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Santa Paula entrepreneur turns attention to Chinese attack victims

On March 1, Santa Paula resident William Irion was a witness to one of China’s worst terrorist attacks.

Irion has spent much of the past decade shuttling back and forth between Ventura County and Kunming, China. On the evening of Saturday, March 1, he was on a bus headed home when, as he said in an email to me, “I actually saw the ambulances going to the Red Cross hospital as I arrived at my stop. I heard the sirens later. I was warned at midnight by a friend not to go out — that something horrible was happening at the train station.”

That something horrible was a massacre where more than 150 people were hacked at in a brutal knife attack by 10 terrorists. Thirty-three were killed in the attack that has rocked China. Irion emerged from his home the next day and tried to donate blood or provide assistance.

The so-called 3/01 attacks, which took place at 9:20 p.m. local time, are sparking an outpouring of sympathy from the ex-pat community in China. Irion wrote me saying that he and several associates want to “do something positive” in memory of the victims. It might be a memorial, piece of artwork or planting a cherry tree for each victim.

“To me it is not a Chinese thing that happened here Saturday night — it is a human tragedy that could have happened to anyone,” he wrote.  “None of the victims did anything wrong except being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is about people helping people. We all live here.

“Saturday during the day time was a beautiful day in Kunming,” he wrote. “I thoroughly enjoyed the Yuan Tong Temple. It was so peaceful with all the fruit trees in blossom. Just taking in the beautiful scene, which is only there to see for a short period before they are blown away, was wonderful.”

Irion’s entrepreneurial mind turned to the idea of a philanthropic effort in the form of a memorial that might be created out of cherry trees and commemorative prints that could be sold to raise money for the victims.
His quest to find meaning in one of the most vile terrorist attacks in modern China is noble. I hope he keeps me posted about his efforts to find a way to memorialize the 3/01 victims.

Contact Henry Dubroff at

Goodbye, English Weekly Window

By William Irion
Yunnan Information Daily (云南信息报)

Tomorrow is another day!It was with gladness in my heart that I discovered in Kunming the Sunday English Weekly edition of the Yunnan Information Daily newspaper. A great printed resource for English learners in Yunnan and for foreigners to read. It was with sadness in my heart that I learned that it was no longer going to be printed in the newspaper from April 2013. Yes, it may still be published online at Its demise, I believe, was from a poor marketing and advertising focus. No foreigner I spoke with knew that inside this great newspaper was an English Weekly section. Few Chinese I know knew the English Weekly was inside. There are so many papers to choose from at the Kunming newspaper stands. The English Weekly made this newspaper stand out but few knew it was there. It could have been a great way to get foreigners to actually buy a real Chinese newspaper so as to learn more about Yunnan even if they cannot read Chinese. It is sad to lose this printed Yunnan provincial resource which could be developed with simple new marketing techniques. Hope new changes will happen soon.

He excels in collecting and arranging various complicated things

2013/3/24 6:30:00 (By Chen Yingying)

Most of Chinese people who are over 60 years old may retire and return to their homes, sometimes go to parks doing some exercises and help their adult children to take care of their younger children. However, to William Irion, who comes from California of the U.S., and also is above 60-year-old, living in Kunming has a very different picture.

William Irion being interviewed.  Photo by Li Dong
William Irion being interviewed. Photo by Li Dong

William Irion was being interviewed.  Photo by Li Dong

Although Irion knows he is over 60 and accepts this reality, he still does a lot of work in his everyday life, the deeds of which shows that he is perfectly energetic and robust. His resonant voice, fast speaking speed, wide thoughts, and firm determination to do things prove he does not want to retire so quickly, and he could bring more benefits on work to others.

“I went to Qiu He, Deputy Secretary-General of CPC Yunnan Provincial Committee, asked him for helping to prolong my work permit in China. Through some verification processes, I eventually got permission to work in Kunming again,” Irion said. Indeed, due to his previous contributions to Kunming, he was awarded as a “special envoy” by Kunming government several years ago.

Before coming to Kunming, Irion had accumulated pretty rich experiences in doing business, promoting various kinds of trades among China, Japan and America, providing consultations to Chinese or American governments, and facilitating cultural and educational communications between China and America. Even now, he has found new French partners to cooperate with them in the agricultural field in Yunnan.

In his career, he met several influential celebrities, such as Henry Alfred Kissinger, a diplomat boosting friendship between China and America; Don Evans, the secretary of the Department of Commerce in America; Masaharu Kohno, a Japan’s general consul to Southern California and Arizona in America.

