|A Versailles-like palace at Broad Town hosts corporate training|
Slideshow: "At Home With Mr. Zhang"
The Atlantic national correspondent James Fallows narrates photos from Chinese tycoon Zhang Yue's one-of-a-kind contemporary town.
The first time I met the Chinese tycoon Zhang Yue, he was showing guests the Versailles-style palace he has built on his estate. This was happening far from the coastal cities where so much of China’s new wealth and glitter are on display. On a pleasant weekend last fall—“pleasant” with allowances for the opaque brown sky—Zhang (his family name) had invited three dozen fellow Chinese millionaires to join him at “Broad Town,” the place where he lives and where Broad Air Conditioning, which he owns and runs, is based. Broad Town is on the outskirts of Changsha, a city known by few people outside China even though its population is roughly as large as New York’s. In China, Changsha is famous as the capital of Hunan province and one of the places where the young Mao Zedong lived and worked. A twenty-three-foot-high statue of Mao, long a fixture in the city square, was recently re-covered in pure gold.
The event at Broad Town was a “luxury weekend” organized by Zhang and Jet Asia-Pacific magazine, a publication designed to introduce business jets and the associated lifestyle to “Asia-based High Net Worth Individuals” who are newly able to afford such products. Guests were flown in from across China, free, on private jets. On Saturday, foreign airplane manufacturers like Gulfstream, Bombardier, and Cessna displayed their latest products, and the French industrialist Serge Dassault, whose Falcon jets sell for tens of millions of dollars, described the joys of air travel without the airlines. This is largely a theoretical pleasure in China, where the People’s Liberation Army still tightly controls airspace and discourages private flights. But a few private jets, among them one owned by Zhang, already crisscross the country, and China’s current Five Year Plan calls for airspace controls to be relaxed so a personal-airplane industry can arise. Niu Gengsheng, the CEO of a group that controls one of China’s largest dairy-products companies, was among the several guests from Inner Mongolia (charmingly, his family name means “cow”). He told Jet Asia-Pacific that the conference had helped him understand “the rationale behind the acquisition of such an essential business tool.”