Jing Shuping's life story embodies the economic development of modern China. The son of a wealthy Shanghai businessman, Jing had to drop out of elite St. John's College as a young man after an oil price war brought his father's business to the edge of bankruptcy. He worked as a clerk, typist, and ad salesman before the family's fortunes rebounded. Then the 1949 Communist revolution brought the Jings low again. By the 1960s, Jing was doing penance on a farm during the Cultural Revolution.

Now 83, Jing has returned to his business roots. He just presided over the first public shareholders meeting of Beijing-based China Minsheng Banking Corp., China's only private bank. Started in 1996 with Jing as chairman, it has proved a resounding success; earnings last year more than doubled, to $52 million. In December, the bank hit a milestone by raising $500 million in China's second-largest domestic initial public offering.

With $10 billion in assets, Minsheng Bank is a minnow in a sea of state-owned whales. But Jing has made it a model of what the big banks aspire to be. One impressive statistic: Just 4.4% of Minsheng's loans are nonperforming. At most state banks, the proportion is closer to 40%. "We have an advantage over all the other banks," he says. "They are all governed by the state. We have no mother-in-law."

Tall and courtly, Jing has a razor-sharp mind. He can reel off everything from oil prices in the 1930s to the latest figures from Minsheng's operations. He has walked a long and twisting road, but as Jing sees it, China's economic future looks brighter than at any time since his youth.

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