PEKING — "I don't do this just for the money. It's art," said Peking entrepreneur Luo Gang, pointing to a glossy poster of a swimsuited Chinese woman draped around a powerful motorbike.
Sipping drinks in the foyer of a luxury hotel, Luo would be a commonplace figure on New York's Madison Avenue or in London's West End. In Peking he is unique--the Chinese capital's only self-employed advertising man.
Two busy years of advertising work for film studios, recording companies and publishing houses have given Luo, 34, a hefty income and the rare privilege in China of his own bachelor pad.
Hectic Life Style
Luo's Madison Avenue counterparts would sympathize with his hectic life style--"I never have a day off"--and the complexities he faces in keeping his own accounts.
"I wouldn't like to say how much I earn, but the tax is terrible," he said.
Luo writes copy himself and does his own designs. He is also a middleman, finding photographers, models, studios and printing companies for contracts commissioned by his clients, who are all Chinese and mostly state-run companies.
The picture of the woman on the motorbike appeared in a promotional calendar published by a music recording company.
Many of Luo's other designs, often promoting Chinese film celebrities and pop stars, appear on posters in theaters and record shops.
Began Two Years Ago
Luo's career took off in 1984 when the Peking city authorities issued thousands of licenses to would-be entrepreneurs as economic reform swept the country.
The previous 32 years had not been so kind to Luo. The son of a Moscow-educated veteran communist revolutionary, he and his family were branded spies and "counterrevolutionaries" during the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s.
He spent years of his youth in a labor camp in central China and later as a "non-person" after illegally returning to his native Peking from the countryside.
When China's recent dramatic economic reforms began to encourage private enterprise, he set up the "Red Sail" advertising agency--a name which he insisted has no political significance.
'Easy at the Start'
Luo is more than grateful to the relaxed atmosphere of China in the 1980s but said that his business is not all plain sailing.
"It was very easy at the start," he said. "Everyone wanted to encourage the self-employed. But the authorities want lots more restaurants and shops, with people just making a little money. They're not too sure about people like me--they want to stay in control."
The result, he said, is a tax burden that seems to grow by the month.
The bills for income tax, "education fees," "civil construction fees" and other duties levied by local authorities swallow up to 65% of his income, he said.
Not Complaining Too Much
Arbitrary taxes levied on private businesses are one reason for a drop this year in the numbers of self-employed people in China, according to the official press.
Luo is not complaining too much. He can still afford to hire a car and driver every day, and spend several thousand dollars to put his girlfriend through Peking University.
Making more money, he admitted, is one of his ambitions. But he also considers himself a man with a mission to advertise. "Chinese young people have no images to interest them. I'm giving them new images," he said.