Founder, Chengwei Capital | China
Eric X. Li’s career and life story embody the curious mix of communism, capitalism, ideology, and steely pragmatism that characterizes modern China. A Shanghai-based venture capitalist, Li has both wooed and outraged Western audiences with his provocative defense of China’s authoritarian one-party political system and unabashed criticism of American-style democracy. A self-styled “Berkeley hippie” — he graduated from California’s flagship public university in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in economics — Li has used his mastery of Western rhetorical discourse to repackage stilted Communist Party argot into nuanced, politically savvy arguments with demonstrated sticking power. His talks and op-eds, such as his controversial February 2012 New York Times piece, “Why China’s Political Model Is Superior,” have reached a wide audience in China and the United States, inspiring strong rebuttals, including during a live debate with Chinese political scientist Minxin Pei at the Aspen Ideas Festival in July 2012.
The well-connected Li doesn’t just play politics. Li is also the founder of Chengwei Capital, a venture capital firm in Shanghai. Who’s to say Communist adherents can’t get rich?