Ma Lei did not expect Chen Yuanming to respond this way, so he was a little surprised and immediately pulled the corner of his mouth up in a smile.
Was the kid going to whip out an emotional card or was he going to beg for mercy? After playing with him for so long, he knew the kid was scared. At the end of the day this was still just a child who had not yet grown hairs. The stench of his mother’s milk had not yet dried. … With a hint of playfulness, as if watching a joke, Ma Lei observed the teenager’s nervous face for a long time before he put his arm around the waist of the beauty beside him and leaned against the sofa.
Although Ma Lei had not said a word, his body language had already given Chen Yuanming enough hints, so he composed his thoughts for a moment and started from the beginning.
“A few months ago, when I was still in my hometown, I made a small business deal with an elder to sell knitwear. A type of gloves that can be worn in the winter.” Chen Yuanming gestured with his hands, “From here upwards the fingers are exposed so that you can still hold a pen. I called it half-finger gloves.”
Scarface sitting on the side was clearly frowning as if he wanted to interrupt but he looked at his elder brother sitting on the opposite side and swallowed his words.
As though he had not noticed the changes in the expressions of listeners, Chen Yuanming continued to speak calmly.
“This kind of glove was very novel. At the time, no one had done something like that before. We made a total of more than 200 pairs at a go and it all sold out immediately. A single pair of gloves earned more than a dozen times the profit. The cost of production was only 100 yuan, but the net profit was more than 1000 yuan. Of course, there were no labor costs included.
With that said, Ma Lei’s eyebrows twitched slightly, and his expression changed a little bit.
“Wasn’t that great business?” Chen Yuanming smiled. “But the interesting part was still to come. Less than a month after the start of the school year, my classmates, alumni of the school, and even other people I didn’t know all seemed to know how to knit this kind of glove overnight. At least half of them had a pair of these gloves on their hands. Yet we only sold 200 pairs and my school had at least 1,000 students.”
Scarface couldn’t help it anymore and laughed for a moment, “Nonsense, who can’t knit a damned glove? How much profit you can grab on something like this!”
Chen Yuanming shook his head. “No, if we had continued to expand production, hired knitters, and improved the glove styles, while we may not have made a dozen times the profit, earning a few times the profit would not be a problem.”
Scarface was immediately dumbfounded. Even if he was not that smart he could still calculate this. How much profit did they make by smuggling color TV’s? 30%. What about cigarettes? 50% … While he may not have heard that 100% profit could induce people into trampling on all the laws of the world, yet they were indeed taking risks for just 50% profit.
Anyone who had engaged in business could calculate the profit potential here.
Chen Yuanming did not pause. “Or maybe next year competitors or sellers with smaller profit margins would have emerged, but will this business ever be out of date? I don’t think it will …” He smiled, “Because the buyers are still there. How many people are there in that one city?” What about the population of the cities around it, or the more distant provinces or even the whole of China? This business cannot be monopolized by one family, so if you calculate it, how much profit could you make by continuing to do this? “
There was silence in the room and even the girls who were accompanying them to drink wine looked up in surprise at the boy sitting on the sofa. After a while, Ma Lei slowly opened his mouth.
“It’s a good deal, but it’s delusional for you to think that you can achieve anything with 1,000 yuan.”
“Yes, I found that to be the case. On that basis, because I can’t rob anyone, and no one is foolish enough to just hand me money …” Chen Yuanming lowered his head and looked at his fingers. As a result of gripping the steering wheel, his palms were roughened by thick calluses and his veins had begun to protrude slightly. It no longer looked like a child’s hand. “… that’s why I wanted to come south. I thought of Zhuhai because I wanted a simple way to make this principal.”
Ma Lei suddenly said, “Oh, this is why you’ve been driving long distance? You are still going to Shanghai to gamble on stocks? Is 300,000 yuan still not enough principal?”
“It’s not enough. I want more.”
“An ambitious heart …” Scarface muttered in a low voice but no one paid him any attention.
Indeed, his ambition was too wild. At this time, even Ma Lei was a little bit stunned. He had evaluated this boy according to his own preconceptions and he had even thought that he already viewed him highly, but now it seemed that he had not evaluated the boy high enough. After carefully pondering over the meaning of Chen Yuanming’s words, Ma Lei laughed at himself.
