Jiang Changjian: At the Worst of My Anxiety, I’d Wanted to Jump out of the Plane | iAsk Top Leaders

''When you all go fly like angry birds, I just want to be a little chicken, hiding in the corner, where there’d be times when you can’t beat me down. ''
——Jiang Changjian
During the dog days of 2019, in the Canton Fair Exhibition Hall, the Global Mobile Internet Conference, also known as the ''Science Renaissance Festival'', is in full swing. This is a renaissance of science kickstarted by entrepreneurs in China. And after 10 years of internet transformations, it has become the world's greatest mobile internet conference. Our ''iAsk Top Leaders·GMIC Special'' kicks off from here.
To Teach, or to Be Free?
As a science game show, "The Strongest Brain" has never lost its audience appeal. The show has produced countless whimsical games, created many stars of tech and science, as well as set off myriad controversies on and off stage. The guests come and go like flowing water, and the audience buzz about it in all sorts of ways, but the ''master of ceremony'' on stage has never changed – and he is the show host Jiang Changjian.
In 1993, this 28 year-old young talent from Fudan University took part in the first-ever "International College Debate Competition" and won the championship. Fame soon found him, as people started calling him by the nickname "Jiang Si Bian" (Jiang, the Closing Guy). He had quick wit, a sharp tongue, and dazzling rhetoric…But eventually, Jiang Changjian stepped away from the spotlight even though he could’ve easily monetized his new-found fame.
In 1998, post-doc in Political Science at Yale, Jiang Changjian decided to return to Fudan to teach at the College of International Relations and Public Affairs. In the next 20 years, despite his frequent appearance on TV and his rising ''fame'' as a host, Jiang still saw his associate professorship as his foundation in life.
''Being a professor is my most basic job, and whatever I do elsewhere should not take away from my teaching, and that is a bottom line.'' Said Jiang adamantly, as if ready to fully devote himself to education anytime.
Ai Cheng: We say ''we are our choices''. And your first widely recognized nametag in the public is ''Jiang the Closing Guy''. What kind of value made you decide to return to school to teach and guide students?
Jiang Changjian: Actually I had many career options. When I graduated college, I didn't take the job assigned to me. I went down south to work in a foreign trade company, which was a popular career choice back then. And during the 80s, I came to Shenzhen, the frontier of reform and opening up, and started doing foreign trade.
I was quite successful in that, and got high praises from all sides. But one day I asked myself, are you happy. I was laying on the grass looking up at the stars, and I realized I wasn't all that happy. So I went back to school to start grad school. And when I was about to graduate, it was the same time as the Southern Tour by Deng Xiaoping in 1992, which reignited young people's enthusiasm to look for opportunities in society. I was 27 years old at the time.
Jiang Jianchang told us, the year he graduated from grad school, real estate was the hottest industry, so he went to Shanghai to intern at a real estate company. But just as he would begin to rake in big money under the cash tree of real estate, he quit his job again:
''I asked myself another question: is grad school the end of my academic career? And that was when I came upon the debate competition, which felt like an opportunity sent from above. It enabled me to see how much more out there I was still ignorant of. So I decided that I would pursue a PhD.''
Giving up on foreign trade and fleeing from real estate that helped shape myriad business tycoons, Jiang Changjian said, he chose to stay in academia for one thing: freedom.
"First, a university is like a battalion where soldiers come and go; they come in at the age of 18 and leave at 22, so you can always maintain a young mindset among them. Second, you don’t have to sit in the office all day at a university, your time schedule is yours to make; and third, the university offers you a platform, where you can teach classes and share what you've learned and felt with your students in time, and this was something I was more inclined to do."
Jiang Changjian keeps it real, an authentic man.
Some say that in the adult's world, you show all that's nice and pretty, but hide what’s hard and difficult. But Jiang Changjian doesn't agree. In fact, when he was the show runner at ''Interviews with Yang Lan'', he had an epiphany while eating sunflower seeds:
There are two plates of sunflower seeds, one with the hulls removed for you, the other with the hulls intact and you have to take your time removing them. Maybe you'd say taking the short cut is a better option, but ultimately, I take pleasure from dehulling my sunflower seeds myself.
Forgetting about Honor, Living with the Tail between the Legs?
With his ''freedom'' reclaimed, Jiang Changjian didn't let himself off the hook.
In 2001, he became the show runner behind ''Interviews with Yang Lan'' at Sunshine TV. In 2007, he became a judge for the overseas selection round of International University Elite Debate. In 2012, he joined CCTV as a special commentator for their special series on China's two sessions.
Since "The Strongest Brain" went on air in 2013, he has become the most beloved host for the audience. And the subsequent airing of shows like "Shao Nian Guo Xue Pai" and "Zhi Zao Jiang Lai" brought Jiang Changjian back in the midst of fame and fortune, but he took it all in with nonchalance.
Ai Cheng: I heard that you've had some serious anxiety disorder, and I've read your Weibo posts. Around 2016 and 2017, there were some updates that really worried everyone.
Jiang Changjian: That's true. When I was at the worst of my anxiety, I couldn't even share a meal with my family. I had to hide inside my room, draw all the curtains and eat alone. Not to mention teaching. I had to be on sick leave for a semester, and that was a very tough period of time.
