The Chinese Real Estate Mogul Who Had No “Dream”

Jane Li Blogpost

As I look outside the window of my apartment in the Chaoyang district of Beijing, I no longer see the old-fashioned brick buildings I recollect from my childhood memories, rather, I am surrounded with highly futuristic architecture with bold curves that has dominated a significant piece of the Beijing skyline. Interestingly, these enormous building complexes all have one thing in common – the same real estate developer, SOHO China, constructed them all.

SOHO China is China’s largest office real-estate developer and was founded by a power couple, Zhang Xin and Pan Shiyi. Zhang Xin, a self-made billionaire, is ranked top 50 on the list for Forbe’s world’s most powerful women. Little did we know, in her teenage years, Xin worked as a sweatshop girl assembling machinery parts for years in a factory in Hong Kong. When asked about whether she had a dream at the time during CBS’s interview, Xin responded quickly with a baffled look on her face “No, I wanted to just escape. I knew this wasn’t the life I wanted”. When she had saved up enough money, Xin purchased a one-way ticket to England and left her family to start a new life. After years of self-discipline and hard work in England, Xin managed to receive a masters degree in Economics from Cambridge University. After graduation, Xin moved to the states and worked as an investment banker for Goldman Sachs on Wall Street.

But the life of an investment banker was short lived for Xin as she changed her mind when she came back to China in the late 90’s. During one visit to a construction site managed by her soon-to-be husband, she was absolutely blown away by its scale and magnitude, “I had never seen a hole so big in the ground in my life!”. Xin soon turned her absolute fascination with the world of real estate into her passion and career focus, and she made it big. SOHO China now has built more buildings in Beijing than any Chinese emperor in history and has become synonymous with the new face of Beijing.

Very often, making monumental achievements does not necessarily require having big and ambitious dreams; rather it is driven by having a purpose in life, such as the desire for change in Xin’s case. Furthermore, it means having the courage to leave behind an old chapter in life to pursue something new, something you have always wanted, even if you will be in it alone. But most importantly, it takes years of hard work and determination to pursue something that truly intrigues and fascinates you in its nature and not just monetary worth. As cliché as it may sound, everything is easier said than done.


Jane Li

University of California, Berkeley


Link to Zhang Xin’s Interview:

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