China’s attempts at soft power have been unsuccessful in the extreme, but away from the halls of Chinese government (albeit not too far), there are Chinese people changing the world on their very own. The rise of the Chinese individual in the past few decades has taken the world by storm, and we decided to profile six influential people—masters of science, business, and the environment—that are changing the way the planet views China.
WU CHANGHUA 吴昌华：CHINA’S CLIMATE CHANGER
Name: Wu Changhua
Affiliations: Climate Group
Known For: Fighting climate change
Education: Environmental Policy, University of Maryland,; Law Degree, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
- Greater China Director, Climate Group
- Twenty years as an environmental and development policy analyst
- Consultation with the World Bank, UNEP, and UNDP
- Chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council of Climate Change
“We need to look at how to constructively work together, basically to change the world,” says Wu Changhua, the face of fighting climate change in China—a nation widely considered one of the world’s largest carbon emitters. Climate change is the most trying and complex crisis of our age, and Wu Changhua knows the most important fact about combating climate change: it’s going to be hard work. She has more than 20 years of experience in the field, has spoken and worked with the World Economic Forum, appeared on numerous domestic and international media outlets including The New York Times and the BBC’s HARDtalk, and sits on environmental councils around the world.
Despite reports of a worsening environment in China and the very visible effects in cities like Beijing, Wu is by no means defeatist. Indeed, she knows that China is in a unique position to set the stage for the battle on climate change. “China sets a good example, in terms of literally integrating all key elements in how we are going to grow our economy. Rather than saying, ‘You know, it’s a burden, we have to pay higher prices,’ or whatever, countries like China are saying, ‘Hey, yeah, this is an opportunity. This is how we’re going to grow our economy.’”
She also has little time for the nitpicking between nations that sometimes seem to overshadow the battle for the planet. When asked whether or not developing or developed nations need to take charge on climate change, she said, “This question you have asked remains to be a sort of clichéd debate—developed countries versus developing countries…The developing countries, we either follow suit, repeating their mistakes, the wrongdoing, or take our own personal way.”
It is this middle way that makes Wu and the Climate Group’s opinions so valid for China, believing in both a developed and developing solution and a marriage between government and the market. “You cannot leave everything to the market, so government has a very critical role to play—set the rules, set the caps, and the standards to guide and regulate the market…It cannot be either or, it has to be the two together.”
Wu plies her trade with the Climate Group, an international non-profit to promote clean technologies and strategies to businesses and governments. And, in China, with Wu at the helm, this group has some truly amazing ambitions, some of which are already showing promise and paying dividends, including carbon trading, which will become the world’s biggest carbon trading market in 2016 and coal caps in 2020. “On one side, we are capping the total consumption of coal, and on the other side we are improving economy-wide efficiency as much as we can, so we don’t consume too much. In the meantime, we are investing in alternative energy to substitute for coal,” Wu says. “I think the foundations are already set on the ground.”
While Wu doesn’t have the monetary or political influence of the others on this list, as the world nears the precipice, her influence on China’s climate real politick is going to have profound, lasting influence on the future of the planet. – TYLER RONEY
WANG JIANLIN 王健林: THE MONOPOLY MAN
Name: Wang Jianlin
Affiliations: Dalian Wanda Group, People’s Liberation Army
Known For: Real Estate magnate, film and theater industrialist
Education: Liaoning University
- Former richest man in China
- Opening the Oriental Movie Metropolis
- Nine million square meters of property investments
He bought US theater brand AMC; owns 75 department stores, 51 hotels, 86 theaters, and 45 KTV plazas; bought a Picasso worth over 28 million USD as well as a private jet and a Sunseeker yacht (owning a 92 percent stake in the manufacturer); and his company holds over nine million square meters of property investments. This is China’s monopoly man, Wang Jianlin, a Chinese real estate mogul second to none.
Forbes estimates his net worth at over 13.2 billion USD, and today he is looked at reverentially as an example of modern entrepreneurship at its finest. But, this property mogul turned power broker began as a humble soldier. Born in 1954 in Sichuan Province, he joined up in the midst of the Cultural Revolution, under hardships he once described as “unimaginable”. But, in many ways, he was following in the family footsteps, joining the military at 15 like his father—who fought for Mao during the Long March. Sadly, the military offered Wang little respite, and he claims to have marched 1,200 kilometers in two months, lacking food and warm clothing.
However, the military is where Wang supposedly gathered his contacts to build his empire. In 1978, he was chosen for the military academy in Dalian, no doubt a wealth of comfort compared to his time in Inner Mongolia. But it wasn’t until 1988 that Wang began his journey to both international influence and mindboggling wealth. It began small, as the general manager of the Xigang Housing Development Corporation. Back then, China’s backward financial system didn’t provide much in the way of speculative property investment. Purchases were made pretty much only from state-owned realtors, and banks were far from forthcoming with funds for real estate investment. Wang found himself building a residential project in Dalian’s Nansha District that brought him profits of over two million RMB. That was just the beginning; with this hard-won fortune, Wang went on to build his Wanda Group empire.
Wanda is now bigger than ever, growing faster and stronger every year. Wealth along with military and political connections are all well and good, but Wang, who keeps a stringent work ethic that mirrors his military days, has his sights set on influence and power. China has, it must be said, a soft power problem, a problem the central authorities seem to make worse with each and every attempt, but Wang is taking matters into his own hands. China has called the “cultural industry” a “pillar industry” and Wang is on his very own—very expensive—charm offensive.
The Oriental Movie Metropolis, set in Qingdao, was bankrolled by the Wanda Group and cost a whopping investment of 8.2 billion USD (including a theme park), and the unveiling was visited by Hollywood celebs such as Nicole Kidman and Leonardo DiCaprio. His idea of the Chinese “cultural industry” is a full frontal assault on Hollywood. And, it just might work. This is merely an example of Wang’s far-reaching ambitions, with his hands in everything from football to charity. He has bought his way into the rest of the world—from properties in New York and London to skyscrapers in Spain—but Wang’s final legacy may turn out to be bringing China to the rest of the world. – T.R.
Jack Ma and Hu Shuli are changing internet trading and journalism. Also check out Chen Guangbiao (China’s Clown Prince) and Yuan Longping (Famine Fighter).