The Lius are China’s first-generation billionaires, born into a world of Mao suits, food rations, price controls and Communist slogans. And the story of how they made their fortune is considered one of the guiding myths of China’s Communist party, a symbol of this country’s transformation over the last 30 years, since its unlikely embrace of capitalism. But their story also betrays the contradictions of modern China — a country where the average factory worker makes less than $50 a week.
“The puzzle is not why the Liu brothers succeeded, but why there are not more like them in China,” says Huang Yasheng, who teaches at the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is an expert on Chinese entrepreneurs. “Rural China represents a vast pool of entrepreneurial capabilities and substantial business opportunities.”
As the global economy enters its first drastic downturn since China opened to the world, analysts say this country is searching for a more sustainable path to growth.