A well-connected venture capitalist in Shanghai, where he was born, Eric X. Li studied in America (and even worked for Ross Perot's 1992 presidential campaign) before returning home, where he started doubting the idea that China's progress could only follow the path of the West's free-market principles.
In a much-discussed op-ed he wrote for the New York Times in February 2012 and in other writings, he has put forth the idea that China needed a different development framework, around a different idea of modernity. The Chinese system, he says, is meritocratic, highly adaptable despite the one-party rule, long term-oriented, pragmatic and non-individualistic. As he writes: "The Chinese political system ... comes close to the best formula for governing a large country: meritocracy at the top, democracy at the bottom, with room for experimentation in between.
While some criticize him as a cheerleader of the Chinese government and a champion of Chinese exceptionalism, Li is comfortable in the role of provocateur. He is the founder of Chengwei Capital in Shanghai, serves on the board of directors of China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) and is a Fellow of the Aspen Institute.