As the largest single generation in China, the Pioneers were the architects and drivers of one of the most astonishing economic transformations the world has ever seen. They were shaped by a prolonged period of creative destruction in which the shackles of communism were thrown off, replaced by exactly what no one was quite sure, not even Deng Xiaoping himself.

But capitalism was copacetic and optimism was in the air because China was finally on the move, and the Pioneers moved with it. Their generation is populated by the “misfits and rebels” to whom Steve Jobs famously paid homage—experimentation and risk-taking defined the generation’s ethos.

Little surprise, then, that many of today’s tech titans and private sector CEOs hail from this generation. They weren’t necessarily highly educated, but were forged from the melding of opportunism, intense work ethic, hard hustle, and a “take no prisoners” attitude. Far from coasting to the top, this generation will be the first to tell you that their success was earned, not given.

For all their achievements, however, the Pioneers had their fair share of setbacks. State sector reforms of the 1990s also hit this generation and left many jobless. But unlike the Builders, the Pioneers were still relatively young at the time and could more easily adapt and adjust their career paths.

As the generation that grew up during China’s transition from a planned to market economy, the Pioneers tend to have a more nuanced orientation than one might expect. They are generally pro-market pricing and foreign capital but also value strong social safety nets and support robust government subsidies. Their political attitudes, too, reflect both support for strong, rules-based governance and a healthy skepticism of explicitly Western institutions.

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