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Tea with Liu Chuanzhi

04-08 16:32 Caijing

Liu Chuanzhi describes his life as having had two distinct phases - before and after the creation of what is now Legend Holdings.


By Craig S. Smith, Editorial advisor for english.caijing.com.cn

(Caijing.com.cn)BEIJING - The elevator doors open on the 10th floor and I’m ushered past a generic reception area and down a hall lined with framed photographs of various moments in the short history of China’s biggest computer company, Lenovo. The photographs are amateurish: some are fuzzy enlargements, some have a reddish tint, others were taken too close with a flash. Most were chosen because they captured the presence of a powerful government official; Lenovo may be a public company, but it remains firmly rooted in the state.

At the end of the hall, my escort pauses at a plain brown wooden door. A brushed metal plate on the door is stamped with the number 1001. There are no other markings. She taps and opens it and I follow her through a small, crowded, windowless office, its surfaces spilling with papers. A man behind a desk rises but we are already headed through another door to meet the grandfather of China’s high tech revolution, Liu Chuanzhi.

 

He is standing and smiling. He offers his hand, mumbles a token greeting in English and steps back to wave his guests through. The office behind him is another world: soft and airy, with recessed lighting, pale silk-lined walls and welcoming armchairs covered in creamy white leather. Gauzy beige blinds are drawn low over a wall of windows. A spray of white orchids arc from the corner of a large desk stacked with books. A place in each book is marked with a pale silk ribbon.

 

At this critical juncture in the country’s economic development and an equally critical juncture in Lenovo’s development, Mr. Liu finds himself in much the same position as the country’s leaders: faced with a shrinking market overseas, he is hoping the domestic market can pick up the slack. He has agreed to talk about the problem over tea.

 

“For a healthier Chinese economy, we need to have domestic demand and consumption to be the main generator of our GDP,” he says, echoing a common theme expressed in China these days.

 

Mr. Liu is understated and discreet, dressed in a dark sports jacket and slacks, a crisp white shirt opened at the neck. He is wearing well-polished shoes, a domestic brand of rubber-soled loafers. His eyeglasses are thinly rimmed in gold. At 64, he looks trim and prosperous but that’s about all.

 

Certainly, there is nothing to hint of his long journey from the dim halls of the research institute that once stood on the grounds where this office tower now stands, nor of the personal and political battles that he fought to reach room 1001.

 

While he sits comfortably at the top of a global company, his rise comes from a remarkably small geographic base: Zhongguancun, once a quiet neighborhood outside of the Chinese capital where court eunuchs were laid to rest together with the private parts they kept preserved in a jar. Beijing’s university quarter grew up around the neighborhood and the China Academy of Sciences was eventually established there. It was a leafy, low-rise landscape in 1970 when Mr. Liu arrived from an obligatory year laboring on farms in Guangdong and Hunan provinces.

 

He was bright and ambitious but China wasn’t yet ready for bright and ambitious types, at least outside the realm of party politics. Scientific research was like living in a room with no doors.

 

“Findings weren’t used for commercial products,” Mr. Liu recalled, now seated in one of the armchairs. “They just sat idle in the Academy unknown to the rest of the world.”

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