Ai Cheng: People who have never had anxiety wouldn't understand that, and may ask you what you could possibly be anxious about when you have such a great life already.
Jiang Changjian: The first question my psychiatrist asked me was ''you had good grades in school, didn't you?'' I said yes, pretty good. And his second question was ''your parents didn't discipline you much, did they?'' I said no, they didn't. And that turned out to be an important source for my anxiety, which is basically because I have set a very high standard for myself since very early on, and I know self-discipline, and have strong self-esteem, competitiveness, and ambition.
My psychiatrist said to me, ''Tell me. Has the earth stopped turning because you're taking a semester off from teaching?'' I said no. So the world still goes on without you. Next, he asked me do you treasure your plumage? You should take good care of your plumage every day, because when you are cleaning your plumage, you look very pretty, very clean. And take a look around you, who cares? Nobody cares, right? And I felt like that made some sense.
Anxiety is like a bad cold on our emotions and on our soul. Many people commit suicide because of that. Jiang Changjian said, at the worst of his anxiety, there was a time when he was at the airport about to attend an academic conference, he had a heart attack.
''I got to the check-in counter and I didn't even want to show them my ID. I wanted to run home any time. In the waiting room, I whispered to the service staff, call a doctor now, I'm going down. And the doctor came with equipment and placed me in a small room. And later the doctor said, you're fine. You can fly.''
The moment the cabin door closed, Jiang Changjian said he really wanted to bolt out of the door. But he forced himself to let it all be, why? ''I was suppressing myself. When you try to get out when the cabin door is closed, you'd be causing trouble for the entire flight. So I gradually restrained myself, and I let myself fly a bit further each time, and that's how I made it all the way here today.''
Ai Cheng: After experiencing all this, now looking back at your life, what do you think is the most important?
Jiang Changjian: For me, it's knowing where my limits are, and how far my abilities actually go. That's very important. Many people get lost before temptations.
There are two scenarios. One is that there are too many temptations. For instance, you hear investing can create greater value for you but you probably don't know if you can do it. But Jack was able to do it. He used to be your roommate and had worse grades than you. And Mike could do it. He was your high school friend and used to copy your answer sheet. And Pete was able to do It too. He used to play table tennis with you and he always lost. So then you begin to think: I must be able to do it too.
The second scenario is that many people around you try to talk you into doing it, like, I think you are brilliant. You can do better than just this. You should expand your range and try some other lines of work. Believe me, I'm a good judge of character. I've seen so many people, how can I be wrong? I have your back. As long as you do it, I'll have your back.
Ai Cheng: So you've heard all that?
Jiang Changjian: Yes, all that. So in situations like that, you come to have an inflated ego and forget about your bottom line, as well as where your limits are. So in fact, I am not an adventurous guy or somebody who faces challenges head-on, I'm definitely not like that.
This contrast was surprising to us. On the stage in ''The Strongest Brain'', Jiang Changjian takes up all kinds of challenges every day, but this man who thrives at competition claims himself to be not a ''competitive risk-seeker''.
Jiang Changjian often says, ''Forget about honor, learn to live with your tail between your legs'', or ''Don't overestimate your importance, take it easy on yourself''. He's long given up on big words and grandstanding, and just wants to hide in the corner like a ''little chicken''. Perhaps, during his young and rambunctious years, ''big brother Jiang'' had once ''gotten lost in himself'' as well, and with those lessons learned, he had finally learned to keep a low profile.
''I will not volunteer for a challenge or invite a challenge on myself, that's not who I am. But there's one thing, which is, if you give me a challenge and I accept it, then I will do my best to win it.'' Added Jiang Changjian, with a calm and assertive look in his eyes.
What he had intended to convey is a preference to go with the flow, to have the courage to walk his own walk, while also embracing opportunities in the right thing at the right time. From real estate clerk to best debater, from associate professor at Fudan to most beloved host, this former patient of anxiety disorder who shut himself off in his room eventually became the Jiang Changjian we know today.
About iAsk
iAsk Media offers in-depth coverage, distribution, and brand-building services for founders in both China inbound and outbound markets. Over the past five years, iAsk Media has published over 1300 pieces of founder-focused original text and audio content, and produced over 120 premium video dialogues with leading entrepreneurs and investors.
iAsk Capital further supports founders by complementing media, brand-building, and marketing solutions with a wide range of investment and advisory services, from growth capital and direct equity investment to fundraising, asset management, and M&A support. To date, iAsk Capital has completed investments in some of China’s fastest growing ventures, including Bytedance, Himalaya, Movietime, and Horizon Robotics.
Gloria Ai
Gloria Ai is the founder of iAsk Media and the founding manager of iAsk Capital, and a former venture partner at the Softbank Asia Infrastructure Fund. She serves as the international brand ambassador to her hometown of Huangshan, and was Forbes 30 Under 30 in the Media, Marketing & Advertising category. She is a graduate of Harvard Kennedy School and Peking University. Prior to founding iAsk, she served as a financial news correspondent for China Central Television in New York.