Getting to know China


London-based charity China Exchange, supported by Prudential, is bringing a greater understanding of China to UK audiences.

The changes that have taken place in China since this century began are remarkable. To take one figure, during the three-year period to 2013, China’s building boom required more cement than the United States used up in the entire 20th century.1 The developments have included a new skyscraper every five days, more than 30 airports, metropolitan railways in 25 cities, the three longest bridges in the world, more than 6,000 miles of high-speed railway lines and 26,000 miles of motorway.2

It’s not just infrastructure that has been flourishing. The Chinese people have also become wealthier. The middle class (households with annual disposable income of at least $21,000 per year), which numbered two million at the turn of the century, grew to 116 million by 2016, an astonishing increase of over 5,000 per cent.3 The expenditure of the wealthy Chinese is also increasing – a third of global luxury goods were purchased by Chinese consumers in 2015, compared to a quarter by US consumers and a fifth by Europeans.4

In 2000, Prudential became the first UK life insurer to enter the Chinese market and our asset management business, Eastspring Investments, was established there five years later. Both operations are in partnership with CITIC Group and we now have a presence in 67 cities, reaching over 60 per cent of the population of 1.4 billion. We have more than £5bn of funds under management in the country and our life insurance operating profits grew by 83 per cent in 2016. Our broader activities in China includes support for the ‘Prudential Cup’, a charitable event which tests the financial knowledge of students and has benefitted over 71,500 people across the country.

We also support a charity based in London’s Chinatown, China Exchange, which highlights the impact of China’s influence in the world to UK audiences. China Exchange holds a programme of talks, exhibitions, workshops, performances and activities all designed to bring people into Chinatown and to inspire a greater curiosity about China. The charity is chaired by Sir David Tang, who has been described in the UK press as “Britain’s best connected man” and is the creator of Hong Kong’s China Club and Shanghai Tang.

Over 8,000 people attended events at China Exchange during 2016 and its flagship ‘Prudential Series’ attracts well known figures who exchange their thoughts and ideas with Sir David and a public audience. The events attracted over 400,000 views on YouTube last year. Previous guests have included Google CEO Eric Schmidt; actors Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeremy Irons, Sir Michael Caine and Dame Judi Dench; singers Tom Jones and Axl Rose; and HRH Princess Eugenie York.

Sir David appointed Freya Aitken-Turff as CEO in September 2015. Freya brought with her a lifelong passion for Chinese culture, having learnt Mandarin at university in Shanghai before running a business in the city. 

Freya puts the success of the Prudential Series down to audience participation, big names and low cost entry: “With Prudential’s support, our ‘60 Minutes with…’ evenings offer audiences an hour of conversation with exceptional people who lead extraordinary lives for an accessible price of under £13. The atmosphere is very intimate and there are great moments when a person stands to ask a question of someone they admire.”

The wide range of other activities at China Exchange also has broad appeal. In Freya’s view, “We provide an unusual, accessible and diverse space for people to gain insights about China. In the past month, we have held a weekend festival celebrating writers and writing from and about China; hosted two exhibitions; and staged an immersive piece of theatre based on the experiences of different generations of Chinese families based in Britain set in a Chinese restaurant. We use as many ways as possible to encourage people to be that little bit more curious about how China influences their lives.”

For more information about China Exchange, visit the website.

1Smil, Vaclav (2013) Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization
2Peston, Robert (2014) Will China shake the world again? BBC
3Woetzel, Jonathan (2016) China’s Choice: Capturing China’s $5 trillion productivity opportunity McKinsey Global Institute
4D’Arpizio, Claudia et al (2015) Luxury goods worldwide market study Bain & Co