In the Green Room

Biotech and Healthcare Executive Yiwen Li

To Get on a Subway in China, You Have to Elbow People

Photo by Aaron Salcido.

Yiwen Li is a Los Angeles-based biotech and healthcare executive, serving as the Director of Global Strategy and Business Development for NantHealth. Before taking part in a Zòcalo/UCLA Anderson School of Management event, “Is China Prepared to Lead the Global Economy?” at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in downtown Los Angeles, she spoke in the green room about the world’s most powerful person, Beijing’s air pollution ratings, and why she hops on the subway whenever she’s in China.

Q:
Who’s the world’s most powerful person right now, Xi Jingping or Donald Trump?

A:
You see this interesting divergence right now in the world, where the U.S. used to be the world leader and created a lot of world institutions, world systems, played a big role in the U.N., the IMF, this kind of existing ecosystem. And you see under Trump that he is withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris [climate] agreement, that he is withdrawing the U.S. from the TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal], and kind of focused on building up the domestic market and reviving the economy of the U.S. within. Whereas Xi Jingping has this huge One Belt, One Road Initiative—this type of scale of project has never been done before by any country. That one project has involved 16 countries. The other project is the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank; that involves 80 countries already. So you put that together, that’s more than half of the world. So based on that, I would vote for Xi Jingping.

Q:
What are you reading right now? Or what’s the last really good book that you read?

A:
ReORIENT: Global Economy in the Asian Age. I actually studied economic history at the London School of Economics, and that was one of my favorite books. So it basically says that before the Industrial Revolution, China and India were the center of the world. Europe colonized half the world and used the silver they got to buy into that existing trading system that was already there, from China and India. And then through the innovation of the Industrial Revolution, Europe became a great power. So “re-Orient” means that the Orient is starting to be the center of the world again.

Q:
You’re from Wuhan but you live now in Pasadena. What do you miss most and least about living in China?

A:
I miss my family, who are all back in China. I miss the fast pace of China. China is sort of going through what the Western world has been going through for centuries, and China is going through it in decades. And you see that; Hong Kong and Shanghai are like New York on steroids. I don’t miss having to wear a mask, on a normal day, in the capital city, because of the air. Chinese people’s activity is kind of based on PM 2.5 [a measure of fine particulate matter in the air], that causes lung cancer.

Q:
When you visit China, besides seeing your family, what do you do to reconnect?

A:
This is going to be funny: I go take the subway. Living in L.A. you don’t really have that many chances to go on the subway, because it doesn’t really connect the whole city. The reason I go on the subway is to [become reacclimatized] to the competitiveness of China. In order to get on a subway, you have to elbow people. And that doesn’t happen here. I remember the first time after I was in Europe, going back to China, I waited in line for 10 different trains to pass by, because I simply couldn’t get in. So I told myself that whenever I go back again, I have to go back to that competitive system right away.