The World As I See It
How strange is the lot of usmortals! Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purposehe knows not, though he sometimes thinks he senses it. But withoutdeeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists forother people – first of all for those upon whose smiles andwell-being our own happiness is wholly dependent, and then for themany, unknown to us, to whose destinies we are bound by the ties ofsympathy. A hundred times every day I remind myself that my innerand outer life are based on the labors of other men, living anddead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the samemeasure as I have received and am still receiving. I am stronglydrawn to a frugal life and am often oppressively aware that I amengrossing an undue amount of the labor of my fellow-men. I regardclass distinctions as unjustified and, in the last resort, based onforce. I also believe that a simple and unassuming life is good foreverybody, physically and mentally.
I do not at all believe in humanfreedom in the philosophical sense. Everybody acts not only underexternal compulsion but also in accordance with inner necessity.Schopenhauer's saying, 「A man can do what he wants, but not wantwhat he wants,」 has been a very real inspiration to me since myyouth; it has been a continual consolation in the face of life'shardships, my own and others', and an unfailing well-spring oftolerance. This realization mercifully mitigates the easilyparalyzing sense of responsibility and prevents us from takingourselves and other people all too seriously; it is conducive to aview of life which, in particular, gives humor its due.
To inquire after the meaning orobject of one's own existence or that of all creatures has alwaysseemed to me absurd from an objective point of view. And yeteverybody has certain ideals which determine the direction of hisendeavors and his judgments. In this sense I have never looked uponease and happiness as ends in themselves--thisethical basis I callthe ideal of a pigsty.The ideals which have lighted my way and timeafter time have given me new courage to face lifecheerfully, havebeen Kindness, Beauty, and Truth. Without the sense of kinship withmen of like mind, without theoccupation with the objectiveworld,the eternally unattainable in the field of art and scientificendeavors, life would have seemed to me empty. The triteobjects ofhuman efforts--possessions, outward success, luxury--have alwaysseemed to me contemptible.
My passionate sense of socialjustice and social responsibility has always contrasted oddly withmy pronounced lack of need for direct contact with other humanbeings and human communities. I am truly a 「lone traveler」 and havenever belonged to my country, my home, my friends, or even myimmediate family, with my whole heart; in the face of all theseties,I have never lost asense of distance and a needforsolitude--feelingswhich increase with the years. One becomessharply aware, but without regret, of the limits of mutualunderstanding and consonance with other people. No doubt, such aperson loses some his innocence and unconcern; on the other hand,he is largely independent of the opinions, habits, and judgments ofhis fellows and avoids the temptation tobuild his inner equilibriumuponsuch insecure foundations.
My political ideal is democracy.Let every man be respected as an individual and no man idolized. Itis an irony of fate that I myself have been the recipient ofexcessive admiration and reverencefrom my fellow-beings,through nofault, and no merit, of my own. The cause of this may well be thedesire, unattainable for many, to understand the fewideas to whichI have with my feeble powers attained through ceaseless struggle. Iam quite aware that it is necessary for the achievementof theobjective of an organization that one man should do the thinkingand directing and generally bear the responsibility.But the ledmust not be coerced, they must be able to choose their leader. Anautocratic system of coercion, in my opinion, soon degenerates. Forforce always attracts men of low morality, and I believe it to bean invariable rule that tyrants of genius are succeeded byscoundrels. For this reason I have always been passionately opposedto systems such as we see in Italy and Russia today. The thing thathas brought discredit upon the form of democracy as it exists inEurope today is not to be laid to the door of the democraticprincipleas such, but to the lack of stability of governments andto the impersonal character of the electoral system. I believe thatin this respect the United States of America have found the rightway. They have a President who is elected for a sufficiently longperiod and has sufficient powers really to exercise hisresponsibility.What I value, on the other hand, in theGermanpolitical system is the more extensive provision that itmakes for the individual in case of illness or need. The reallyvaluable thing in the pageant of human life seems to me not thepolitical state,but the creative, sentient individual, thepersonality; it alone creates the noble and the sublime, while theherd as such remains dull in thought and dull infeeling.
This topic brings me to that worstoutcrop of the herd life, the military system, which I abhor. Thata man can take pleasure in marching in fours to the strains of aband is enough to make me despise him. He has only been given hisbig brain by mistake; unprotected spinal marrow was all he needed.This plague-spot of civilization ought to be abolished with allpossible speed. Heroism on command, senseless violence, and all theloathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism--howpassionately I hate them!How vile and despicable seems war to me! Iwould rather be hacked in pieces than take part in such anabominable business. My opinion of the human race is high enoughthat I believe this bogey would have disappeared long ago, had thesound sense of the peoples not been systematically corrupted bycommercial and political interests acting through the schools andthe Press.
