China’s Leadership Role in the Magnesium Industry
by Xiaofang Zhou North
Co-Chairman, Galaxy Trade and Technology
at the International Conference on Magnesium, Shenyang China
Good evening from New York, where I’m working today at the headquarters of Galaxy to help build the global magnesium industry.
A long journey, in time, distance and heart, has brought me to New York from my original home in central Beijing. I will share part of that story with you tonight, because it may help to understand how the magnesium journey began. Where it’s going in the future, and what we can all do to direct it.
My first real encounter with magnesium was two and a half years ago. Like all Chinese people, I knew Shaanxi Province as the capital of coal, the center for production of the energy that has powered the rise of New China since 1949. I knew that the people of Shaanxi were tough, hard-working, proud of their ancient culture and their role in China’s history. They are the soul of China, working hearts and bodies to the limit, to build a new nation.
And Shaanxi has delivered; its people are key to the advance of China, which we celebrated at Tienanmen last year, the 70th Anniversary. When we attended the ceremonies, we were given delicate, complex red paper designs, handmade by the people of Shaanxi. The great strength of the people of Shaanxi is matched by great sensitivity, and great heart.
A friend from the Ministry of Commerce invited us to Shaanxi Province, to meet the coal miners who were rapidly becoming magnesium miners. Because of deadlines, we could not fly directly into Yulin that day, so we had to drive through a long night from Ordos, along the narrow roads crowded with huge trucks filled with coal, to arrive well after midnight, tired and hungry.
And to our surprise, our Yulin hosts were there at the front door, waiting for us. With a beautiful moving red sign of welcome, with flowers, smiles, and a late dinner prepared. This was the beginning of our experience with Yulin and the people of that fine city, and the next day, the beginning of our experience with magnesium. Since that moment, our work in building Galaxy with them has been inspired by that pioneer spirit.
In the next days and months, I looked into the people’s eyes, and saw the immense land where they live. Tough, rugged, dry mountains, ancient rocks that hold great treasure. That treasure began with coal, and has now been transformed, with many other industries, into magnesium.
Millions of years ago, the magnesium was deposited in Shaanxi, and it is the people’s inheritance today. The ancient earth has become one of the great reserves of magnesium in the world, and now with modern investment those reserves have been developed. Mines, roads and refineries have been built, the people have learned new technologies and methods, and magnesium is today one of the most important strategic natural resources of China.
As a daughter of China, and with my many years of experience in my adopted home America, I could feel the connection, and the question, from the start.
What if we could help the people of Shaanxi, with their rich mountains full of treasure, to connect with the world economy, and share the gifts of magnesium with the world? What if we could develop the capital, the markets, the technologies, and the inner resources of the people, to produce a magnesium miracle? The world would benefit from the increased use of this mysterious metal, which has been locked deep beneath China for so long. The people, families and communities of China would prosper, grow and realize their human potential.
This is the vision of magnesium that inspires Galaxy, and moves us forward. We are still driving through that long night, arriving in Yulin with our hearts open and receiving the gifts of the people.
We have been back to Yulin many times, and traveled to dozens of destinations around the world, in America, Europe and the Middle East. Our journey is not yet complete. But the original vision of magnesium remains — to lift the hidden gifts of nature from the earth, through science, industry and trade, through the hearts of the people of China and to the hearts of the people of the world.
This has been the deeper story of modern China, over the past 120 years, and I would like to share another story, about its significance in history.
120 years ago, in the year 1900, China was the oldest and most sophisticated civilization in the world, but its cultural and economic life had been tragically crushed, by a combination of forces, inside and outside China. China was one of the poorest large nations, and its potential for greatness was buried under the weight of centuries.
Something like the magnesium, hidden in her mountains.
In the great struggles, civil wars and revolution that erupted beginning at that time, it took half a century for China to stand up and be herself again, a proud and powerful people, united on October 1, 1949. Two generations of visionary leaders, and the sacrifice of millions of people, made this impossible dream possible.
And on that day, the potential future of magnesium in Shaanxi, and in other regions of China, also awoke. It would take another 50 years before the potential of magnesium as a metal of transformation became clear. And it would take a courageous opening of the young nation to the world, through more struggle and tragedy, for the vision to become clear.
I have heard a story about these times. It took place in Xi’an, the ancient capital of China, the center of Shaanxi Province today. It’s a modern, gleaming, beautiful world city, the size of New York, with rising towers that echo those of Manhattan.
But there was a time when Xi’an was the center of an immense military struggle, between opposing Chinese forces, who were resisting the invasion of China by Japan. I cannot tell all the complex history, politics and personalities in my limited time here today, but one brilliant episode took place in Xi’an. It is still mysterious today. Many do not understand what happened, so they call it “Xi’an Incident”.
The forces of the Nationalist Chinese were surrounded and defeated by the Red Army, and their General, General Chiang Kai Shek, was arrested in Xi’an. Because of a bitter history, it was assumed that the General would be imprisoned and executed.
But one of that first generation of young leaders, Zhou Enlai, heard about the situation and hurried to Xi’an. He knew General Chiang. They were old friends from their youth at Huangpu Military Academy, and he wanted to speak with him again.
So the two met — old friends, but also deadly enemies, in a setting of war. And what happened? It could have been a disaster for young China, which was not officially united and independent yet. Violence at that moment could have kept China in struggle for a long time, and it could have kept those ancient rocks of Shaanxi locked up, their secrets still unknown.
But Zhou Enlai chose to understand. He chose unity and cooperation, over conflict. He chose to develop understanding with his old friend, not to trap him as an enemy. The General, who had been minutes from death, was released in a few days, and sent forward in the name of peace.
And Zhou Enlai, who was at that time a young leader, was transformed in Xi’an.
Photographs taken before the Xi’an Incident show an exhausted face, from the Long March he had just recently survived, with so many of his friends gone.
Photographs taken after Xi’an show Zhou Enlai with wide open, peaceful eyes, focused on the horizon and the future. Many years later, he would become the first Premier of modern China, and its first Foreign Minister, who would lead China into prominence in the world.
On that day of decision, China chose to open, to cooperate, to grow. Zhou Enlai always remembered the people of Shaanxi, and he helped them to begin on the path which led through the age of coal, and today to the age of magnesium.
So you see: small things become great things. The hidden becomes shining. In the words of China’s great philosopher, Lao Tse — “Wisdom recognizes the depth and the substance, not the surface. It sees the fruit, not just the flower. Leaving the surface, wisdom finds depth.”
So it is today, as China opens her mines of magnesium to the world.
My lesson from this journey is simple. Let us find strength together, by deeply binding our destinies together. Let us look beyond the surface struggles of this day, the momentary conflicts of trade and policy, and find unity, which is priceless. Let us set aside the fears of the moment, and find the wealth of connection.
We Chinese do not speak the word “love” very much — we let our actions speak, and stay silent about love. But for just a moment, let us choose — with our American friends, our European and all international friends — let us choose to speak the world “love.”
Magnesium will be one vehicle, among many, that carries this message outward, from China to the farthest corners of the planet. This simple, humble rock, embedded in automobiles, aircraft, buildings, clinics, energy fields — everywhere you look.
At Galaxy, we’re doing our part in this vital process.