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Shi Yuzhu Exits the Stage

By Yang Yang (杨阳) and Wang Hao (王浩)
Issue 615, April 15, 2013
Corporation, page 25
Translated by Chi Yi
Original article: [Chinese]

If you ever spent any time watching Chinese TV over the past decade, you're likely to be familiar with a series of advertisements featuring a computer-animated older couple dressed in strange outfits dancing to a very annoying jingle. It's the kind of ad that is played so often that despite people hating it, the constant repitition has made the product's slogan one of the most recognized in China.

The ad is for a medicinal product called naobaijin (脑白金) - which literally translates as brain platinum. Viewers are encouraged to give boxes of this "brain platinum" to older relatives and friends when they're not sure what else to get them. The medicine is supposed to help people sleep, but no-one is really sure if it actually does that, still, it was once quite a popular gift in China, especially around Spring Festival.

Last week Shi Yuzhu (史玉柱), the marketing legend behind brain platinum's advetising blitz, announced his retirement. However, the 51-year-old is leaving behind him much more than an annoying advertising strategy. Shi made his first fortune in the early nineties after giving up a career as a public servant and heading south to start up a software company only to lose it all in a real estate venture. Shi has since risen from the ashes, taking the money he made from selling the naobaijin trademark to pay off his debts and found the New York-listed gaming company Giant Interactive Group Inc.

Leaving the Stage

Shi unexpectedly announced that he was stepping down as CEO of Giant Interactive at an event that had originally been organized to promote one of the company's new online games.

At the event, Shi opened a bottle of beer using his teeth, skulled it downed and then poured the remaining few drops over his shaved head.

"I'm going to retire. I'm a 'loser' (屌丝) and am going to lay low. You won't see me in the future. Bye bye!"

Shi is a controversial figure in China. People are amazed by his success but also criticize him for pushing the moral boundaries. People complained about how annoying his ad was, but they still bought it and gave it to their parents.  

When looking back over his career, Shi identified five main phases.

From 1989 to 1995 he sold his own software and made his first fortune. Over the following couple of years Shi, in his own words, "didn't know himself, and didn't know his own limits" (自己认识不了自己、不知道自己多高多大). He invested in a dozen different industries and decided to build a 70-plus-story building, a venture which ended up bringing his business empire crashing down.

Shi told the EO that in 1998 "I couldn't even afford a plane ticket or re-charge my mobile phone bill."

In the third phase he restarted his business pushing medicinal products and online gaming. The naobaijin brand and his success with the multiplayer online game ZT Online made him a legend in the world of Chinese business and one of the richest men in China.

In the fourth he tried to pull himself out and leave the running of his business to a professional team and now he's just about to embark on the fifth stage, retirement.

"The new phase starts tomorrow." Shi told the EO.  

As for his life after retirement, Shi wrote a final farewell on his Sina Weibo account: "I've finally completely retired, I'll leave the stage for the young people. After I've left, my major business will be having fun, and my side job will be charity activities."

Links and Sources
Little Red Book: Naobaijin; Pissing off Chinese people achieves 1 billion in health product sales.
Global Times: Giant Steps Down
China Daily: Giant Leap
Forbes: The World\'s Billionaires #468 Shi Yuzhu (2009)


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