“So, you have never really taken our business seriously? Even though our business could make you rich overnight and force those officials and gentlemen to bow their heads, and can earn you millions upon millions in net worth?”
Chen Yuanming smiled, “Millions? Brother Ma, you are too humble. Now you are already on the path to earning hundreds of millions … But yes, it is not what I want. What I really want is the kind of business that whether it earns extremely high profit or not so high profits, I can still walk in the sun and honestly earn money from millions of people. A business where I will never fear receiving a knock on the door in the middle of the night.”
This sentence made Scarface’s expression change immediately and he almost stood up.
“Scarface!” Ma Lei shouted and pressed him back. At this time, the expression on Ma Lei’s face had really changed. There were no more cat-and-mouse-like games aimed at intimidation. Instead, his demeanor was like he was facing a truly equal and worthy opponent.
In fact, he was still in the initial stages of building his business. It hadn’t been four months since this small building in Chengdu was constructed and he needed a smart and capable deputy. He could not hold himself back from recruiting Chen Yuanming so he had taken the initiative to force the latter into showing his cards. But now…?
“Tens of thousands of people. Buying and selling …” Ma Lei muttered this sentence repeatedly whilst his fingertips subconsciously tapped the cushion of seat of the sofa beside him. He seemed to have touched on something within this sentence, but it was still unclear. There was a layer of paper covering this window which needed to be pierced through.
After looking at Scarface’s angry expression and his face which was flushed red, then looking at Ma Lei who was deliberating seriously, Chen Yuanming let out a sigh of relief. Regardless of the outcome his first step has been taken. He had made a gamble. All that was left was to see whether the other party will crush him like a bed bug, or whether he will be sufficiently moved by this discussion to leave a potential and probably very promising friend to grow.
Chen Yuanming did not have to wait long this time.
“No wonder even Qianqian can’t entice you.” Ma Lei smiled, and his facial expression slowly returned to normal.
Chen Yuanming glanced at the beautiful woman sitting beside him with a coquettish expression and smiled, “It’s not that Sister Qianqian is not beautiful enough, but I don’t like women.”
“What?!! …” Scarface who was unable to react in time, mercilessly choked on his saliva and coughed fiercely a few times.
Could this be a joke? Ma Lei who was stupefied looked up and immediately found that the expression on the other side’s face did not seem feigned. This kid! “Haha, She’s not the right kind of person then.”
Raising her hand to cover her mouth, Qianqian giggled, looked around and immediately after observing the atmosphere she poured three full glasses of wine. Ma Lei freely and easily raised the glass in his hand. “Since my brother intends to go north, let me be an older brother and offer you a drink first.”
“Brother …” Scarface who had just finished coughing couldn’t believe his eyes as he looked at his big brother. This was not what they had agreed upon!
“Thank you, brother.” Chen Yuanming did not miss the opportunity to make a statement, and simply raised his glass. “If it were not for you allowing me to privately carry goods, I would not be here today.”
“Don’t mention it.” Ma Lei waved his hands indifferently. “Our group was by no means your only option. If you had not worked with me, you would have done so elsewhere. But in the future, it is enough for you not to forget your brother.”
With a reserved smile, Chen Yuanming didn’t say anything more and raised his glass and drained it. After this glass of wine the atmosphere changed immediately. Scarface gave his older brother a small un-resigned look. He ground his teeth and leaned back against the sofa. No matter how good this boy pretended to be, it couldn’t offset the fact that he, Scarface, had been severely played. It was a pity that his elder brother had already spoken and thus the matter was now closed.
“No wonder young master Chen looks down on our business. It turns out that he has big ambitions.” Scarface squeezed out a sentence through the gaps in his teeth, his bitterness was palpable. “In the future, if you lose your pants gambling on stocks and need to re-earn your principal don’t forget to come back to see your brother. Being a driver is always best.”
After hearing this, Ma Lei was startled to discover that it seemed he had missed something. Yes, if the issue was just the principal, what did it matter if Chen Yuanming went to Shanghai now or in the future? Shouldn’t he instead have seized the business in Wuhan first, or mingled with Ma Lei’s own group for a while before heading North after earning enough? In this regard, it would have been fine for him to put up a little fight in Wuhan when his partner announced that he intended to open a shop. Instead, he pulled away directly and left. Further, he was okay with running color TV shipments for Ma Lei but immediately wanted to draw a line when it came to cigarette trading. In more than one way this was no longer a simple problem.
