years, talk of the New China brought to mind mainly images of steel and concrete: new highways and bridges, high-speed trains, and tall buildings. Today you will find it means much more than that.
There are more powerful and fundamental trends unfolding in China today. In 2017, the number of Chinese students returning from overseas has exceeded the number of those going abroad. The contagious optimism about China’s future has drawn them coming home. All over this New China you can feel a dynamic at work, a new spirit in the air, that pure economics cannot measure. I see it all the time in the young men and women who come to ZhenFund, hoping that we will be their angel. It is a self-reliant spirit – creative, independent, market-minded, and impatient in the best way. And at the center of all this is the new generation of Chinese – your generation – with possibilities beyond imagining when I was your age.
Patience, I will freely admit, will indeed be tested if you choose to build your careerin China. We still have some of the limitations and frustrations of a developing country, as in the stories I have shared. You can expect false starts or setbacks, as I had mine, and Wang Qiang had his. And dealing with the less ideal conditions in our country, don’t rule out the possibility that your skills and your ideas, your determination and your resilience might offer the solutions that China is waiting for!
For each one of you at this stage of life, it is good that you have ventured far away, and learned to be comfortable in the world. That is a strength you have gained and will never lose. That is a strength you can bring home. And in China today it will carry you far.
Invest your talent, invest yourselves, in China, and great things are possible. The road will not always be easy. But I do promise this: you will travel that path with the joyful knowledge that this is your country, this is your culture, and this is your time.