The most beautiful experience wecan have is the mysterious.It is the fundamental emotion whichstands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does notknow it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good asdead, and his eyes are dimmed. It was the experience ofmystery--even if mixed with fear--that engendered religion. Aknowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate,ourperceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty,which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to ourminds--it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute truereligiosity; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeplyreligious man. I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punisheshis creatures, or has a will of the kind that we experience inourselves. Neither can I nor would I want to conceive of anindividual that survives his physical death; let feeble souls, fromfear or absurd egoism, cherish such thoughts. I am satisfied withthe mystery of the eternity of life and with the awareness and aglimpse of the marvelous structure of the existing world, togetherwith the devoted striving to comprehend a portion, be it ever sotiny, of the Reason that manifests itself in nature.
Twice a year I travel to Jingmen in central China to visit myparents and siblings. Last week, I was there on a new mission: toreview the work of my sisters as shadow bankers.
Shadow banking is lending activities outside regular banks. Despitewhat some would say, it is a reputable business
My elder sister, Yuqing, 59, sells red bean cakes and other snacksin Maliang, a small town along Han River. She makes about 3,000yuan (HK$3,800) a month with the assistance of her husband, afarmer who ploughs land for neighbours with a tractor in spring andautumn. They manage to make ends meet but have saved very littlefor their retirement. As they have never had formal employment,they will have no social security to fall back on during theirretirement.Right after I became chairman of Wansui MicroCredit in Guangzhou in mid-2011, I had tried to talk my two sistersinto the same trade. Owing to a lack of experience, they refused.Six months ago, I finally figured out a way for them to activelyengage in shadow banking without it affecting their currentwork.
Yuqing's education was very limited as she only attended primaryschool during the Cultural Revolution. But she knows all ofMaliang's 2,000 residents and is able to judge the credibility ofits street vendors and store owners.
To play it safe, I gave her 200,000 yuan to try her hand at lendingsix months ago. In one week, she lent out all the money to fourstore owners. Encouraged and pleased, she borrowed 80,000 yuan fromher son, a migrant worker in Xiangtan, to increase her firepower.The new funds went to a fertiliser distributor, while her fourearlier customers were in catering, and sold solar heaters andelectrical goods.
Her loans were all long-term ones but recallable with a week'snotice. I asked her to take notes on all money inflows andoutflows. She charges 1 to 2 per cent a month, but is very flexibleif her customers pay slightly less, or a week later than scheduled.She is more careful about the return of her money than the returnon her money. She told me she wanted to reduce the interest ratesas one neighbour was planning to send her child to school inWuhan.
Maliang also has two banks and a credit union that are flexible intheir business approaches. But they are not able to meet all thedemand. Unlike formal lenders,
One of her neighbours, Fongjun, is also in the lending business.Three months ago, he pulled money from a quarry operator afterhearing about his gambling losses. Yuqing knew that the rumour wasuntrue and so lent him money to fill the gap.
My younger sister, Yunmeng, is a human resources manager at a powerplant. She makes 7,000 yuan a month, a big salary by localstandards. With her own savings and my money, she now has 4 millionyuan under management.
Seven years ago, she got burned in the stock market, and had, untilsix months ago, only invested in banks' wealth management products,which are essentially the banks' way to bypass the government capson interest rates. Currently, the government caps the interestrates on bank deposits at 3.3 per cent a year, but banks pay asmuch as 5 to 6 per cent on wealth management products.
Through my work, I found three trustworthy peer-to-peer lenders(P2P) on the mainland. Essentially, they match small savers andsmall borrowers through the internet, and stand in the middle tofacilitate transactions and manage risks for the savers.
I did a fair amount of due diligence on China Risk Finance, (fundedby a group of well-known American investors), Kaixindai (owned byChina Development Bank and Jiangsu's provincial government)and
At my urging, Yunmeng invested 4 million yuan through the three P2Poperators, and plans to roll over the money to new borrowersconstantly through the three platforms. She gets paid an annualinterest rate of 10 to 11 per cent for her risk-taking.
While the P2P operators are not legally allowed to guarantee thesafety of investors' money, they still find legitimate ways toachieve the same goal. For example, CRF charges borrowers a 5 percent risk premium and pools the money to compensate investors inthe event of a default. Yooli and Kaixindai, on the other hand,make small loans in partnerships with licensed micro-credit firms,and require their partners to guarantee the loans.
The borrowers in the P2P networks are similar to Yuqing'scustomers, but a bigger and growing percentage are youngwhite-collar workers who do not mind taking out a loan for a newcar or a holiday in the Philippines.
Banking on the mainland is seen as a complex business (it is) andsomething that governments like to meddle in (they do). However,despite that meddling, ordinary people can find a way to helpthemselves … sometimes in the shadows of the "real" banks.
Joe Zhang is a corporate adviser and the authorof