This was the bottom line. He did not want to go engage in the business of smuggling at all.
Timid? What a joke. Which timid child would come out to work as teenager or engage in this kind of business!
No vision? One glove, one watch smuggling operation. Fast, accurate and profitable. He had even considered his subsequent actions clearly. Was this material with no vision?
Since neither was the case, then there was only one possibility. He simply did not like smuggling. He would rather choose a more difficult path than to get caught in this kind of business.
Ma Lei frowned after a moment of thinking. This was a completely different answer. An utterly gifted investor was extremely pessimistic about Ma Lei’s line of business. Even if he was just a child, Ma Lei couldn’t help but wonder, was his path really wrong? Rubbing the leather sofa with his hand, he reflected for a moment and suddenly interrupted Scarface’s taunts.
“But Xiao Chen, if nothing else, we have been working together for so long. What do you think about your brother’s business?”
Chen Yuan was stunned for a moment. Scarface’s sneering and sarcasm were of not importance. Instead he would have been more concerned if Scarface had remained calm. But Ma Lei’s question had deep implications. What answer should he give?
Chen Yuanming raised his head slightly and his gaze met those pair of eyes on the opposite sofa. Those eyes were extremely savvy and were full of vigor and vitality. In those pair of black eyes were contained the desire and thirst that all ambitious people of this era had in common. They displayed the urge to fight hard and strive with the motivation and fearlessness of human beings. Compared with Chen Yuanmimg’s own cheat-like ability, this fellow was a real pacesetter in this era.
Such a bold and resourceful figure had helped him. Thus, what should he do …
Chen Yuanming smiled, lowered the wine glass in his hand gently, and resumed an upright sitting posture. “Actually, I’ve always been curious brother Ma, why did you choose to sell TV’s? Even I have made more money selling electronic watches these days, let alone other things.”
Ma Lei raised his eyebrows. The kid did not mention cigarettes. He mocked himself. “Was it not that my family was poor when I was a kid. How rare was a TV? I always dreamed of owning a TV … additionally, in the first two years special taxes were levied on domestic TV sales which created a resale opportunity.”
“Desire … Yes, these days, who doesn’t want to buy a TV.” Chen Yuanming smiled and continued. “It’s just that the TV brands are too regional. Changhong is in Sichuan, Konka is in Guangdong, and there is also Panda, Coral, etc., plus Japanese and Korean products. How many brands are waiting to be sold. Picking and choosing will definitely require buyers to be farsighted.”
“What farsightedness …” Scar sneered, “It’s hard enough for people to even have money to buy.”
Chen Yuanming shook his head, “What were the three major items of the 1970s, and what were the three major items of the 1980s? The bicycles and sewing machines of those years were not available in everyone’s homes then, yet at present they are freely available.”
Ma Lei trembled involuntarily and sat upright. What did he hear just now? Yes, the TV smuggling business had become increasingly difficult in the past two years. Why? It was not just that the sales price had dropped or that there are too many product types, which had made him realize that he should put aside this low-profit gadget and focus on making some real big money. Rather, was it that these trends implied that TV’s were beginning to enter millions of households and was becoming a commodity that was no longer scarce?
How many brands of soy sauce and vinegar are available in stores? But will the soy sauce and vinegar factory stop doing its own business because there are more brands? On the contrary, they will do everything possible to control production costs, reduce prices or improve quality to expand their market share. This involves sales to millions of homes. Even if they only make a penny on each sale, they could still earn tens of millions.
And himself? While he couldn’t produce TV’s, but sales … Heh ~ He was a smuggler. Did anyone know the psychology of buyers better than him? After all, things produced must be sold and these manufacturers cannot reach the entire market. Only stores can achieve this. If he could become the indispensable “shop” in the middle, with enough power and status, won’t there be manufacturers who are eager to supply goods to him for sale? How much profit could he earn by distributing goods among these tens of millions of homes?
