Chapter 4. Deng Xiaoping, for the Win

It's a balmy May Saturday night on one of a dozen rooftop bars in between the Drum and Bell Towers. New York native Yan Zhang is in his element. Wearing a crisp white shirt neatly tucked into his low-slung jeans, Zhang is introducing his dozen or so friends—again. He's excited and slurring his words just enough to show this Saturday night has been just like any other in Beijing.

This friend works for CNN, this one works for the embassy, this one works for the government, this one is a teacher, this one is getting his graduate degree, these three just finished running a marathon a few hours ago, this one (the loud, flirty one) is a paralegal, this one, this one, and this one are all starting or working for tech startups. Zhang himself is starting a VC-backed company called Meiloo—a Chinese healthcare portal that helps locals navigate the sometimes-shady but fast-growing world of elective surgery. In China, two of the most popular surgeries are breast implants and eye-widening. Meiloo means healthy and beautiful in Mandarin, and most of Zhang's friends are just that.

The gang has practically flash-mobbed this bar, taking over half of the couches and chairs on the roof. They are chatting, flitting between tables, laughing loudly, and, of course, drinking. The atmosphere is festive, happy, youthful, and electric. It's a group that feels they can take on the world. They have that air of people who are certain they are in exactly the right place at ...

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