I can think of any number of curious aspects of Warren Buffett's transmogrification into a Chinese pop star, but perhaps the oddest is that state-run TV here is using the 81-year-old Sage of Omaha to draw younger viewers.
Mr. Buffett, widely admired in China for his wealth, his investment instincts, and his charitable donations (probably in that order), made a cameo appearance playing a ukulele and singing "I've Been Working on the Railroad" as part of a marathon Chinese New Year gala aired Sunday.
The annual Spring Festival TV gala on the lunar New Year’s Eve is watched by hundreds of millions of Chinese viewers. But its heavily scripted diet of moralizing comedy sketches, spandexed acrobats, magicians, and goldfish showing off their synchronized swimming skills (one of last year’s highlights) no longer appeals to young people’s more sophisticated tastes.
So state-run CCTV decided to air a hipper extended gala show online, and that is where Buffett comes in.
“We all know that Buffett is good at investment, but few knew he also did well in singing,” Wang Pinjiu, one of the show’s producers, told a press conference earlier this month, according to Xinhua, the government news agency.
The video clip is one he made for a charity dinner last year organized by media investor Wu Zheng and his TV presenter wife Yang Lan, according to a spokeswoman for Mr. Wu.
When CCTV asked Wu to rope some international talent into the online gala he asked Buffett for permission to air the video, and he agreed, the spokeswoman said.
Buffett is not shy about his musical talents; he has been heard playing the ukulele at Berkshire Hathaway events, and he appears in a US TV commercial for an insurance company that he owns, masquerading as Axl Rose. Not, to be frank, that his appearance offers much evidence of “doing well in singing.”
He is also well known in China, both as a major investor in BYD, a Chinese firm hoping to spearhead the electric car revolution here, and as an investment guru whose books are popular with local businessmen.
Buffett caused something of a stir in 2010 when he visited China with Microsoft chairman Bill Gates in a bid to rustle up support from Chinese billionaires for charitable work, which is still in its infancy among the super-rich here. It took a while for some of the guests to accept his invitation to a banquet; it seemed they were nervous about being hit up for donations at the dinner.