March 26, 2008
Yang Lan

Ipek Cem was just in Shanghai and met with Yang Lan, one of the most successful women of her generation in China. Chairman of Sun Media, Yang shared with Cem her experiences in the media, her thoughts on China's booming economy, the upcoming Beijing Olympics and the changing status of women.

Ipek Cem: My guest today is Yang Lan, who is one of the leading women in China today. Welcome to Global Leaders.


Yang Lan: Thank you. Thank you, Ipek. It's a great pleasure to be on your show.


Ipek Cem: China is such a fascination of the world right now. It's a developing country, it's a big country. It's a country that is looked at as becoming the centre piece of the world. How do women, especially, in China feel today about these enormous changes in their society?


Yang Lan: Well, I think women feel very intensely about this transformation which is historical, in China. This is a huge transformation: not only it's economy, but also it's environment; it's ethics; the way you raise children; the way you, you know, they look at – you look at –  beauty, lifestyle. So everything is being changed. I think women are playing a central role in this transformation.

“Her Village”, my television show in our cross media community, have continuously monitoring the transformation of Chinese urban women. Most of them work, and we did a survey last year when answering the question as: even if... when your husband is earning enough money to support the whole family, do you still want to work? 73% of our interviewees said “yes”, because they are not only taking a job as a means of, you know, bread and butter, but also they look forward to independence in financial terms, they look forward to the freedom to manage their own time as well as the social achievement, the fulfilment of career. So, most of them are very eager to learn and to work. This is a group of dynamic women who are very curious to see what the world and life can offer them. And also they are experiencing a lot of changes in life. For example, they are no longer living where their parents. They travel a lot to work and live in other cities. They having... they are having a much later age of marriage, and they are having their first child comparatively later than the past decade. And also they have the same problems as women elsewhere in the whole, world which is to balance private and working life.


Ipek Cem: This puts so much pressure on the woman and it also changes the way the woman interacts with her children, how she organises her life, how she care for her elders... like you were saying before... it still remains a responsibility of the woman. How are women coping with this, in terms of their psychology, in terms of their health?


Yang Lan: I think they are coping it... coping with it with the best will, determination, commitment, but at the same times a lot of pressure. Well, fifty years ago, Mao Tse-Tung, our first Chairman of the Republic, said, “Woman should hold up half of the sky”, but then we were joking about that: he didn't say about the earth, because if you take the sky as the society, the earth as the family, women are mostly responsible for the whole earth and half of the sky. So they are working very hard, and the pressure is not anything new to them. According to our survey, about 60% of our interviewees said that they have temporary, or lasting, sleeping problems, which is a sign of pressure from psychological and physical terms. And also, about 70% of them regard themselves as in a sub-healthy status, which means they don't think they are in perfect health. You know... They may feel sleepy at work-place, they may feel, you know, exhausted after day's work, because they have to cater for both the work place, and the family.


Ipek Cem: Do you feel that the men of your society, and the laws, regulations, general customs of your society are helping women establish these goals, and then feel good about them?


Yang Lan: I think more and more so. More men are taking pleasure and fun from sharing the house chores. For example we had some very lively talks on, you know, “house husbands”, and about, you know, husbands taking care of young children, and actually they all say that they take great joy in terms of taking care of children. The same joy which was deprived by the former norms of family responsibilities. So I think we are trying to build a society as well as new family roles that men and women can share: both responsibilities and fun.


Ipek Cem: There is so much opportunity in China today, and there is so much activity in China today, whether it is film making, whether it is design, whether it is the economy, you know, and the other obvious roles. And there are many people of Chinese origin around the world who have perhaps migrated at another time to other countries, such as the US, or to Europe. Do you see some of them now coming back live... trying to make a living here again?


Yang Lan: I think so. I think so... Thirty years ago, when China was first opening up to the world, many Chinese were astonished at the difference of living standards in the West, and China. So going abroad, either for studying, or to making a living, or to make a living is something very tempting to many Chinese. But nowadays, I think, for the past decade or so, Chinese, not only they are scholars, students, but also immigrants, are coming back for new opportunities in China, because the market is opening up and in the whole process of this transformation of the society, you have lot of new opportunities to make changes: not only in business terms, but also in social  movement like, you know, nowadays for environmental protections, for women's welfare, for charities and non-profit organisations, there are so many things, new areas to be opened for private citizens, and NGO's and so this is a land of opportunity.


