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Ren Zhiqiang

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Ren Zhiqiang. (Source: Sohu)
Nicknamed "Ren the Cannon" (任大炮) by Chinese netizens for his brashness, Ren Zhiqiang is a real estate mogul turned liberal microblogger. He was one of the last remaining Big Vs after many were silenced by a 2013 rumor crackdown. At the time when his social media accounts were shut down in February 2016, he had well over 35 million followers on Sina Weibo alone.

Before he went into business, Ren was in the People's Liberation Army, serving as a platoon leader from 1969 to 1981. He joined Beijing Huayuan Economic Construction and Development in 1984, rising to president of Huayuan Group Corporation in 1993. He stepped down as chairman in 2014, saying online that he planned to spend time writing. Ren earned a reputation for callous entitlement, arguing in 2009 that "anyone who can't afford a house in the city should go back to the countryside." He was lobbed with shoes at a real estate association meeting in 2010.

Ren was equally as outspoken with his criticism of the government. At the NetEase Annual Economist Conference in 2013, he argued that state manipulation, not a housing bubble, was sending real estate prices soaring. "As I see it, the government has never thought it had a bubble. If it did, it wouldn't be this shady. It wouldn't use such shady land prices to adjust our real estate market," he claimed. "The government is shadier than property developers" (政府比房产商黑). That sentence soon became blocked from Weibo search results.

While Ren claimed he had no duty to "build homes for poor people," he did hold the government to account for its duties to the Chinese people. After President Xi Jinping re-asserted the Chinese Communist Party's control of state media in February 2016, Ren countered on Weibo that state media should instead serve the people whose taxes paid for the service. Days later, Ren's Tencent and Sina Weibo accounts were deleted. State media condemned Ren, who as a CCP member himself "ought to have a deep understanding of the unity between party spirit and the people's spirit."

Ren Zhiqiang on CDT