Raising his glass at the Oscars

Raising his glass at the Oscars
Jan 31, 2020 (WiC 481)

A Chinese business tycoon buying and running an Ohio factory (and periodically discussing Buddhism) may not sound like the sort of material likely to win an Oscar. Think again. American Factory – backed by Barack and Michelle Obama – has been shortlisted in the Best Documentary category for the Academy Awards, which take place in Hollywood on February 9. WiC wrote about this fascinating and insightful documentary at some length in issue 464, citing it as an example of classic Sino-US cultural misunderstanding – in both directions – and the limits of globalisation. The ‘star’ of the show is the hard-charging Cao Dewang, the 74 year-old founder of the auto industry giant Fuyao Glass (two out of three cars on China’s roads use Cao’s glass). In this fly-on-the-wall documentary we see his struggles with his new American workforce and the contrasts with the Chinese workers back in Fuqing, the city in Fujian province where the manufacturer is headquartered.

The film is wittingly and unwittingly funny, at other times deeply sad, and at times unmasks racism that’s mutually felt by the American and Chinese workers (and executives) who appear. Cao will fly to the US to attend the 92nd Academy Awards – with netizens in China joking he is the only Chinese shortlisted for an Oscar this year. He told CBN he was very calm ahead of his trip and was only going to support the directors Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert. “The shooting of this film was hard and showed dedication,” Cao commented. “Regarding to the result, I am a Buddhist and I will not be excited or frustrated by winning or not. The important thing is the process.” He told CBN with slightly more certainty that his once lossmaking US plant (depicted in the red for much of the film’s duration) made a profit of Rmb150 million ($21.62 million) in the first half of 2019 and this month Fuyao Glass USA said 100 new jobs would be added as $46 million was invested in new equipment. Perhaps a happy ending, after all…













Keeping track, Feb 14, 2019: American Factory won the Oscar for best documentary on February 9th. Co-producer Mijie Li and Fuyao’s boss Cao Dewang, however, were unable to travel from China to attend the ceremony due to the coronavirus travel ban issued by the Trump administration…

















Royals for rent

Royals for rent
Jan 24, 2020 (WiC 480)

In the week that Harry, Duke of Sussex, gave up his royal title for the chance to make money independently, Queen Elizabeth’s oldest grandchild has been earning a crust of his own in China. Peter Phillips, the son of Princess Anne, is starring in adverts about a milk brand called Jersey Cattle, sold by state-owned Bright Dairy.

Phillips has never served as a working member of the royal family, which makes his situation different to his cousin Harry’s. However, it’s still clear that the milk ads are relying heavily on his regal roots, describing him as ‘British Royal Family member Peter’ and playing up the connotations of royalty whenever it can.

“I love to drink Jersey Milk,” the 42 year-old explains, grabbing a glass of it from a butler – the Daily Mail points out there’s another reminder of royalty with the appearance in the ad of the kind of coach and horses that carries the Queen on formal occasions. Cows then chew the cud in an implausibly Alpine-looking meadow, with the caption ‘The royal estate of Britain – Jersey Island’ and there are pictures of a hugely grand house – although it’s actually Longleat, a stately home in Wiltshire, rather than Buckingham Palace.

The next day there were more revelations that Lady Kitty Spencer – another of Harry’s cousins, this time through the family of his mother, Princess Diana – is promoting another brand of Jersey milk from a rival Chinese firm. “The day of the Royal Family usually begins with a cup of milk or a cup of tea,” she explained to Chinese journalists at a photoshoot.

The campaigns show that – ultimately – it’s the royal persona that attracts the advertisers. Maybe that’s a lesson for Harry as he puts distance between himself and the House of Windsor. Or perhaps it’s a signal that he needs to get an agent in China…

Tycoon sets London record

Tycoon sets London record
Jan 17, 2020 (WiC 479)

There was a new record for a house purchase in the UK last week in what The Times described as “the latest sign that London’s languid housing market has received a boost from Boris Johnson’s decisive election victory”. It will come as no great surprise that the landmark property transaction involved a Chinese billionaire.

Cheung Chung-kiu paid £210 million ($274.5 million) for a 45-room mansion in Knightsbridge. Nor is it his first big bet on the London market – his company CC Land splurged £1.15 billion on the office tower known locally as ‘The Cheesegrater’ in 2017. His latest purchase comes after a period of prolonged uncertainty over Brexit, with Prime Minister Johnson’s large parliamentary majority having voted for Britain to exit the EU at the end of this month.

The mansion in question is 2-8a Rutland Gate, which overlooks Hyde Park. It was previously owned by Rafic Hariri, the former prime minister of Lebanon, and Sultan bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, once crown prince of Saudi Arabia. The new owner is known back in China as ‘Chongqing’s Li Ka-shing’, a nickname that likens him to Hong Kong’s most successful tycoon.

The Times reports that Cheung (for more background on how he made his fortune see WiC357) has not decided whether he will use the mansion as his London residence or redevelop it into luxury flats. A redevelopment of the property, the British newspaper estimated, could see it valued at as much as £700 million. It added that the purchase “is being seen as a huge vote of confidence in the market” with prices of prime London property having fallen 20% over the past five years, according to Savills. The largest London home purchase last year was considerably smaller than Cheung’s: £65 million for a penthouse in Belgravia.