InnovFest 2013 by National University of Singapore, Keynote Speech

Thank you. As someone who was fond of skipping schools rather than attending ones, I have usually been quite reluctant to come to speak at events organized by universities, especially such a fine university as yours, for fear that I might be setting a bad example.

Several days ago I turned 40. When I was very young, I always thought that old people, such as anyone above age 18, would be such a bore and pretty close to death and oblivion. So, at each of the birthdays after 18, I have been quite pleasantly surprised to feel just fine and lively, and life has seemed to stay rough and interesting. A couple days ago, I saw a piece of Weibo on Sina Weibo, the Chinese Twitter, that the United Nations has just designated anyone under the age of 44 as “Youth”. What a relief. I am still a Youth. Officially. By the United Nations! Even though, for all I know, it might just be another one of those make-believe stories circulating on Sina Weibo, it is nice to be reborn a youth again at 40.

So, rather as an old man, I come here, youth to youth, to share with you a couple stories.

The first story is about anger.

My father was born in Singapore, before Singapore was a nation. My grandfather came to Singapore in the early 1900s and settled his family here. The family lore goes that my grandfather served as the only Chinese officer in the colonial police force, and on the side he smuggled in people from his ancestral village. Human trafficking, you might call it, but I suppose a benevolent type. He died suddenly and mysteriously when he was still in the early 30s. During the War, my grandmother took the whole family back to the home village in Fuzhou, Mainland China, escaping from the Japanese. Along the way, she lost all her possessions, and was forced to give away two of her children. She did not really escape from the Japanese, and then was stuck in China till she passed away, experiencing all the turbulent years in great hardship. I remember my grandmother: very old, still beautiful, smart, and full of deep-burning anger.

My father grew up in mainland. He did quite all right and became a well-respected doctor. But growing up, I remember him too as being full of anger, the anger about lost opportunities, lost freedom. He dreamed of traveling the world and exploring mountains and swimming in the Colorado River, but his only memorable swim was the one when he had to swim across a river to escape from a group of rival Red Guards. He is now almost 80, could only walk with difficulty, and could not swim anymore when at last he saw the Colorado River.

So, anger was among my very early memories, and I grew up full of anger myself. You could not tell, if you knew me then, that such a young kid could harbor such a deep pool of anger in him. How I was in rage about school and the teachings and all the surroundings. That anger propelled me through all those years, leaving China, reaching America, leaving America, reaching France, leaving France, reaching China again, starting up things, failing, starting up again.

Nonetheless, I had the opportunity of exploring that my father never did have. I am still very much alive at the age when my grandfather was long dead.

Rather than a caged beast constantly clawing at the heart, for me, anger became a relentless propulsion force. Angry that so much talent got wasted away, never being able to have their works shown to broad audience, and so many people being captive to mind-numbing programs on TV, I started Tudou 8 years ago. To innovate, to start up a company, to overcome all the inevitable obstacles, to fall and get up and continue to run and charge, it is very hard, for anyone. Anger gave me that initial drive and sustained me through the early years.

For the entrepreneurs-to-be among the audience, I hope you will find your own kick-start force. And I hope that you have the good fortune of having a kind that is happier and yet still potent.

The second story I would like to share with you is about timing.

I have sometimes been asked when it is a good timing to start a company. During school? Right after school? Work for a couple years? Work for many years? When the market is up? When the market is busted? When the technology is super early, way early, somewhat early, or just about right early?

When I started Tudou in early 2005, by most standards, it was a pretty bad timing. We were there first, before Youtube, so there was no American comparables yet. The Chinese Internet industry was still suffering and digesting all the excesses from the Internet bubble years. Very little new venture money. The Chinese economy was right in the middle of the Golden Five years, so the real money and real careers were made in the booming traditional industries. Very hard to find like-minded talents. So for a while, Tudou did not have a lucky start. We managed to raise half million US dollars, and had to give up 30% of the company. I thought we got a sweet deal.

But then the Internet industry started to boom. Venture money started rushing back in by late 2005, initially very tentative but then rapidly becoming a torrent. Barely 6 Months after we raised the first round, the valuation for Tudou went up 20 times, and went on multiplying from there. The broadband Internet expansion allowed video viewing to rapidly become a major activity online. Users were growing 5 to 10 times a month. What a good timing, after all, to start Tudou just a bit earlier and had the runway to build up a name and viewership to benefit from the new boom.

And then, inevitably, the cycle turned. The financial crisis, the tightening control of Internet video, the boom and bust of the Chinese Internet stocks. Good timing. Bad timing. Really good timing. Now you have a terrible timing, so sorry. The word got tossed around and turned dizzily so many times as if it were an acrobat.

There is no such thing as a good timing or a bad timing, for a young start-up. Tens of thousands of economists slave away on macro trends and micro movements. Millions of stock traders all wish to catch just that right timing to buy or dump that one stock or one index fund. As an old Hollywood Mogul once said, “nobody knows anything.” Time, like God, moves in mysterious ways. Timing is unknowable.

If you have that bug that keeps you up at night, causes you to put your fork into your drink glass rather than your plate, talk like an excited parrot to anyone who cares to listen to your idea, or you have so long kept that secret idea and you cannot hold it secret anymore, it is the right timing.

Timing comes from your own heart.

So, these are my two stories.

Unlike 20 years ago, when I was young, and when I was angry, so called 愤青, the Angry Youth, now I am no longer that angry, and no matter how much I or the United Nations would like to think so, I am no longer young. Confucius said, “四十不惑.” “At forty, I had no doubts.” Perhaps.

