Dong Bing, a former promising PhD candidate in political science at Tsinghua University, is now in the unlikely position of managing four small but successful electric bicycle repair chain shops in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province.
The ambitious bicycle shop owner, who is fairly certain of being the first "dropout-PhD" electric bike repairman in China, plans to expand his bike repair shop empire to 20 to cater to the whole city of Suzhou.
Dong Bing first rose to fame last April upon being named one of the 36 most competent self-supporting business pioneers in a CCTV competition.
The 34-year-old young man made a startling success of his bike repair business, presenting a veneer of class and respectability in a sector often derided for its shabbiness. But how did Dong make this utter change from studying at Tsinghua to running bike repair shops? The tale begins over 3 years ago.
In July 2004, two months before starting his PhD, Dong Bing shocked his friends and mother by abandoning his studies and a job as a senior security officer.
Despite abandoning what seemed like a sure fire path to success, Dong's decision was not existential but purely material. New regulations came into effect that halved the stipends of PhD students if they also held down jobs during their studies.
At the time, Dong earned a post-tax monthly income of 5,000 yuan, or around US$650. However, this was barely sufficient to cover daily expenses, a mortgage and the repayment of a 100,000 yuan debt he incurred after a lawsuit in 2001 against a hospital he claimed had caused his father's death through medical malpractice.
Although Tsinghua extended him an olive branch for his PhD studies, Dong Bing came under consistent financial pressure. He also realized that if he didn't quit his PhD and start a new career in a different city, his family's "economic crisis" would follow him for years to come.
When asked later why he chose to start an electric bike repair shop, Dong Bing quoted well known Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-Shing as saying: "If you want to start a business, start something that can bring you money even at the end of the world. It's often the case that opportunities just lie in traditional industries." As he explained, "China's bicycle repair sector hasn't seen many changes over 20 years."
After years of hard graft, Dong is pressing for a revised thinking pattern among elitist university students, many of whom look down on simple jobs after graduation. He explains: "The key point is you have to have your own thoughts. Stick to them and make enduring efforts."
(CRI April 5, 2007)