Power couples

Not just wealthy, they’re role models for marital bliss

Power couples

Dynamic duo: Zhang Xin and Pan Shiyi of SOHO China

A marriage, says Chinese construction tycoon Yan Yuejie, is like flying a kite.

Yan, head of China Pacific Construction Group compares himself to the kite and his wife to the kite-flyer.

His meaning? Women should be like kite flyers – and know when to reel in the string and when to let go. She pulls the strings, while he’s the one who needs to be released and brought back in, as the wind comes and goes.

In past issues of WiC we have cited China’s escalating divorce rate and the increase in marital infidelity. As a counterbalance this week we profile three couples who – having found just the right balance between love, life and riches – are now being viewed by local media as altogether more appealing role models for the new China.

Take Zhang Xin and her husband Pan Shiyi (the pair ranks 53 out of 1,000 on the Hurun Rich List, with a combined wealth of $1.9 billion).

The two co-founded the property development company SOHO China in 1995 and have since built a property empire, catering to China’s nouveau riche.

Success, however, did not come easy for Zhang. Raised in a poor Hong Kong household, she once worked on assembly lines to earn a living. But after moving to the UK to take a degree at Sussex University followed by postgraduate studies at Cambridge, she was employed as an investment banker.

Pan reckons that marrying Zhang was the best business decision he ever made. Indeed, when it comes to business, the two complement each other perfectly: Pan is in charge of aesthetics and design; Zhang is the dealmaker and numbers person – without her the company’s 2007 Hong Kong IPO could never have happened.

“How we divide work is just semantics,” says Pan told internet portal, Sohu. “Both of us have mutual respect and understanding and even if there is conflict, we can overcome it.”

Similarly, Wu Zheng and Yang Lan (#250 on the rich list, with a combined wealth of $590 million). “Yang is my best friend, I’m very fortunate to find my soul mate,” says Wu of his wife.

But Yang is no ordinary wife. She is China’s biggest television personality. Ever since she hosted a talk show on China’s state-run television in the early 1990s, her face has been the most popular in the country. Her talk show Zheng Da Variety Show peaked with 200 million viewers in China. As Yang herself puts it jokingly, she was then “far bigger than Oprah, though not by weight”.

Today, the two spend most of their time on Sun Media, the company they co-founded in 1999. It is now the second-largest media group in China, with 37 magazines and newspapers at home and abroad (including America’s Entertainment Today magazine) as well as several TV production companies.

Does it bother Wu that his wife is more famous? “Not at all. I’m very proud of my wife. She is the boss,” says Wu.

The same sentiments are echoed by Zhang Baoquan (#295 on the rich list, with a wealth of $510 million). Zhang, chairman of Antaeus Group, a Beijing-based property developer, admits that his wife Wang Qiuyang is indispensable to his success.

Theirs was a remarkable love story: Wang was the daughter of a senior military cadre and Zhang grew up in the impoverished countryside. Despite the disparate backgrounds, the two fell in love and got married in the early 1990s, founding the Antaeus Group in 1994.

“She spoke little before we got married, always appearing sweet and helpless,” Zhang remembered. “But after we got married, I found out that she was not as naïve as I thought and had a lot of ideas of her own.”

Outside of the boardroom, Wang is an avid adventurer. She has travelled solo to Antarctica and climbed Mount Everest. She is also the first Chinese woman to reach the North Pole on foot. Her husband – not a big fan of the outdoors – enjoys art and chess. But despite their different hobbies, the pair says they still find common ground.

“My husband loves hearing about my travels. He’s the first person I talk to every time I come back from my adventures,” says Wang. “Well, I only tell him the fun stuff and leave out the dangerous parts.”

Further evidence perhaps that the secret to a great relationship is selective disclosure…

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