“In the eyes of some people, we are dogs,” businessman Sun Dawu told a small group of entrepreneurs, economists and lawyers who met in Beijing last week to discuss Zeng’s death. “In the eyes of government officials, we are pigs. In our own eyes, we are sheep — sheep for slaughter.”
Entrepreneurs interviewed by The Washington Post say that many of their friends and associates have invested significant sums abroad in the past few years, as a fallback should they ever run into trouble; some are emigrating. The trend is a vote of no confidence in the party that concerns some economists, even if it has yet to reach a tipping point.
Within China, most business leaders try to keep their heads down, concentrating on maximizing returns to shareholders and investors. A small but growing group, however, says the time has come to speak out for political reform, for the rule of law and a judiciary independent of the Communist Party, and for the protection of private property and civil rights. In the process, they are breaking a taboo in Communist China that business leaders never discuss politics.
“Right now, people dare not speak out, but is that a normal society?” said Wang Ying, a fund manager at the forefront of the reform advocates. “The reality is that the more you avoid and hide, the harder it is for you to survive. Can entrepreneurs really survive if they kneel down?”
The debate over whether to speak out or stay silent has spread as far as an exclusive online networking group for 2,000 of the nation’s top entrepreneurs known as Zhenge Island. The group, which also stages lavish networking events, has been described as a high-level version of Facebook for members, who pay an annual fee of more than $3,000. Most members are owners of small or medium-size businesses, a group that tends to feel the most vulnerable.
Wang Ying had formed a reading group with about 100 Zhenge Island members to discuss “Robert’s Rules of Order,” a 19th-
century American handbook of parliamentary procedure, but was indirectly admonished last month when Liu Chuanzhi, founder of the enormous and politically well-connected computer maker Lenovo, told members that they should stay out of politics and talk only about business.