Visitors stand in front a billboard advertising the “Great Tides Surge Along the Pearl River – 40 Years of Reform and Opening-up in Guangdong” exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art & Planning Exhibition (MOCAPE) in Shenzhen, China. (Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg)

China Hails Its Innovators and ‘Sea Turtles’

(Bloomberg) -- China celebrated the 40th anniversary of its reform and opening up by honoring the country’s most famous entrepreneurs, academics, and athletes -- though some received more praise than others.

China Hails Its Innovators and ‘Sea Turtles’

As they sat on stage in Beijing, smiling and waving, a short description of each pioneer’s contribution was read out before his or her name. Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. co-founder Jack Ma was lauded as a “digital economy innovator” while Baidu Inc. founder Robin Li was described as a “representative of the sea turtles” -- China’s term for its top talent who trained in the West and returned to contribute to the mainland economy.

China Hails Its Innovators and ‘Sea Turtles’

Visually, the precisely choreographed ceremony was a pastiche of the last 70 years of Chinese history, held in a hall built during Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the revolution. Most of the participants wore western suits which would have been deemed ‘bourgeois’ during the Cultural Revolution, while Marxist theoreticians and capitalist entrepreneurs sat side by side and applauded on cue.

Basketball player Yao Ming joined the honorees, as did corporate chiefs of China’s most famous companies, from Li Shufu of carmaker Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd., to Li Dongsheng of electronics maker TCL Corp. Foreigners were given a nod too, including Klaus Schwab, the German founder of the World Economic Forum, and American insurance executive Maurice “Hank” Greenberg.

China Hails Its Innovators and ‘Sea Turtles’

Huawei Technologies Co.’s founder Ren Zhengfei, whose daughter Meng Wanzhou has been detained in Canada at the request of the U.S. for allegedly breaching Iran sanctions, was left off the list -- which was first made public before she was detained.

Awardees filed through the Great Hall of the People to receive their medals from China’s top leadership panel, with four getting their medals draped around their necks by Chinese President Xi Jinping, a special honor. They included Zhang Ruimin, the chief executive officer and chairman of Haier Group Corp., one of the world’s biggest appliance makers and Margaret Chan, the former director-general of the World Health Organization.

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