Chinese TV Host Yang Lan Stays True to Self to Build Empire
Yang has created new programming for TV — including one of the first shows targeting women — and set up sites on the burgeoning Chinese-language Web. She has bought print publications; she sells credit cards; she’s even hawking a co-branded jewelry line with Celine Dion. She and her husband, Bruno Wu, are one of China’s richest couples; Forbes has estimated their wealth at about $300 million. All of which has led the foreign press — and her own handlers — to rarely miss an opportunity to call her the Oprah of China.
It’s not a fair comparison: The clapping session is an apt metaphor for the ways in which the Chinese-media marketplace — and Yang herself — is fundamentally more constrained than the American. There are the constantly changing government regulations; television, says Jeremy Goldkorn of the Beijing media blog Danwei.com, “is the most tightly controlled of all Chinese media because it remains the one truly mass media. There are a huge variety of rules and restrictions on TV content, and they change regularly.” And there is her generation’s own worldview; China’s fortysomethings entered adulthood as their nation simultaneously opened up (under Deng Xiaoping, to get rich was seen as progressively more glorious) and closed down (Tiananmen Square in 1989 imprinted on their young minds that breaking the rules was not the path to glory).
Yang Lan, 42, has done wonders to achieve what she has so far, being careful to maintain her above-the-fray image while morphing with the fast-shifting landscape. “You do what you can do,” she says with a sigh in lightly accented, fluent English. Some of her ventures have succeeded — her interview show has been one of the past decade’s megahits — while others, including her Sun TV network, have been huge flops. Through it all, she has held on to her biggest asset: her fame. Liu Yingqi, vice president of China Life Insurance Co., which sponsors New Girl in the Office, says, “She’s the audience’s Yang Lan, society’s Yang Lan.” But the same country that has embraced her and elevated her to such success has also kept her from being the woman she wants to be — Yang Lan’s Yang Lan.