Thoughts were flying, Ma Lei only felt that his heart was pounding, and that layer of window paper veiling his thoughts was easily torn. He could also choose another path and that was to do business supplying these tens of millions of people in an honest and aboveboard way. They were all raised in good homes, if it was not necessary, who would want to risk immense danger and engage in these illegal activities where they could be sent to prison at any time.
A path where one never has to be afraid of a door knock in the middle of the night.
Ma Lei smiled and shook his head helplessly. How could he have been so fortunate as to meet such a lucky star. But at this time, could he still invite this kid to join him? The answer was obviously no, as he had said, a man of such high aspirations will not wallow in a shallow pond …
With a long sigh, Ma Lei patted the sofa beside him with emotion, “It’s a pity that you’re going north …”
He understood. Chen Yuanming also laughed, “China is only so big, sooner or later we will meet again.”
Yes, as long as you have the opportunity to become a master, why should we fear not meeting each other? Ma Lei turned his head and yelled at Scarface, “What are you still doing! Won’t you send off our guest!”
Scarface grimaced, what the fuck was going on? With just those few words without a head or tail, why did his elder brother turn on him without rhyme or reason? Did this boy drug him with Ecstasy?!!
Chen Yuanming stood up, smiled and shook his head, “Brother Ma, no need to worry about it, I am not used to cars. I’ll walk back myself.”
Faced with such a simple refusal, Ma Lei could not force his brother to send him off. Without saying a word, he stood up and personally sent the boy to the door. This action shocked everyone in the room. This was the real big boss and he was sending off such a young child?
Ma Lei did not care about their thoughts. He sent Chen Yuanming off and remained in a daze at the doorway for a long time as if reluctant to say goodbye. Seeing this, Scarface only felt that the teeth were a bit sour. What the hell was this. Elder brother hadn’t been bewitched and started fancying this little rabbit, had he?
“Scarface, when you go back, give Xiao Chen a 100,000 yuan red envelope. Tell him that it is his year-end dividend. He has worked hard for half a year.”
“Ah?” Scarface’s mouth fell open. They often give out red envelopes, but the maximum amount given was usually only 5,000 yuan. What concept was 100,000 yuan? Didn’t they spend over 100,000 yuan to bribe those wild dogs over at Customs? That hairless kid just didn’t denigrate their business, he refused their invitation in a big way, and didn’t give them a bit of face, this …
“Brother …” Scarface could not help but whisper, “You … aren’t you confused, are you?”
Ma Lei slapped his cousin on the head, “You pig brain! If only you were half of him … one tenth of his wisdom and I’d have nothing more to worry about!”
“Wait … brother … don’t fight! Don’t fight!”
The cold wind in December blew across the streets of Zhuhai City, bringing 1991 to a close. A new year was coming.
The author has something to say: Note: The three major items of marriage were watches, bicycles, and sewing machines in the 1970s, refrigerators, color TVs, and washing machines in the 1980s, and air conditioners, computers, and video recorders in the 1990s.
Translator Note: He survived with his wits. Chen Yuanming now has 400,000 yuan. Exciting to see what his next step will be.
 The idiom used here is 乳臭未干 (rǔ xiù wèi gān ) meaning the smell of mother’s milk not yet dried; immature and inexperienced or still wet behind the ears.
 Changhong, konka, Panda and coral are all names of Chinese TV brands
 Three major items referred to the grand gifts the groom’s family presents to the bride’s family as a betrothal gift. “In China, traditionally the groom’s family would present the betrothal or “Grand Gift” which is various proposal gifts representing fertility and prosperity to appreciate the girl’s parents’ efforts in raising the girl”. In 1970s, the “Grand Gifts” generally were bicycle, watch and sewing machine; in 1980s, they were Refrigerator, video recorder and washing machine; in 1990s, they were air conditioning, motorbike and colour TV set; in 20 century, the “Grand Gifts” are usually a house, car and money. Read about Chinese Marriage customs here: https://www.topchinatravel.com/china-guide/chinese-wedding-customs.htm
 Customs refers to the General Administration of Customs (GAC) a ministry-level agency under China’s State Council responsible for managing the import and export of goods and services. Its key functions include customs regulation, duty collection, fighting against smuggling, and foreign trade statistics compilation.