[Marxism] China's biggest billionaire is a woman
lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Oct 15 07:20:15 MDT 2006
Thanks to Mao, Zhang Yin's a billionaire
The revolutionary leader transformed women's
lives, but China still has a long way to go
Sunday October 15, 2006
It was one of China's proverbs that Mao loved to
quote; women, he would say, hold up half the sky.
But until the communist revolution of 1949 the
Chinese had not meant it. The Chinese imperial
system, famously, had been one of the most
anti-feminist societies on Earth. Women had no
rights, existing only to have babies and please
men, the richer forced to hobble and disfigure
themselves by binding their feet from birth to
affirm their essential purpose - decorative daintiness.
But last week it was reported that China's
richest billionaire is now a woman - 49-year-old
Zhang Yin is worth a cool $3.4bn (£1.8bn). The
tycoon is the world's richest self-made woman,
having built China's largest paper recycling
business, Nine Dragons Paper, which was floated
on the Hong Kong stock market just six months
ago. She seems an eloquent symbol of the new
China; a capitalist whose success and wealth was
unthinkable before Deng Xiaoping freed China from
the embrace of Maoism in 1978. It is capitalists
such as her who are proof that paradoxically it
is communist China that is home to the globe's
most vigorous capitalism. And she is a woman.
In China, though, beware. Nothing is quite what
it seems. Zhang Yin owes her success both to
pro-market Deng Xiaoping and ardent communist
Mao. As the eldest daughter of a family with
eight children, her expectation before the
communist revolution would have been to grow up
illiterate before becoming her husband's chattel.
Mao's radical egalitarianism may have given China
the murderous mayhem of the Cultural Revolution.
But he also transformed the role, expectations and education of women.
In 1949 female illiteracy in rural China was 99
per cent. In 1976 when Mao died it was 45 per
cent and today it is 13 per cent. One of Mao's
first acts was to give women the same rights in
divorce as men, and for all his other barbarism
he consistently championed the equality of women.
China is still a sexist society, but compared
with the rest of Asia it is light years ahead.
Female illiteracy in rural India, for example, is
still 55 per cent. The change has gone deep into
the marrow of Chinese society. One survey
recently revealed that Chinese girls between 16
and 19 name becoming president, chief executive
or senior manager of a company as their top
career choices; Japanese girls between 16 and 19
say they want to become housewives, flight
attendants or child-care workers. One of China's
most formidable economic and social resources has become its women.
As the daughter of an officer in the People's
Liberation Army, Zhang Yin also understands the
corrupt and controlling pathology of Chinese
communism well - and has understood the
imperative to keep ownership and direction of her
company as distant as possible from Beijing. In
China the party controls, or has the capacity to
control, everything; the number of companies
forced into decline or even bankruptcy because
they were compelled to support party aims -
bailing out an endemically loss-making company to
protect jobs or buying a state-owned company at
an astronomic price to feather the nest of a
senior official - is beyond counting. Indigenous
Chinese capitalism is a form of hit-and-run
guerrilla economic warfare in a constant battle
with the world's greediest and most corrupt
officialdom. Survival depends upon paying
tribute. It is no accident that two thirds of
China's six million private businesses are owned
and run by ex-communist officials. Almost every
private businessperson in China is either a party member or applying to join.
Zhang has avoided much of that - courtesy of Hong
Kong, a Taiwanese husband and managing to get out
of China in the months after Tiananmen Square
when repression was at its height and the
prospects for any kind of private enterprise
seemed nil. Her cleverest moves were her first;
incorporating her company in Hong Kong in 1985
and then marrying a Taiwanese with a non Chinese
passport. In exile in Los Angeles in 1990 the
pair founded America Chung Nam - a company
specialising in scrap paper brokerage as she had been doing in Hong Kong.
Scrap paper is one of the few industries the
party considers non-strategic and which it
indulges - another smart choice for an ambitious
woman. In December 1991 the Soviet Union
collapsed, and in January 1992 the ageing Deng
Xiaoping declared in a tour of Guangdong, China's
most pro-capitalist province, that as
international communism was dead the only way for
Chinese communism to survive was to embrace
pro-market reform. In particular it should
welcome inward investment from foreign companies
with know-how and technology. It was glorious, he said, to be rich.
There was an avalanche of inward investment,
including America Chung Nam building a paper and
board mill in the very same Guangdong- a foreign
investor even if owned by a Chinese living
abroad. After all, China's booming exports would
need to be wrapped in paper and paperboard.
Guangdong's exports have grown phenomenally; so have sales of paper and board.
And six months ago Zhang Yin and her husband
cashed in - floating their shares not in one of
China's stock markets on the mainland, but in
Hong Kong. Here a private company can keep its
distance from the party; if there is a dispute
with the communists it gets settled in Hong
Kong's still independent legal system - legacy of
the British - and not in one of the mainland's rigged courts.
The extent of China's reform, and its subsequent
growth, is stunning. It is also true that Ms
Zhang could not have made her money if China had
not opened to the world. But nobody should
believe that somehow her fortune means that China
has made the full transition to capitalism.
Rather she has exploited the system's fault
lines. This remains a one-party state, in which
every institution - from the media to its
companies - is constructed to sustain its monopoly of power.
Entrepreneurs such as Zhang Yin only succeed if
they find ways around the system; they can only
push the economy so far. One day the party will
have to let go properly. The issues are only how and when.
· Will Hutton's book on China and the West, The
Writing on The Wall, will be published in January
More information about the Marxism