Ipek Cem: I am glad you mentioned the environment, because often times China is mentioned as a country who has a bad environmental track record, and because of its vast growth, who is going to have a lot of impact on the rest of the world. But I was recently with the Director of Greenpeace, and he gave me some good news about his views on China and that there is a wave of change in the viewing and execution of environmental policy in China. What is your view on this very difficult topic?


Yang Lan: well, first of all, Chinese pollution, and environmental issues will be a continuous problem for the years to come because of its fast development, and also the public awareness of this problem still needs to be addressed, too. But we have to bear in mind that because China is such a manufacturing centre for the whole world, about 20% of our pollutions are contributed to the export to the world. You know, for the products that we manufacture for the whole world. And also the year of 2007 was a turning point in terms of environmental protection in China, because for the energy consumption per capita, and for the GDP growth was, for the first time in its history, is turning down instead of growing. So we are actually progressing on that terms. To serve on the National Political Consultative Conference, I have been proposing for the national new standard of green building, in this country, because 30% of the energy consumption in China is contributed to, you know, to our/old buildings: residentials, business, and public architectures. So we hope that the national standard and policy of green building should be executed more strictly across the nation, and also we have so many very active environment protection organisations, some of them NGO's are being involved in policy shaping in China. For the first time in history, of China, the National Bureau of Environmental Protection is now being promoted as the.... Ministry of Environmental Protection... it's about health** grade promotion, so it will have more capability and power to execute national policies in terms of energy saving, and environmental protection. Well, I think that the problems will still come because in the fast growth you have all these... you have to solve these problems in the myth/midst of the growth and development, which is a huge challenge to any country.


Ipek Cem: Do you see, also, more of an awareness on the part of the citizen in demanding these kind of policies or looking for...?


Yang Lan: Definitely... Yes, definitely, because ten years ago when you talk about environmental protection, ordinary Chinese citizens will think about some, you know, some extreme people from Greenpeace, you know, who try to make very strong statement, or some intellectuals who think about the global climate change. But for the last decade, or so, Chinese people are suffering from environmental pollution, they are suffering of, you know, the lowering level of water quality... drinking water quality. Well nowadays, in the cities, you don't dare drink from...


Ipek Cem: The tap.


Yang Lan: The tap water any more. You drink bottled water. But, when I was young everyone felt safe in drinking tap water. You know, so that... those kinds of changes have made us be aware of the pollutions in the air we breathe, in the water we take, and also in the food that we grow. And also in some countryside there have been some very bad cases about the villages suffering cancer, because of the water being polluted by chemical factories upstream. And so those things have drawn a lot of public awareness, and also exposure from the media, that this is something vital to our lives and to the lives of our children. And so nowadays in China environmental protection is not just a policy from the central Government, but it is a social awareness from, you know, ordinary citizens.


Ipek Cem: By joining the World Trade Organisation, China became more, again, part of the international community, and now we have the Olympics, and I know you have been very active in promoting China's bid for the Olympics, the Beijing 2008. How are the preparations going? What are some of the expectations? What are some of the concerns on the part of your country?


Yang Lan: Yes. I was very much involved in the bidding of the 2000** Olympic Games, and also I am involved in cultural programmes of the Olympic Games. I think it is a great chance for the world to understand better about Chinese culture and its people, and also put China's topic into its context. You know, I am not pretending to say that China have no problems... we have lot of severe problems... but I think the world needs to put those problems in to the context of this transformation of such a massive country and 1.3 billion people.

So I think, first of all, Olympic Games provides a great opportunity for the world and China to understand each other better. And secondly, I hope the Olympic Games is not just for that one month of, you know, athletes, sports, and games, and gold medals, but I hope it will leave a good legacy to Chinese people.

