Two years ago, one of China's most successful investment bankers broke away from his meetings in Berlin to explore a special exhibit that had caught his eye: "Hitler and the Germans: Nation and Crime." In the basement of the German History Museum, He Di watched crowds uneasily coming to terms with how their ancestors had embraced the Nazi promise of "advancement, prosperity and the reinstatement of former national grandeur," as the curators wrote in their introduction to the exhibit. He, vice-chairman of investment banking at the Swiss firm UBS, found the exhibition so enthralling, and so disturbing for the parallels he saw with back home, that he spent three days absorbing everything on Nazi history that he could find.
"I saw exactly how Hitler combined populism and nationalism to support Nazism," He told me in an interview in Beijing. "That's why the neighboring countries worry about China's situation. All these things we also worry about." On returning to China he sharpened the mission statement at the think tank he founded in 2007 and redoubled its ideological crusade.
He's Boyuan Foundation exists almost entirely under the radar, but is probably the most ambitious, radical, and consequential think tank in China. After helping bring the Chinese economy into the arena of global capital through his work at UBS, He now aspires to enable Chinese people to live in a world of what he and his ideological allies call "universal values": liberty, democracy, and free markets. While the foundation advises government institutions, including leaders at the banking and financial regulators, its core mission is to "achieve a societal consensus" around the universal values that it believes underpin a modern economic, political and social system.