Read an article in the WSJ today, about the Chairman of Chinese tech firm, Tsinghua Unigroup Ltd – the leading company in China’s burgeoning microchip market.
There was a superlative headline (“China’s biggest…”).
There were big bang numbers (“billions”).
There was a driving, storyline device (prying/yearning for a ‘mystery’, at least a sense of mystery, hidden behind a super successful, prolifically powerful, Chinese businessman).
There was a grand, underlying, narrative tension (the Sino-optimism v Sino-pessimism debate that governs so much coverage of contemporary China – especially stories about business or the economy).
The piece carried only a few choice quotes from Tsinghua’s Chairman, so perhaps it read more like conjectural op-ed than factual reportage. Either way, there was a kernel of interest – a firefly in the dark… and that was the Chairman himself, a Mr Zhao.
This man, although barely glimpsed between the lines, is quite familiar. He is just the kind of ‘mysterious Chinese businessman and powerful figurehead’ that led me to create the character of “Feng”.
According to the article, “Mr Zhao says he herded goats as a child and later amassed a fortune in coal, gas and real estate in the northwestern desert region of Xinjiang.” That is an intriguing echo of the start I gave Feng, in the dirt poor dust bowl of Guizhou province.
More pointedly, that short quote above is the kind of sound bite summary that invokes a very American dream. Feng likewise has a recognisable rags-to-riches back story. It is that kind of tip-of-the-iceberg glimpse, and the vast unknown – the deeper truths to be explored – that I found irresistible in my characterisation and writing of Feng.
Feng had warmed to the bold style of his interrogator at STV, Shanghai. Lu had matured well. Feng recalled how she had interviewed him ten years earlier when she was a business reporter, when he had found her lacking confidence. Now she simmered, anchoring her own show.
Feng half-smiled, recalling that the host had proposed him as the world’s first trillionaire through his current ventures in space exploration. Indeed he had enjoyed a record-breaking year, completing several huge projects that each cost the equivalent of over 10 billion US dollars. Yet he knew that he was as far from becoming the world’s first trillionaire as his fleet of reusable space crafts were from their current destinations. It would be another ten years before Feng’s master plan of a moon orbiting mega station, that could seek and mine asteroids and regularly return materials to Earth, would become reality. It was still yesterday’s magic.