I like more another well-known quote of his, though. When Confucius asked his disciples to state their goals, he admired the most Zeng Dian’s reply, “the last month of spring, with the dress of the season all complete, along with five or six young men who have assumed the cap, and six or seven boys, I would wash in the river I, enjoy the breeze among the rain altars, and return home singing.” I don’t think there is much deep philosophy here. Being an old man, Confusius admired Zeng Dian’s youth and freshness.

About 6 weeks ago, I started a new venture, an animated movie studio. The plan is to make high quality animated movies for families, primarily for the Chinese-speaking world. Starting up something new, the way things get built, finished and perhaps eventually destroyed, built anew, it is a timeless way of staying young and fresh.

So, for those of you who are embarking on a long journey of creation, I hope you stay young and fresh for a very long time.

Thank you.

借口

怎么找借口是门艺术。每一天,我们都能听到各种各样的借口,也时不时地给自己找些借口。比如,和人约会迟到了?因为堵车,因为前面的会拖得太久了,因为日历出错了,因为。。。诸如此类。

 

这些借口都属于给自己的迟到找到一个不可抗力的理由。但更好的借口是蜘蛛侠的。

 

蜘蛛侠和女朋友约会总是迟到,虽然女朋友每次很愤怒失望到最后忍无可忍地拔腿走人,但我们原谅并且非常同情蜘蛛侠,而且觉得他的女朋友真不够理解包容:蜘蛛侠的每次迟到,都因为他必须要拯救全纽约。

 

不可抗力的理由是防御型的,为了大家的更重要的利益的理由是进攻型的。进攻型的理由能让找借口的人不但毫无愧疚之心,而且充满了道德和正义上居高临下的优越感。

 

100多年前,刚刚完全征服印度不久的英国殖民政府,发现了一个庞大的秘密杀人组织,Thuggee。他们组织严密,专门针对陌生的旅行者。通常,thuggee们三五成群地通过各种借口,混入到某个旅行的队伍里。到了一个前不着村后不着店的野外露营地,thuggee们就三人一组地对付一个旅客,一人按手一人按脚,而其中一个thuggee专职绞杀。他解下裹头的头巾,头巾正中打一个结,不动声色也毫无声息地套住受害者的颈部,用力之下,头巾的结压碎气管,阻断颈动脉,10到15秒钟内,头部失去供血的受害者就会失去知觉,1分钟内死亡。组织严密的Thuggee团伙分工明确,有动手杀人的,有负责演奏音乐来掩盖声响的,有在外围巡逻捕捉漏网之鱼的,等等。一夜之间,百人的商旅团队就可以这么被无声无息地消灭。然后,Thuggee按照一个公平的方式分好财物,各自消失回到日常的角色中,直到下一次。

 

据说,Thuggee存在了500多年,从未被察觉。受害者远离家乡,而杀人的地点都在野外,而尸体会被仔细处理过,不会被发现。比如,那些被深埋地下的,thuggee会在尸体的腹部上深切一刀以让尸体腐败后的气体顺利排放,以免尸体胀起后拱起地面被野狗们发现刨出。而且,在组织松散各自分裂的许许多多印度土邦之间旅行,本来就是件危险的事。旅行者的失踪是稀松平常的事情,无从察觉也无处追究。直到统一的组织严密有一套现代官僚管理系统的英国殖民政府出现了,Thuggee才被发现。500年间,他们大概杀戮了200万的旅行者。

 

虽然Thuggee们既害命也谋财,但他们给自己找了一套严密的理论来解释他们为什么必须杀人。多少轰轰烈烈的黑帮们到最后往往因为分赃不均而崩溃, 而像thuggee们这么高效地存活了500年的秘密组织必然有一套完整严密的思想,才能让它代代相传而且保守秘密。

 

Thuggee们认为,他们必须杀这些和他们无冤无仇的陌生旅行者。他们其实不是为了谋财害命,他们是为了拯救全人类。

 

Thuggee认为自己是一个教派。教派的宗旨说, 他们绞杀这些旅行者,是为了纪念印度教中专职毁灭的女神迦梨当年击败一个法力巨大的恶魔。迦梨女神身上流下的汗珠,化成了一个个的thuggee。如果有一天thuggee不杀了,愤怒的迦梨会转而毁灭不感恩的全人类。

 

所以,为了拯救全人类,thuggee们必须杀死这些陌生的旅行者。当然,杀人后拿走享受的财物只是拯救全人类的辛苦工作的一点奖赏罢了,何况,他们每次都会留下一些专门用来祭祀毁灭女神。瞧,就算是拿走了些财物的时候,道德感稍微差些的人可能都只顾了自己的享受,他们都时刻记得毁灭女神的存在,时刻没忘全人类。

 

当然,到了最终,Thuggee们还是被发现了。而且,更糟糕的是,虽然他们为了拯救全人类辛辛苦苦工作了500多年,英国殖民政府竟然完全不理解他们,而绝大多数印度人也仅仅把他们当作一个杀人越货的强盗团伙,组织更严密历史更悠久杀人更凶狠,但依然还是一个强盗团伙。

 

蜘蛛侠或者thuggee,他们都还没有到达找借口的最高境界。虽然电影的观众认可,但蜘蛛侠的女朋友不认可。虽然thuggee们自己认可,但是印度社会不认可而且被他们杀死的旅行者们如果有机会表达意见估计更加不认可。

 

最高境界的借口,就是要让成千上万成亿的受害者点着头说,真是,对的,你对我做的这些伤害是必须的,其实这些都不是伤害,都是为了全人类,谢谢你的辛勤工作,我太感动了太感激了,你再给我一刀吧。

 

到了那样的境界,thuggee们就和蜘蛛侠和英国殖民政府合而为一,道德崇高,高效有力,指哪打哪,合情合法。

 

到了那时候,借口们都不是借口了,改了个名字,叫做理想。