When American dream meets Chinese dream

2015-09-24 16:14Xinhua Editor: Mo Hong'e

When young Wall Street banker Barry Freeman visited China in the early wake of the 2008 financial crisis, he knew instantly where he could realize his "American dream."

Now sitting in a towering office building in central Beijing where he and his 170-member team look over a vista of skyscrapers and swanky new malls, the Mandarin-speaking co-founder of Jimubox, a leading member of a new breed of Chinese lending platforms, counts himself a man of innovation.

And his biggest innovation was the move to China. Here, the "Chinese dream" has become a sociopolitical buzzword encapsulating the same optimistic sense of opportunities for personal prosperity as the original phrase did in U.S. frontier life.

With Chinese President Xi Jinping beginning a state visit to the United States this week, Freeman's story is a timely example of the strengthening interrelations between the two countries. [Special coverage]

His decision to stay in China has won him plenty of prosperity -- a booming business, a handsome salary, a decent standard of living, a loving family and a promising future.

Born in 1978 in the U.S. state of Georgia, Freeman is a staunch believer in the American dream, convinced that through hard work and enterprise, a better life is within reach.

In 2010, he quit his high-paying Wall Street job and took his wife to China, to open a business consultancy with his Chinese business partner Dong Jun, who he met two years previously on his China trip.

"When I spent time in China in 2008, it was very clear to me that if you look at the future, the world is going to be very dependent on the United States on one side and on China on the other," Freeman says.

Dong, a Yunnan native and now CEO of Jimubox, also worked on Wall Street for five years before coming back to his home country in 2009.

Both Freeman and Dong had occupied senior positions in big investment banks. The former was vice president at Knight Capital Group in New York.

Their experience stood them in good stead, and the consultancy was a hit, riding an economic boom that saw China's GDP expand by 10.4 percent in 2010.

Freeman and his wife also saw a boom in their family. Their first son, Qiaoqiao (literally meaning bridge in Chinese), was born in 2011 in Kunming.

"The United States and China will lead the world for the next 100 years.My wife and I hope he can be a bridge between the two cultures for the next generation," says Freeman, now a father of three children, all born in China.

While the Chinese economy was strong on Freeman's arrival, it soon began to face strengthening headwinds as China sought structural transformation. Its economic growth slowed to 7.7 percent in 2012 and 2013.

Freeman remained optimistic about China's potential nonetheless.

At the end of 2012, Freeman and Dong decided to launch a new business, a peer-to-peer lending startup that is now Jimubox.

Freeman says he wanted to "help build a company that will solve some of the challenges that China is facing as its economy transforms," a goal both serving and capitalizing on the Chinese dream.

Coining the phrase in 2012, then newly elected President Xi Jinping said, "The greatest dream in the country's modern history is to realize the Chinese nation's great rejuvenation."

Xi clarified its meaning several months later during a joint press conference with American President Barack Obama.

"We are seeking economic prosperity, national renewal and people's wellbeing. The Chinese dream is about peace, development, cooperation and win-win results, and it is connected to the American dream and beautiful dreams of people in other countries," he said.

"I think the American dream and the Chinese dream are very similar," Freeman agrees.

"We just sometimes take different roads to get to the same place. At the end of the day, we all want to change the world for the better for the people we care for most."

In August 2013, Jimubox launched online to provide loans to small businesses and individuals, borrowers who have been underserved by Chinese banks.

The first few months were tough, with lots of teething troubles. Freeman even had to give up his old Wall Street pastime of golf.

Dong Jun remembers his frequent disagreements with Freeman over listing applications and company management.

But their hard work and stress eventually paid off, with Jimubox earning a reputation as a trustworthy platform with competitive interest rates.

By April 2015, loans of 6 billion yuan (nearly 1 billion U.S. dollars) had been extended through Jimubox, with about a quarter of that sum going into secondary trading.

"About 70 percent of the investment on the platform is by mobile now," Freeman adds. "My friends come to visit [Jimubox] and they don't understand how [that is possible]. In the U.S., that is a dream that will either never happen or not happen for a long time."

Ten years ago, Chinese Internet companies copied their model from U.S. and European companies, Freeman says. "But if you look at the last three to five years, it is very different. You have brand-new industries, and new technologies have been created locally, serving the local market and then the world."

Freeman attributes Jimubox's success to favorable policies from the Chinese government and its encouragement of innovation.

Measures to support startups and supervise the healthy development of Internet finance were rolled out in July, months after authorities created a 40-billion-yuan capital fund to attract private investment.

"You now have a lot of young people who want to build their own companies, and you have this growth in startup culture," Freeman says. "There will be a huge shift in the next five to 10 years.

His partner Dong agreed. "Innovation is next engine for growth," he said.

"For Jimubox, we started at the right time, we have the right people and the right solution to market demand, and that's how we grew.

"I guess the success story of Jimubox is the best example to show that the American dream and the Chinese dream are interconnected."



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