The detaining of Meng Wanzhou, CFO of Huawei and daughter of its founder Ren Zhengfei, at Canadian airport on behest of the US authorities has made headlines the past several days. On that, I have little to say other than that she is quite attractive and also that the half-closeted nepotism via mother’s surname is both amusing and somewhat gross.
Reading her Wikipedia page, I pulled the following
Ren’s first wife was Meng Jun, the daughter of Meng Dongbo, a former deputy governor of Sichuan Province. They had two children: daughter Meng Wanzhou and son Meng Ping, both of whom took up their mother’s surname. After their divorce, he married Yao Ling, with whom he had another daughter, Annabel Yao, who is 25 years younger than Meng Wanzhou. Annabel is a computer science student at Harvard University who made a high-profile debut at Le Bal des Débutantes in Paris in 2018. Ren married for the third time to Su Wei, who was reportedly his former secretary.
Ren’s eldest daughter, Meng Wanzhou, is deputy chairperson and chief financial officer (CFO) of Huawei.
I’m somewhat surprised and also rather disappointed that Ren Zhengfei sent his other daughter, who also took her mother’s surname (and this is a different mother), to Harvard for undergrad. It reminds of how Xi Jinping’s daughter transferred to Harvard from Zhejiang University after her freshman year. I hate to say it but it’ll be hard to take the PRC elites too seriously when they send their children to elite US schools for undergrad. It is a sign that they still lack independence with a need to associate with global homo Anglo elite institutions. On the Chinese internet, people are questioning what other passports besides the Chinese one is possessed by Meng Wanzhou, and it was revealed somewhere that she had a green card from Canada.
Meng for undergraduate merely attended a good but not great university in China. That was when her father, who started Huawei in his 40s, was still a relative nobody. Remember that in China, aside from regional discrimination, wherein Beijing residents are allocated like 10 times more slots at Beida/Qinghua adjusted for population than residents in the provinces, admissions is based purely on gaokao and automatic admission via top performance on the national math and science olympiads. It’s basically impossible for filthy rich and/or well-connected parents to buy one’s kid’s way into Beida/Qinghua in China. So I guess when the kid of someone super high up in China turns out to be intellectually mediocre, attending an elite US school for undergrad becomes the default, sadly.
Something to note, relatedly, is that 富二代 (second generation rich) is a relatively new phenomenon in China. After all, after the communists took power, the rich people had their assets confiscated (like my amusingly pro-communist ABC friend stuck in the US at least for the near future, his family ended up sharing their four story house/building with a bunch of a poor people), and afterwards, people in high up positions did not make much more than the ordinary worker, with the salary difference, based on what I’ve heard, at most a factor of 10, barring very exceptional cases. It was really only after 1980 when it became possible for one to become extremely rich doing business. Between 1980 and 2010. there was a lot of low hanging fruit in China, economically. Plenty of mediocre people with the right entrepreneurial energy/personality became rich. And by that, the class of second generation rich was born, and it seems now they are forming their own culture, with studying abroad paying ridiculous tuition at US universities common, as well as their parents investing in US real estate. It’s very possible and perhaps likely that the class structure in China will solidify over the next generation, as is already the case in the US. How much so, that remains to be seen.
I’ve had some interactions with 富二代 kids and their parents in the US. Many of them are, predictably, not very smart academically. They are basically on permanent vacation in America. Their career/employment prospects in America are not surely not good for obvious reasons. It doesn’t seem like they’re well treated in school by their white peers in America. Yes, their families are economically well off, but that doesn’t mean they can integrate into American society. Their families are able to invest in real estate in America for now; even so, their existence in the US will be a marginal one much confined to the Chinese community. Many of them do not even know English well and are mostly here to invest in real estate, enjoy some material comfort and fresh air, and also send their kids to school here. In most cases, the father based in China only visits every once in a while. They’re obviously not really wanted in America other than for their money, spent on international tuition and luxury brands and so on.
As the reader can tell, I don’t have a high opinion of those 暴发户 who send their kids to America and invest in real estate there. Being in China now, I’m sure I’ll learn more about them, including the process they go through to transfer all that money to the US, and maybe I can even influence them a bit. As one can see from the detention of Meng Wanzhou in Canada, there is little guarantee for them on US soil. Finance/economics tells us there is no such thing as a free lunch. They may feel they are winning now and that their assets in America are safe, but this could very much be a process of 温水煮青蛙 (a frog boiled in warm water), where initially one feels warmth, until one gets burned. They may own real estate in America on paper for now, but that real estate is physically in America, where the Chinese do not really control anything. They have no media power, no legal power, no military power there. It’s totally possible for them to suddenly lose everything. Unlikely, but it can happen and only needs to happen once.
The Meng Wanzhou incident has been in Chinese media tied to the death of Stanford physics professor Shoucheng Zhang at age 55 which happened on the same day. The family statement said that it was due to depression, which we all know is just a euphemism. There has been speculation that it was related to the alleged tanking of his Chinese venture capital firm in Silicon Valley. It’s quite tragic that he took his ambition/careerism too far, assuming that his death was related to his VC activity. Had he just remained purely academic, he would have survived and likely eventually won his Nobel. Needless to say, using the prestige of a rare Stanford tenured professorship in physics to raise a Chinese VC is not really what he should be doing while officially in that position. Stanford probably should be somewhat embarrassed about his case as well, in addition to the recent Elizabeth Holmes case that was magnitudes worse. On this, I also have in mind the cases of Lucas Duplan and Evan Spiegel, both quite shameful.
It is my hope that talented, elite Chinese can focus more on developing their institutions at home instead of wasting so much money and energy associating with and working for elite US institutions for signaling. Doing so only inflates the value of a system hostile to Chinese while at the same time de-valuing Chinese institutions. If Chinese are really serious about this trade war, they should be going out of their way to devalue Harvard and Stanford, to devalue Google and Facebook, not eagerly trying to attend those schools for undergrad for a rather mediocre academic educational experience and making such a big deal about working for those companies, whose programmers are generally no better than ones in a good internet company in China as far as I can tell. If Chinese want other people to respect and value them, then they ought to first have confidence in their own institutions. I say this having been in prestigious US institutions myself, interacted substantially with numerous people from there, and frankly, many of them are not all that great, with some depressingly mediocre or even problematic. Of course, there are also plenty of genuinely brilliant, accomplished people in America in top American institutions. Overall, my point is that it’s clear that America will not judge the Chinese well, so why expend so much trying to associate and fit in with America? Why not instead expend more energy into creating a system where what America thinks simply becomes more or less irrelevant?