Wang Wen: China’s glory and dream reflected in an ordinary man’s unusual life


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Wang Wen: China’s glory and dream reflected in an ordinary man’s unusual life


By Wang Wen    Source:Global Times    Published: 2020-02-24

I'm feeling down in the dumps, not only because of my work - I've been doing research on how to boost China's development and enhance public health in the post-epidemic era; I am also grieving my friend Wang Jieke's death. After being in a coma for 19 months, his 64 years on earth came to an end.

Wang was one of those ordinary but unusual individuals who witnessed China's interactions with the world for the past four decades. I would like to record, through my article, the glory and the dreams of Wang, a person who had always pursued freedom, loved gourmet food, and was an advocate of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Born in East China's Shandong Province in 1956, he fled to South Korea with his father later to escape the poverty. After completing high school in Busan, he obtained a law degree in Japan and then worked for a well-known company in the US. In the late 1970s, he was sent to the island of Taiwan on a mission. When reform and opening-up began, he returned to the Chinese mainland in 1984 to start a business. He often teasingly told friends that by virtue of his experience, he could easily play the role of an international spy.

When I met him 13 years ago, he was already the owner of several TCM hospitals in Beijing and a Japanese restaurant in one of the city's most prosperous area. That restaurant, although not spacious, gained quite a reputation. Many celebrities from around East Asian countries were frequent visitors there. As a journalist, I was interested in the fame his restaurant has won and wrote a report about how it had become an international phenomenon.

Unfortunately, his restaurant had to be pulled down to make way for a street widening in advance of the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Some, including several lawmakers from Japan and South Korea, suggested Wang should invite Western media outlets to report it as a forced demolition so that he could save the restaurant. But Wang told me privately that he was not willing to cause trouble for the Beijing Olympics and he silently suffered the loss.

Wang invested in many TCM hospitals in Beijing and invited several retired doctors to provide medical service, which won the trust of patients. He also hoped to start a few orphanages if he could earn enough money. Charity was his passion and something he thought China could learn from the US. He earnestly practiced what he advocated for years.

Wang was a simple man, but had the mindset of a contrarian. He advocated freedom, never married, didn't have children and enjoyed being liberal. He complained about China's governance system, and often ridiculed the inconvenience and unfairness he encountered. Yet he was full of hope for China's future.

He was unwilling to leave Beijing and reluctant to resettle in South Korea, Japan or the US. He always said that by the time my daughter was an adult, China would be more robust, more liberal and more beautiful than the US. It is a pity that he didn't get to see that happen for himself.

He went into a coma on May 6, 2018 after the physician treated him for four days. His wealth could only keep him breathing. He died as the country is plagued by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Perhaps death was a relief, but for his relatives and friends it is endless grief. Over the past month or so, a number of stories have been written about joy and sorrow in China. More than 2,000 people have died of the novel coronavirus. Tens of thousands of family members are living with sorrow and grief, and 1.4 billion Chinese are sharing the emergency mission and battling the epidemic.

There are always heroes and cowards. This is a time when courage and timidity, misery and glory, and anxiety and hope coexist. As US reporter William Manchester carefully reported in his book The Glory and the Dream: A Narrative History of America, 1932-1972, China also has its own compelling stories in the domains of politics, economy, culture and social life over the past four decades.

Unfortunately, neither Chinese nor Western media outlets have accurately recorded this era of complexity and diversity. Some Western media outlets exaggerate China's suffering and shortcomings, while Chinese media outlets emphasize the positivity and splendor. Great reporters are needed by all great countries. The lives of all ordinary but unusual individuals like Wang deserve to be remembered and respected.

The author is professor and executive dean of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, at Renmin University of China and executive director of China-US People-to-People Exchange Research Center. His new book Great Power's Long March Road was launched recently.

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