For example, to prepare for the Olympic Games, Beijing – the city of Beijing – has issued new standard of green building and city planning, and environmental standards. I think that will benefit the Beijing citizens for generations to come, and I hope those practices can be further implemented in other places in China. And also it's a great chance to study our own behaviours. For example the prohibition of smoking in public areas is now being much more strengthened than years before, and also for the manners of young generation, and I am very encouraged by the participation and enthusiasm of the young generation to be volunteers, and the Beijing Olympic Games only needs ten... no.... 100 thousand volunteers, but over 600 thousand young people registered to be a volunteer, so I think that will be a great enhancement of social welfare, social non profit organisation movements, and so on and so forth. So those are the things that really excite me.


Ipek Cem: You are the founder of “The Sun Media Group”, and a very accomplished media personality here. I wanted to ask you when we talk about media and China often the word “censorship” comes to mind. And I want to ask you of your own experience of the progression you have seen, and what your own expectations are about this matter.


Yang Lan: Well, under very strict regulations, media has limited space for private entrepreneurship, and we find that sometimes we are walking a tight rope in terms of, you know, business survival and at the same time we have to get our programme exposed to the national audience. But I am optimistic in terms of the progressing of the environment. Well, we are saying something we couldn't have said ten years ago, and I take it as a progress of the loosening up of the media environment in China. And also for the internet: it is dominant.... dominated by private enterprises, which may not be known to the international community. So nowadays although we can't own a national TV network in China, by a private company, but we can do cross media ventures. For example for the “Her Village Community”, which is championed by my nationally syndicated television show. We are building on-line communities. We are publishing electronic magazines which have tens of millions of subscribers every month, and we are doing our club activities, you know, off-line activities to give salons** of the lectures on career development, relationships, and children education, and so on and so forth. So because there are so much remain to be done, and there are so many more opportunities than years before, I am still optimistic to go on with my path.


Ipek Cem: That's good to hear. When you look at such a growth economy, often the shiny side of society – the new buildings, the big projects, the shopping malls, the wealth – comes in to the picture, but of course there is different human stories in your country... and in every country. There is poverty, there are people in the rural areas may be not as fortunate as the ones in the cities, and I know you do a lot of work with that as well. I wanted to ask you what you think about the status of the poorer, the impoverished, and maybe not so... people with not the same opportunities. How do you see their future?


Yang Lan: OK. Well, first of all, I think the Government should take the responsibility of building up the social welfare network, which is not complete yet. Because in China this is a very much taxed... we have very high tax rate, about thirty some percent, for companies, and if you are earning more than, for example, 10,000 US a month, for example, you are paying tax up to 45%. So it's a very high taxed economy. But at the same time, the welfare we are receiving, in medical cares and education is still not enough. So I think first of all it's the Government's responsibility to build up the safety network.... The bottom lines... but also, at the same time, we need the legal infrastructures for non-profit organisations to take care of some of people who are in need, you know, through volunteer donations, and helping each other. And for that, I have been, you know, voicing my opinions in terms of the legislation of charity and non-profit organisations, because nowadays we have more than two million grass root NPO's, but only 10% of them are legally registered as NPO's, which means they can not... they can not do fund raising as a charity or an NPO, and secondly they don't receive any tax benefit in their operation.

So on the national level I am promoting a new... a new legislation to give them legal status, you know, that's the infrastructure. I think it's very, very important so that all these NGO's and NPO's can function, in terms of helping different communities and different people. And also I am sponsoring a programme between Beijing University and Harvard University to provide free workshop in capacity training for the top executives of Chinese charities. I think it is very important they have higher capability of managing their foundations in a more efficient and more transparent way.


Ipek Cem: There is incredible foreign investment in China, as well, and major corporations from your country, from Asia, from all over the world are active here. And we know that corporate social responsibility, linking with  what we just discussed, is an important topic in the world today. Will some of this legislation also enable corporations to be able to donate more to causes that we just discussed?


