A young girl who saw her Beijing family home ransacked by Red Guards and her father flung in jail during the Cultural Revolution might be expected to harbor bitter feelings about the 1960s.
But Ying Fang, who now heads a London investment bank, holds mixed views because she was also a Red Guard, fired up by the prospect of transforming society.
"China had a very old, stiff class culture into which I was born, where you had to be tight-lipped always," she says. "Chairman Mao [Zedong] smashed that completely, destroying the hierarchy and making everything feel possible."
Whether the Great Helmsman would have been full of praise, or horrified, by the career trajectory of the energetic woman who is now the founder and chief executive of Evolution Securities China can only be guessed at.
Fang herself is not particularly interested in exploring how one moves from 11-year-old firebrand to 52-year-old merchant banker, claiming she never delves into the past.
"I have chosen not to look back. It's better to look forward," she says baldly, but later comments that she looks to the future rather than "collecting the tears" of a bygone era.
China has dramatically moved forward, from agrarian pauper to industrial powerhouse, over those decades. But how many former Red Guards end up in offices overlooking the Bank of England and send their children to posh English public schools?
Fang's innovative, if not revolutionary, duties now involve trying to help Chinese companies raise money in the west while carving out a good living for herself and her backers.
"There are many banks such as Goldman Sachs and others present in China, but very few of them are making money. It's easy to build a strategic presence but not to turn it into profit as we have done," she says.
She has already helped bring four firms to the London stock market, has three more lined up to float this year and has double that number ready on the launch pad for next year.
The role of Evolution Securities China, which is 35 percent owned by Fang and her colleagues and 65 percent by the Evolution brokerage, is to pick reliable and successful Chinese firms and match them with the right investors.
"There are huge cultural differences. Western due diligence doesn't work in China because the economics are very different. Many Chinese companies have traditionally judged their success only by whether they are making enough money to keep their staff employed." she says.
"Things have changed over the last 10 years but still things like who gets government support and who pays taxes are vital to know," she says.
Fang believes she is perfectly placed to do this, given her cross-cultural background and in-depth knowledge of the Chinese business community and solid experience of Western banking practices.
During the Cultural Revolution, Fang was sent from the middle-class comforts of Beijing to the Communist Labor University in far-flung Jiangxi Province, where she was confronted by rural poverty. That experience had the right impact, she believes, making her aware of how the other half lived. She returned with zeal to the capital where she worked for a government policy unit.
But her life began to change with the return to power of Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平), whose pragmatic approach involved encouraging the Communist Party elite to travel abroad for international experience. Fang seized the chance to study economics at the State University of New York followed by a summer internship at the World Bank.
There she met the man who was to become her husband, Giles Chase, another financier, and transferred to the London School of Economics. This triggered a move to Britain. Charles Goodhart, her professor at the university, gave her a reference that helped win her a job as an economist at Barclays Bank.
She had several jobs with different institutions studying China but this was not a fashionable area in those days.
"It is hard to remember that China was of little interest to the Western business community. If you mentioned China, they thought you were talking about porcelain," she laughs.
Now that situation has changed, with almost every conversation on economics or commerce turning at some stage to China.
Fang believes there are business lessons to be learned from the way Mao built his cult leadership "brand," which is almost as omnipresent in China's present mixed economy as it was under doctrinaire communism.
"What is phenomenal is that he united a whole nation -- they all thought like he did. It was amazing the way he ensured that all messages went from the bottom to the top and vice- versa. A lot of management skills went into that," she argues.
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