Baoding roughly translates as “stable protection” in Chinese. Traditionally a military city, its economic history has been less storied. Now Xi Jinping plans to integrate Baoding with the Chinese capital and its surrounding area. One beneficiary of this Jing-Jin-Ji project (see main story) is Wei Shaojun, a developer sitting on a 15% market share in Baoding’s property market.
Deprived of a formal education, Wei helped his father to sell rakes when he was young. He says his deam was to become a bricklayer so that he could find a wife. When he was 17 he moved to the outskirts of Beijing and found himself closer to fulfilling his ambition. He worked as an apprentice at a small state firm, helping to prepare building materials. In the 1980s construction was one of the first industries to open to private sector capital. So Wei formed a firm with 10 other Baoding natives, bidding for construction contracts that were coming thick and fast following Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms. Survival was far from guaranteed, however, as many contractors weren’t paid until long after a building was completed. Wei says he suffered “five years of bitter living” before 1995, when he founded Longjietaihe.
Wei wanted bigger construction projects. In 2000 Longjietaihe built the first commercial mall in Baigou, an undeveloped district about 90 minutes drive from Baoding. Eight of the 10 other early shopping malls in Baigou were constructed by his firm. Wei’s strategy proved astute as the urbanisation drive saw the Chinese capital spill over into its surrounding area. In 2008 Longjitaihe became one of the contractors for the Beijing Olympics and in the same year it expanded into making solar cells. Hurun estimates Wei’s net worth at $3.2 billion, making the former bricklayer China’s 51st richest man.
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