It’s hard to know where to start describing Yue Sai’s achievements, as her career has been so diverse. She has built her brands between east and west (China and the U.S.), and excelled at everything from the production of TV documentaries and weekly talk shows to the launch of cosmetics and lifestyle brands and the authoring of seven books. Oh, and she’s also the only Chinese UNICEF ambassador and does a lot of humanitarian to improve the status of women in China.
“Your resume is so incredible and I have so many questions that I don’t know what to ask first!” I tell her when I meet her for lunch at her home in Shanghai. We’re sitting in her spacious dining room, which has great views of the city and is tastefully decorated in a mixture of eastern and western styles.
Yue Sai laughs. “Well maybe I can start telling you about one of the things I am most proud of: my first TV show in China, One World, which aired in the 1980s. I believe it really changed China’s view of the world and, indirectly, also the way the Chinese viewed themselves.
“In what way?” I ask.
“Well it was when China was still very closed and for many people it was the first glimpse of other cultures. Imagine that we had 300 million viewers a week! The fact that the show was in English was also unique: it exposed people to a foreign language in a very direct, but also fun way.”
“I read that you also did a lot to change Chinese women’s image of themselves,” I say.
“Yes,” says Yue Sai. “This is also something I am very proud of. It was the early 1990s and China was coming out of the Dark Ages so to speak. With the launch of my cosmetics brand Yue Sai, I showed women that they can take charge of their lives. I was a role model and an inspiration for women.”
“How did you do that through a cosmetics brand though?”
“The Yue Sai brand was about more than lipstick and mascara: it was effectively the first beauty brand in China and it encouraged Chinese women to be proud of their image. We gave women the idea they could not only change the way they looked but also change other aspects of their lives: career, education… The core message was hugely empowering.”
“How have you seen the Chinese market evolve since you started off?”
“When I started, China was a closed market: there were no customers, so we had to create them. We had to explain everything from scratch and then we were faced with complicated laws and logistics. There were huge obstacles, but we overcame them.
“Another aspect is that when I started there were no women entrepreneurs. That is different now: today there are many women entrepreneurs and they are active in all sectors. Effectively, while China faces challenges in the business environment, like corruption, I think it is fair to say that we have really closed the gender gap: women and men are totally equal in China. In that sense, China is fantastic.”
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