Foreign-educated Chinese entrepreneurs

Yang Yang
Foreign-educated Chinese students play an important role in China's social and economic development.
Yang Yang

Foreign-educated Chinese students play an important role in China’s social and economic development. Many of them are learned, experienced, hard-working and patriotic. Shanghai Daily reporter Yang Yang meets three foreign-educated Chinese entrepreneurs who are now working or living in Songjiang. Their stories of studying overseas and starting up a business will offer some enlightenment.

From delivering newspapers to winning honor for China

Foreign-educated Chinese entrepreneurs
Ti Gong

Left: Tao Yizhi (left) teaches Chinese culture to Japanese students. 

Right: Tao Yizhi, CEO of Inter-Success Co and Shanghai Wisdom New Consulting Co

When Tao Yizhi attended a National Day reception for Chinese overseas students in Tokyo in 2006, he met Wang Yi, then Chinese Ambassador to Japan. Wang wrote “Win honor for China” on Tao’s textbook. Tao treasured the book and tried his best to fulfill the wish. The book was later donated to the Foreign-educated Chinese Museum in Songjiang District.

To bring glory for his motherland, Tao exerted his perseverance throughout the years when he was a student and an entrepreneur in Japan, and when he started his business back in China.

“I used to be a newspaper delivery man for Hokkoku Shimbun. To pay tuition fees and cover my living costs abroad, I delivered newspaper from 4am to 6am and worked at a supermarket from 7:30am to 9:30am. Then I went to school. After class I continued to do part-time job at a pub till mid-night,” said Tao, recalling his days at Kanazawa Seiryo University in Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan.

“In the four years when I worked as a delivery man, I was late only once. The news agency rewarded me with a watch and a necktie upon my departure,” he said.

Tao graduated from the university with four-year straight A and won a principal’s award. After that he gained an MBA at Hosei University in Tokyo. Tao was a persistent student as well as a determined entrepreneur. He set up the Igennki hairpiece brand in Japan in 2007.

“I felt sure at that time that network marketing was a big trend in the future, but to choose what product to sell remained a question. I spent one year pondering on it. That product must be light, small, profitable and not decaying. And I finally chose the hairpiece,” said Tao.

The sales volume of Tao’s Igennki hairpieces remains top among the wig category at Japan’s Rakuten online market. “I hope I can develop the Igennki brand into a century-old brand,” said Tao. He is now CEO for both Inter-Success Co in Japan and Shanghai Wisdom New Consulting Co.

“Both companies are doing the job of promoting the Igennki brand and helping Chinese companies to enter the Japanese market,” said Tao. “One of my biggest dreams is to help 100 Chinese enterprises to promote their brands in Japan.”

Tao’s project “The Fast Distribution of Chinese Original Brands in Japan” won an award in the 2013 Inno-China Entrepreneurship Competition, a yearly contest held in Shanghai’s Jiading District.

“To achieve success in fast distribution in Japan, the Chinese brands must be original, with high quality and getting promoted in all possible ways,” said Tao.

“In 2004 Lenovo acquired IBM. I heard the news when I was listening to the radio while delivering the newspaper. I was all tears,” said Tao. “I am willing to see more Chinese companies enter the global market and I will use my efforts to help them achieve that goal.”

Tao, hailing from Chongqing in southwest China, has now settled down in Shanghai.

Cultural connections bring an artist worldwide renown

Foreign-educated Chinese entrepreneurs
Ti Gong

Left: Wang Zhixing at his office 

Right: Wang Zhixing, founder of Asian Arts Connection

A third-grader in junior high school saw his neighbor, a saxophone player, cycling along the road with, on the back of the bicycle, either his saxophone or his beautiful girlfriend.

The boy was attracted by this musical instrument which brought about not only sweet melodies but also romance. He begged his mother, a soloist with a provincial ensemble in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province, to allow him to learn the saxophone.

“My mother is an artist. She knew how difficult to be an artist. To maintain his respect to his art, an artist had to keep the purest possible mind in a world of hustling and bustling,” said Wang Zhixing.

His mother finally agreed. After three years of practice, Wang was enrolled in the saxophone major of Shanghai Conservatory of Music after competing with nearly 100 applicants. He graduated with record scores in his department.

Back in his hometown of Chengdu, he set up a band to perform nationwide while teaching saxophone at Sichuan Conservatory of Music. The yearly salary he earned at that time was enough to purchase an apartment. But his desire was to improve his music skills in the West.

“I planned to go to Norway at first because a school there offered me a scholarship of 7,000 to 8,000 yuan (US$1,013-1,158) monthly. But before my visa in Europe as a candidate for the entrance exam expired, I traveled to the Netherlands. A professor at the Utrecht School of the Arts, where a former classmate of mine studied, met me and recommended me to the dean,” said Wang. “The professor liked me and maybe he also felt amazed that a student from China was studying saxophone, a typically Western instrument.”

