Pan A'xiang is a legendary and almost household name in his hometown Zhejiang, an affluent eastern province. The illiterate farmer in his early 50s is father to a booming company group that has opened a branch in the United States, and a set of "ideographs" only he himself can read.
The past decade has witnessed the growth of Pan's private business from a small waste processing plant to today's Zhenxing (or rejuvenation) A'xiang Group, a noted enterprise with spacious workshops, bright modern-style office buildings, state-of-the-art production lines and annual sales of more than one billion yuan (US$120 million).
And all that is run by a man who in his childhood was too poor to even learn to read and write. At least not characters most people know. The humble, good-natured and shrewd Pan has his unique way of capturing and taking down pieces of useful information in his own "language".
His telephone notebook, something much talked about but illegible to others, is full of symbols and pictures next to the groups of digits but a very few simple Chinese characters.
In the written languages of Pan, a gun symbolizes a public security official with whom he is in frequent contact, an ambulance follows the telephone number of a local hospital, and a motorbike is the symbol for the head of a local police station.
Pan A'xiang has also created some different ideographs for bothhis clients and close friends. He sometimes uses the same character of different sizes to name people in the same departmentbut of different ranks, and never gets confused.
Despite his lack of formal education, the farmer-turned businessman knows a lot about his business and is acquainted with both domestic and international markets and even the World Trade Organization. Radio and television are his main sources of such information. Every day Pan pays careful attention to every news story broadcast on China's central and local televisions, which he considers an important means of updating himself and finding new business opportunities.
Soon after he learned from TV news in 1999 that the Chinese central government was set to curb pollution, Pan invested 24 million yuan (2.9 million US dollars) into a pollution project initiated by a local printing house. Today, the project has provena great success and brought him good returns each year.
In July 2001, when the national capital city of Beijing was warded the 2008 Olympic Games, Pan saw a rosy prospect for building materials, and joined hands with a Belgian business to develop a new generation of aluminum bars that has sold very well on the domestic market.
Today, Pan's enterprise group has 12 affiliated manufacturing firms, two research institutes and a branch in the United States.
"All the same, illiteracy is an Achilles' heel for me," he sighed.
School education was a castle in the air for Pan and his six brothers, who did not even have enough to eat and wear in their younger days.
"My own children have to be well-educated, now that we have a much better life," he said firmly.
True to his word, his son is currently pursuing a master's degree in Britain, and his daughter is soon to start her doctoral studies in the United States.
"Without the Communist Party, there would be no new China or A'xiang Group," reads a plaque at the entrance of the company's headquarters, a simple expression of the farmer's gratitude for the Communist Party of China.
(Xinhua News Agency October 2, 2002)