A prodigy who chose business over politics

In an interview with the 21st Century Business Herald, Mr Xiao said he gave up his political ambitions as the possible rewards are smaller than the costs.
In an interview with the 21st Century Business Herald, Mr Xiao said he gave up his political ambitions as the possible rewards are smaller than the costs.

HONG KONG • A prodigy who entered Peking University at 15, Mr Xiao Jianhua looked likely to become a politician until the momentous events of 1989.

As a "student cadre" at Peking University, he could have followed the path of Mr Li Keqiang, now the Chinese Premier, by joining China's political aspirants and ascending the Communist Party's ranks.

But the Tiananmen protests and subsequent crackdown changed the country and also Mr Xiao's life path, according to South China Morning Post.

He was the chairman of the government-backed student union, while schoolmate Wang Dan led an unofficial student union to mobilise the students to demand democracy.

In response to Mr Xiao's disappearance, Mr Wang wrote on Facebook he does not know anything about the case. The exiled Tiananmen leader said he and Mr Xiao were on opposing sides at that time and had nothing to do with each other, reported Apple Daily.

Mr Xiao, according to media reports, had tried to mediate between the student protest leaders and the authorities to defuse the rallies.

In a statement responding to a 2014 profile in the New York Times, Ms Lu Yan, the spokesman for Mr Xiao's Beijing-based Tomorrow Group, said her boss had tried to ensure that students' activities were lawful "to avoid tragedy".

She wrote that after growing disenchanted with student protesters, Mr Xiao "switched to the library". Upon graduation from Peking University's law school, he founded his business selling imported computers.

In an interview with the 21st Century Business Herald, a Chinese business newspaper, published in April 2013, Mr Xiao said he gave up his political ambitions as the possible rewards are smaller than the costs. His preferred lifestyle was "to read books freely".

"I don't like going to the office and, in fact, I haven't gone to an office for over a decade... I prefer to walk on the beach or just stroll around a hotel... that's my way of doing things. I don't like formalities."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 03, 2017, with the headline 'A prodigy who chose business over politics'. Print Edition | Subscribe