BEIJING — If Microsoft leader Bill Gates ever decides to flee the State Department's antitrust lawyers and social critics hounding him in the US, he will find a warm welcome in China.
While 30 years ago worship of anyone but Mao was regarded as political heresy here, Gates is now an icon for countless youths.
Mr. Gates, who spoke in Beijing yesterday, "is almost a god to a generation of Chinese youths," says a Chinese government official.
"Bill Gates is probably the most well- known and respected American to university students across China," says a student at Tsinghua University.
That sentiment is reflected in the phenomenal sales of his book. " 'The Road Ahead' has sold more copies than most government-issued books here," shudders the official.
Even the Communist Party has seemed to embrace the man pilloried in the US press for his brutal capitalism and paucity of philanthropy. Gates has already met with party chief Jiang Zemin twice, and is on his fifth trip to China in the past three years.
Although he scolded China once again yesterday for the piracy of Windows software, Gates has adopted a low-key approach. "In a sense, Gates has adopted a very wise position from a long-term perspective," says a computer industry specialist here. "Most Chinese could not afford to buy legitimate copies of Windows, so by turning a blind eye on piracy, Bill Gates is allowing Microsoft products to saturate the Chinese market," he adds.
And in China, where the masses have only recently been liberated from working for the common good under a strictly controlled, state-run society, no one questions Gates's seeming lack of altruism.
"Why should Gates, after working so hard to make his fortune, have to give his money away?" asks a bewildered Tsinghua student.