Yang Lan: That's right. In the past only, you know, when a company tried to donate to charities or non-profit movement, their deductible tax is up to 3% of their... of the gross revenues, but nowadays that rate has been expanded to 12%, which is a great thing, which means they can donate more, and receive tax benefit in return. And also, nowadays, private companies are very eager to give back to the society for example one of the leading environmental groups for the fighting against desertisation, in China, is a group organised through real estate developers, and I also know some entrepreneurs in China who are expert in terms of, you know, real estate buildings... they are going to the countries to monitor the building of the local schools, because they want to use the best construction materials, and also to abide by the most affordable and also, at the same time, good quality construction standards, and so on and so forth.

So I think for the years to come you will see a great social movement in China, in terms of the involvement of private citizens, and private companies, to give back to the society.


Ipek Cem: It's not a new phenomenon for China to be a world power. I mean China, for centuries, has been a cultural power, a world power, and the... but things go in cycles and now this is a new century, and I think that... I feel it in my own country that the perception of the West, and what we feel in our own country is always different. How do you feel the West is perceiving China, as opposed to how you feel as a Chinese woman, or a member of your society, that you are progressing? Do you see some gaps between these perceptions?


Yang Lan: Yes. I do see there is a gap over there, but this is not to blame the West, media, or its people, because your – how do you say? – the space of attention is limited for every individual's, right? So usually the reports on China are on human rights, environmental problems, you know, the labour issues, and so on so forth, but they lack the context. They lack the proportion of the overall circumstances of China, so if you look... only look into the media about its reports on China, you will see a very negative picture. But if, once you are in China, you see this massive transformation of the skylines, of the people's lives, you will see that most of Chinese citizens benefited from the reform, and the marketing economy... market economy for the past two decades. You will see the changes of the real life, although there are, you know, disparities of income from the countryside – farmers, and maybe some business people – but overall I think all Chinese benefited form the economic growth. And also you can see the change of the environment... the social environment. For example, now the Chinese people are not afraid to criticise the Government. We are very free on the internet to say whatever we want to say, and you know, through our mobile text messages we can make jokes of, you know, the Government without getting into trouble. I think there are still restraints in terms of censorship of the media. That still exists, but I mean if you look at the brighter side of the change, you will see the progress.


Ipek Cem: When... oftentimes we focus on China as an economic power of our century, but of course it's also  a political power, and it is predicted to become more of a world player, and more of a savvy political player, and we already see that China is exerting that power, and making certain alliances. What kind of a political actor, internationally, do you see as China becoming?


Yang Lan: Well, I am not expert in the position to give you a very comprehensive picture of that, but I see that China is very eager to have a peaceful international environment, so that the country can develop itself, along its path. If there is a war interfering, or... chaos taking place, it will make a kind of stop to its natural growth. So I think to take care of all its own domestic issues is already very time consuming, and energy consuming, so I think the Chinese Government is very sincere in terms of want to keep a peaceful world, so that you know, we will give time and space for this country to grow.


Ipek Cem: You are very involved in the progress of your country on many fronts. What are some of your own aspirations for your country, and for women in you country in the coming years?


Yang Lan: Well, I have inspirations from all kinds of things...


Ipek Cem: Yes?


Yang Lan: Well, I think... I take deep pride in our national culture and history. I believe that for the decades to come, China will have a renaissance in its own arts, and culture. I take inspiration from my children who are eating MacDonald's and seeing the same animation movies as the American kids, but also I want them to remember their cultural roots, and I want them to appreciate their artistic backgrounds, and so on and so forth.

I also take inspirations from my past generations. For example, my grandma is 96 years old, and she has this pair of half sized feet, because when she was young, it was still in the tradition to bind girl's feet so that, you know they can be bound within the family... not going out to work. But, my grandmother was brave enough to unbound her feet, and so that she could travel to the city of Shanghai, and to start a little family stall with my grandfather. So I take great pride in her life story, and also take pride and inspiration from my mother's story, who was the first college graduate in her family.... You know, quite rare opportunity for a girl in a big family, and also she has been a very fulfilled engineer for her career. So I take inspirations from people around me.


Ipek Cem: On that note, I want to thank you very much for this candid interview.


Yang Lan: Thank you very much for inviting me on the show. Thank you.


This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, NTV networks and Ipek Cem cannot vouch for its accuracy.