During an interview with CBS’s Lesley Stahl, real estate mogul Zhang Xin shocked her questioner when, apropos of nothing, she told her that the Chinese people “crave” for democracy (comments on politics starts at 11:00).
The CBS interview, particularly Stahl’s narration, is kind of awful, and one could argue that Xin is playing in to her interviewer’s patronising, 1970s-era view of the People’s Republic*. Nevertheless, this doesn’t diminish the potential importance of a billionaire member of the elite like Xin out and out calling for democracy.
When Lesley and her producer Shachar Bar-On went to China to meet Xin, they thought it was an assignment to profile a rich and famous real estate mogul. Instead, they got a surprise: Xin (pronounced shin) took the interview to a place they couldn’t have predicted. Why would a woman who has everything to lose risk angering the Chinese government with a few remarks on American television? It certainly wasn’t the result the of a “gotcha question.”
“What she said was not really responding to a question I asked, so it just bubbled up from within her,” Lesley told us.
What Xin said was that the Chinese people feel a great longing for democracy, and she predicted that democracy would come to China in less than 20 years. For most Americans, it’s difficult to grasp what a shocking statement this is for the Chinese, especially when delivered in an interview with the Western media.
Ironically, given Xin’s bullishness about the Chinese property market, shortly after this interview was broadcast, the Shanghai stock index tumbled 8 percent, driven by losses in the real estate sector.
*Note to foreign journalists / Lesley Stahl: We haven’t used Wade-Giles since the 1950s, call him Mao Zedong not Mao Tse-tung, you sound like an idiot.