Vanke is a Shenzhen, indeed a modern China phenomenon.
Vanke is the child of Wang Shi, its current Chief Executive. Wang Shi enjoyed impeccable family political connections particularly in Guangdong Province. His mother was a Sibo, Manchu speaking remnants of battalions sent to the northwest frontier during the 18th century to expand imperial territory. Wang had a classic Cultural Revolution upbringing including a stint in the army that allowed his ID card registration to be revised to âœworker peasant soldierâ. This meant he could go to university at a time when many of his peers were in farms in the countryside âœlearning from the experience of the massesâ.
He recalls how he first saw the name of Shenzhen at Guangzhou Railway Station during the Cultural Revolution when he was travelling the country as a Red Guard. He was told that he couldn’t go there because he needed a border permit. At that moment he decided to go to Shenzhen.
In May 1983 as people were gradually seeing the new opportunities opened up by reform policies, and the excitement of Shenzhen was starting to spread, Wang got permission to move to Shenzhen. Initially he was the only person in the City Feed Department; but, subsequently, he started the Modern Educational Scientific Instruments Sales and Display Centre. This was the forerunner of Vanke.
What the Centre’s main business actually was at the time is not clear. High tech was then a frequently quoted mantra that conferred instant respectability in China as much as anywhere else. One of the popular sources of revenue of the time was imported consumer electronic equipment which could be sold at high profit margins to those lucky enough to be able to get their hands on products. Policies in Shenzhen on importation of these goods were more liberal than in other parts of China. The centre prospered in a modest way and became one of the first state units in Shenzhen to be converted to the shareholding system. It changed its name to Vanke meaning âœmyriad sciencesâ.
When we first encountered them some twenty years ago they were a small state-owned high-tech company with a net worth of about 13 million Yuan, planning to become one of the first listed companies in China. Indeed at the time, the company told us that they were planning to change direction and concentrate on real estate development, and asked our opinion on this. We observed that this did not distinguish them from just about every other company in China at the time; therefore, swimming in this crowded sea was probably not such a good idea. The scorn with which they greeted our opinion turned out fully justified and Vanke, based in Shenzhen, is now China’s largest real estate developer. It is a listed company with a market capital of tens of billions of Yuan and it is active all over China.
It specializes in high-end luxury estates. This is the end of the market which has boomed above all others in China in recent years, and Vanke’s estates’ curlicues are frillier, its gold leaf deeper, its swimming pools bluer and its marble whiter than anybody else’s. Vanke rightly prides itself as being the patron of some of China’s best new architects and there are whole glossy books in China’s bookshops dedicated purely to the architecture of Vanke owned and managed estates. Since we’re on the Dapeng Peninsula, it’s worth mentioning that one of our favorite Vanke estates, Vanke Seventeen Mile, is not far away. Situated just south east of Dameisha at the eponymous 17 English miles from the border crossing at Luohu, it perches on a stunning site high on a cliff over an azure sea.
Longcheer is another manifestation of Vanke’s commitment to luxury. It sits happily with their many high-end developments around the beaches. You have to be a member and seriously rich to get to see the inside Longcheer Yacht club. But a glimpse from its magnificent outside gives some insight into the world of the many Shenzhen newly super rich.
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