So Wang headed to the Netherlands to study music performance and art management.

“To pay the high living costs in Europe, I did manual work like washing dishes at a local Chinese restaurant. Among my colleagues were illegal immigrants who had no education background and whom I helped write letters to home. Sometimes I went to school smelling of cooking because I didn’t have time to take a bath,” said Wang.

In spite of such difficulties, he graduated with high scores and as an honored student. Meanwhile, he was also enrolled in the Erasmus Program, a talent exchange program once only open to European students, and furthered his studies at Berlin University.

In Germany he worked in international cultural communications for the German Ministry of Culture. Afterward he was employed by a European performing and production company and sent to Shanghai to open its Chinese market.

Noticing that the cultural institutions in China lagged behind in their industrialization process, a situation he would like to help improve, Wang quit his job with the European company in 2009 and started his own company, Asian Arts Connection, in Songjiang’s Thames Town.

Not only did he help world renowned troupes such as the Berlin Symphony Orchestra to stage performances in China, he also helped Chinese artists like Yang Liping, a famous dancer, and Shaolin kung fu performers to stage performances abroad.

In the past 10 years, Asian Arts Connection has helped promote around 1,000 performances at home and abroad, the total number of viewers amounting to several million. It also began producing its own performances. The music theaters and schools affiliated to Wang’s company also helped to promote art among children in the region.

“To be both a musician and an entrepreneur is a wonderful package for me. A musician had to learn how to promote and manage himself and entrepreneurship is also an art,” said Wang.

“The Dutch were nicknamed as ‘sea coachmen’ for they are good at doing trade. My graduate assignment at Utrecht School of the Arts was to stage a performance, a performance that finally earns money. We are not going to graduate and be another of society’s white elephants,” he added.

Yi finds herself in a place far away from her home

Foreign-educated Chinese entrepreneurs
Ti Gong

Left: Yi Wen enjoys a cozy afternoon in Germany.

Right: Yi Wen, CEO of Shanghai Homing Swallow Health Tech Co

At the age of 25, Yi Wen sold her house, quit her job as a middle school teacher in Wuhu in east China’s Anhui Province and arrived in Hannover in Germany with only a suitcase.

“I believed a better understanding of the self can be achieved in a distant place,” said Yi.

“My generation, the post 1970s, lead a somehow planned life of taking the college entrance exam, choosing their majors, entering the job market based on what they had learnt and getting married. But most people when they were 18 or 19 years old didn’t have a clear understanding of their selves,” said Yi. “The German society where I spent 16 years studying and living is like a flat mirror that reflected who I am. Based on this I learnt the relation between me and others, and the relation between me and society.”

For Yi, Germany was like someone in their 60s — graceful, mature, tolerant and highly ordered. It is a society with the power to calm you down.

In the early days, Yi studied in class and at night knocked on doors near the campus one by one, asking if they had a room to rent.

Moved by her persistence and courage, the school made an exception to introduce her to a landlady who used to let her house only to European students.

“In the two months when I stayed at Mrs Anna Schubert’s home, my language skills improved and for the first time I delighted a foreign lady with my own culture,” said Yi, who made traditional Chinese paper cuts as a birthday present for her landlady.

To earn tuition fees Yi worked at a computer driver assembly line in Berlin. “The person next to me was a German. He was always trying to be faster and would pick up anything falling on the ground and reorganize them,” said Yi.

A fellow worker at the assembly line caused her to rethink herself, ignore her identity as an intellectual and learn the importance of survival.

Yi graduated from Berlin University of the Arts with a master’s degree in social and economic communication. She worked as a marketing director in big companies like Siemens and Swiss Bank Corp.

In 2006 she worked as a China strategy advisor and global communication advisor for Germany’s economic and foreign ministries.

She was communication director for “Germany and China, Moving Ahead Together,” a top German national image campaign, from 2007 to 2010. Yi also helped Gegenbauer, a famous German family enterprise, to set up its health and consulting company in 2015.

Any of her achievements abroad might be the envy of young people in China. But Yi chose to come back home. “Life abroad may be colorful, but I also felt lonely,” she said.

Yi is now CEO of Shanghai Homing Swallow Health Tech Co headquartered in Songjiang’s Tames Town. The company’s key business is health management and home-based care for the aged.

“Sun Jiangyan, the founder of my company, is also a returned overseas Chinese,” Yi said. “One day on her flight from Singapore to China, she read a piece of news about how the solitary elderly people in Shanghai suffered in scorching weather in 2014. She would like to change the situation and therefore set up the company. The company is doing honest business. Before that she had already been a successful business woman running a listed semi-conductor company.”

Then Sun set up Shanghai Homing Swallow Health Tech Co and Yi joined. “I want to help release the burden of an aging society,” Yi added.

Yi is a mother of a daughter who is in her junior year in college. “I told my daughter, ‘Mom is very busy and can’t take care of you in every aspect.’ So my daughter is very independent,” said Yi.

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