New-rich create booming need for bodyguards
At the “Genghis Security Academy,” which bills itself as China’s only dedicated bodyguard school, students learn that the threats to the country’s newly-rich in the tech age are more likely to emerge from a hacker than a gunman.
Each day, students in matching black business suits toil from dawn until midnight at the school in the northern city of Tianjin, where digital defenses are given equal pegging with the traditional close-protection skillset of weapons training and high-speed driving.
Around 1,000 graduate each year, hoping to land jobs as guards to China’s burgeoning ranks of rich and famous, positions which can be worth up to US$70,000 — several times more than an annual office wage.
But the school says it can’t meet demand as China’s rapid growth mints millionaires — 4.4 million according to a Credit Suisse 2019 report, more than in the US.
The course fees are up to US$3,000 a student; and while they had to cancel training between February and June because of the coronavirus pandemic, it has not dampened demand.
Only the best make the cut, says founder Chen Yongqing, insisting his disciplinarian standards are stricter than in the army.
“I’m quick-tempered and very demanding,” the army veteran from China’s northern Inner Mongolia region said.
“Only by being strict can we cultivate every good sword. If you don’t forge it well, it will break itself.”
About half the students are ex-military.
They train in rows in a large, shabby sports hall, holding blue plastic guns ahead of them with a steady stare — before practising hustling their clients safely into a black Audi with smashed windows.
Other sessions are held in a classroom or gym, where they box in matching red T-shirts.
Mobile phones are confiscated throughout, while meals are taken in silence in a large dining hall presided over by pictures of acclaimed graduates, who have protected everyone from China’s second richest man Jack Ma to visiting French presidents.
The guns at the Tianjin school are fake — China outlaws possession of firearms. For live firearms training, students are taken to Laos.
But in a country with a low rate of street crime, the modern minder needs an up-to-date skillset, against professional hackers.
“Chinese bosses don’t need you to fight,” Chen tells his students of a client base which includes the country’s biggest real estate and tech firms.
Repelling hacks on mobile phones, network security, spotting eavesdroppers and wiping data are all required tools in the bodyguard’s armory.
Even so, old-school threats still exist — earlier this year billionaire He Xiangjian, founder of Midea and one of the country’s richest men, was kidnapped at his home.
According to Chinese media, He’s son escaped by jumping into a river and call the police, who arrested five suspects.
Student Zhu Peipei, a 33-year-old army veteran from north China’s Shanxi Province, hopes becoming a bodyguard could offset his lack of professional skills or academic qualifications.
“And of course, it’s cool.”