Media star at forefront of changing China

June 14,2007
Yang Lan
Her looks attract attention wherever she goes.
It might be inappropriate to talk about a person’s appearance ahead of her accomplishments, but one can’t help it when talking about Yang Lan, a leading television anchor and interviewer in China.
Fluent in English, Yang Lan has established one of China’s most prominent media groups.
She is also one of China’s top philanthropists, the second biggest private donor to various causes. Forbes Magazine recently ranked her No. 56 on the list of China’s 100 wealthiest.
Yang, who began her television career as the host of an entertainment/game show, has also established a major foundation dedicated to alleviating poverty, advancing education and better understanding across civilizations.
She graces a great number of charity galas as a goodwill ambassador.
On May 28, the JoongAng Ilbo interviewed her at her office in Beijing. It was her first interview with Korean media. “With more women’s participation in society, Asian countries can realize faster development,” Yang said.
She will be in Korea as a speaker at the World Women’s Forum, hosted by Munwha Broadcasting Corporation on Sept. 12-14.

Q.Are you the Oprah Winfrey or the Barbara Walters of China?
A. I want to be myself. I am Yang Lan, which means I have my own style. I prefer talk shows that are comfortable to watch without too much weight on the theme. But that doesn’t mean anything that’s frivolous. On the program “Her Village,” issues related to women’s independence, lives and careers are discussed.
You work as an anchor, operate your own business and even run a foundation. How do you manage your time?
I don’t know how I do it. There is no easy way. Every day is a battle to me. I tackle important things first. That may be the answer to your question.

Wealth, honor and beauty ― You have everything. What is the most important thing in your life?
I have too much responsibility. I can’t turn away from donation activities or charity work.
One day I recorded four television shows and was then invited to a meeting where celebrities gathered.
I acted as a goodwill ambassador to stop poverty. It was an important occasion, so I couldn’t possibly say no.
Family life is also important and women are the core of it. Handling all of these is important.

You sound like a superwoman.
No, I am not. It is possible because of people around me. If a woman wants to achieve something in her life, she can’t do it without the help of those around her.
When I travel abroad on business, my parents look after my kids. My husband was always next to me during my studies in the United States and when my company moved its headquarters from Shanghai to Beijing. He even moved his business. My two kids are good at school, which helps me. It is a blessing.
I am like an iceberg. People see only 10 percent of what I am made of. There is another 90 percent.

You were quite popular as the host for the “Zheng Da Variety Show” when you suddenly went to the United States to study.
Yes, the program was quite popular. About 200 million watched the show each time. I wasn’t happy, though. China was not open at that time. I had to say things that I didn’t believe in. It was painful for me. I wanted to be a producer, but that was also impossible. I wanted to find a new world, then.

Your decision is quite difficult to understand.
Everybody said I was crazy. Young, beautiful and making lots of money ― and I threw it all away all of a sudden. I wanted to stand on my two legs. Waiting for meat to fall from the sky is an old Chinese saying: I didn’t believe in that.
I studied international politics and journalism, but exchanging ideas and understanding other lifestyles were more fruitful.

Did anything change after you returned to China?
I wanted to be more independent, so I moved to Hong Kong. At Phoenix TV, I hosted “Yang Lan One-on-One” while acting as the producer.
It was the first one-on-one interview program in China and was quite popular. Bill Clinton, Jack Welch, Nicole Kidman and 450 other renowned celebrities were on the show. One year before that, in 2000, my husband and I established Sun TV, China’s first documentary satellite channel.

Don’t documentary channels have a hard time making a profit?
Yes, I lost a lot. My husband kept on investing more, but had to sell the company in 2004. While managing the company, hundreds of documentary programs were made and some of them did succeed. One program was even broadcast on the History Channel.

You must have had difficult times.
During those four years, I could barely sleep. I had hard times, but I learned a lot. Passion is not enough, management is also important. My husband says I act like a soldier. A soldier fights and dies on the battlefield, but a businessperson is a dancer, always keeping in mind where the exit is. I couldn’t find my exit, so my husband helped and pulled me out of the battlefield where I was losing. I acquired an economic magazine, started in online publishing and eventually founded a multimedia group. I invested in Singaporean, United States and United Kingdom companies, which all turned successful.

Do you give donations to gain more access to people, to widen your network?
I do not calculate when I donate. I feel good and sleep well. I give, not because it is morally right, but because I am happy about it.

You promised to donate 51 percent of your company’s profits.
My husband and I have agreed to donate all our assets after retiring. We don’t want to be enslaved by money. A few years ago, a close artist friend died and the surviving family was in a dispute over the inheritance. So we decided not to wait until we are dead. We set up a foundation to promote Chinese philanthropy and to develop civil society in China.

As a woman, is there a secret to your success?
I haven’t succeeded. If a woman wants to be successful, she has to make it known loud and clear. Just like telling her husband when she is happy. Nobody knows if she remains quiet. And then endure and stand firm, nothing else; everybody has difficulties. One who bears the problems ends up the winner.

By Moon Kyung-ran JoongAng Ilbo

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