Rewind to January 2007 – can anyone (especially in our industry) forget reading about how this Internet uproar in China is giving Starbucks a major PR headache that made aspirin almost irrelevant? To refresh your memory a little, on January 12th 2007, a blogger, also a famous TV personality from CCTV; wrote a blog post which can be loosely translated as “Starbucks, please get out of the Forbidden City”. Needless to say, it created a sensational news topic which was eventually published by the world’s leading news dailies and online news portals. This blogger also later wrote a book, titled “Life Begins at Thirty” – which brings us here.
Last month, Hill & Knowlton Beijing, together with our colleagues from other provinces across China, gathered together at The Grand Epoch City, which is around an hour’s drive North of Beijing. Apart from team building exercises, a sports-meet and a fantastic evening dinner get-together (themed “Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow”), we also had the opportunity to meet a very talented individual.
As our Managing Director, John Holden introduced this individual before the outing via email:
During Saturday’s outing, we will have a special guest, Rui Chenggang (芮成钢), who is a famous CCTV presenter and also a friend. I first met Chenggang nearly seven years ago when he joined the first class of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations’ “Young Leaders Forum“. He was the youngest member of that program, and today is still very young – only 31. He is one of the most accomplished English language speakers of his generation, and adds to that an extremely wide range of knowledge of economics, public relations and current events. For many years he has been a member of the Young Global Leaders group of the World Economic Forum (Davos), and was the first person from China to be named a Yale World Fellow, a very elite group indeed.
Chenggang has interviewed presidents of countries and companies, and is himself quite a celebrity. I don’t recall which one, but a few years ago a famous Chinese magazine named him one of China’s “Most Eligible Bachelors.” (He is still single!) His blog on Sina.com is very well known, and he is credited with starting the discussion (a translated version can be found here) that led to Starbucks’ withdrawal from the Forbidden City.
It was indeed a memorable experience to be able to meet Rui Chenggang upclose and personal; especially for some of us laowais (foreigners) who previously heard about this person as an “Internet celebrity” through various forms of international media.
John hosted Rui Chenggang and together they jetted-off into a 30-minutes power discussion; addressing the issues below to a room packed with almost all our 170 eager colleagues:
- Current economic outlook, China and the world
- Interviewing experience: world-renowned figures, politicians and celebrities
- Cultural differences (general and journalism): China v. the world
- Differences in media approach: China v. the West
- Social media in China: before and after the Starbucks incident
To sum up, Rui Chenggang’s ability to churn out such in-depth discussion views and opinions within such a short time frame was truly admirable. When asked about journalism ethics, he gave a stern but matter-of-fact conclusion, “There is no truth in journalism, but merely facts and perceptions”.
In our next post, we’ll write and share about other Chinese “Internet celebrities”, and check-out what social mediums were involved along the process of creating topics which caught many of the local’s attention.
Note: Rui Chenggang’s book, “Life Begins at Thirty”, can be found via Amazon.cn. This book is currently available in its original (Chinese) language.