Because of his smart opinions on doing kinds of business, he accepted interviews from American and Chinese newspapers, including Los Angeles Times, Pacific Coast Business Times, People’s Daily of China, Kunming Daily, Spring City Evening Paper, etc.

Perhaps people who are familiar with Irion may count him as a generalist, a jack of all trades. He said he had done many jobs before, like being a Planning Commissioner for the Santa Paula city planning commission, a university facilities manager in California, an advisor for International Trade Development in the World Trade Center Association of California, and a planner and designer for B to B websites such as

Besides roles he acted above, he learned other new things from different friends. He learned Chinese cooking ways by reviewing a writer’s cook book, got familiar with interior design and appreciated classical music by sharing ideas with expert friends in these fields. He also took time to watch some Chinese traditional theatres like Journey to the West. He majored in Asia history in 1970s, gaining a solid understanding of Chinese history, China’s relations with Japan, America, and can speak and read some Chinese.

In a word, throughout his working life, he is very international and open. In China, few people at his age can view things in a very broad way. Compared to some older Chinese people, he knows many specific differences among Chinese, American and Japanese people. He is familiar with Chinese, American, and Japanese people’s characters, views and perspectives. He can directly point out some differences among three countries’ governmental regulations and rules. He totally understood multi-cultural communications and those communication techniques and skills with foreign people.

He knows so many things and thinks it is very interesting to do so. Although he realizes that he is not very young any more, he keeps his open minds to receive anything he considers it is worthy. “I do not view things right or wrong, good or bad. Everything exists for a reason and with its special background. I just balance those positive and negative things, and find common ground for these things which seem to be going in opposite directions,” Irion explained to the journalist.

To put it another way, he excels in collecting all things together and then tactfully arranges them into the places which the things fit in most well. He seldom regards a thing in only one single aspect, but tries to evaluate a thing in general ways. His sophisticated experiences built up in his previous careers let him go on his successful business road all the way.

Ventura consultant assesses China quake
(William Irion on China, Current Events)

Ventura consultant assesses China quake

Written by Laura Ritter, Pacific Coast Business Times
Monday, 16 June 2008

With the deadly earthquake in May and the Olympic games set to begin in August, the eyes of the world are firmly upon China this summer. William Irion, an international trade consultant based in Ventura County, has been gazing in that direction for some time. For the last five years, he’s spent half the year in Kunming, capital of the western Yunnan province.

Irion was in his Kunming office May 12, when the earthquake measuring 7.9 struck less than 500 miles away in Sichuan. The Business Times checked in with Irion to talk about the earthquake, the Olympics, and the state of international trade.

After the quake

“The quake was bad,” Irion said in an e-mail. The 17th-floor office shook and hanging lights swayed for three to five minutes. “I knew from the motion and length that somewhere near had really moved,” he said, adding that friends in Shanghai – more than 1,200 miles away – also felt the quake.

“My staff was frightened and wanted to run outside,” he added, but “[we] old Californians just rolled with the waves.”

The death toll from the initial earthquake stands at 69,000, with 17,000 still missing, according to published reports. Aftershocks continue to rock the region and “quake lakes” threaten to add to the damage with floods.

Irion said that U.S. companies may find opportunities in reconstruction, with international funds opening the work to international bids. The projects could include roads, infrastructure, sanitation facilities and dams. Reconstruction of buildings is less promising, with rural structures of concrete and brick rather than sophisticated high-rise buildings toppled in the quake.

In the long term, businesses might find attractive tax incentives to set up shop in Sichuan, expanding on similar draws already offered to businesses in the western provinces. On the other hand, government spending might be tied up in recovery efforts for some time, Irion speculated.

Simply offering a helping hand might help considering the degree to which Chinese business is predicated on relationships.

“There’s an opportunity for U.S. companies, the government and the people to show the Chinese we care,” he said. He’s talking with his staff about what they can do, Irion said, noting that being one of few American businessmen in Kunming makes him something of a de facto ambassador.

The Red Cross reported raising $6.4 million from some 60 U.S. corporations in the aftermath of the quake.

Goleta-based Direct Relief International was preparing an airlift of specifically requested medical supplies in early June. Two of its staff had visited Sichuan to assess needs and meet with medical partners in the country, according to a DRI press release.

The games begin

The government is more powerful there “in the sense that people tend to obey the government,” Irion said.

Yet one area in which the state seems to be loosening its hold is on the press. “The government does understand the Internet is active. They don’t have total control over it,” Irion said. In response, news is reported more promptly. Reports of the earthquake were published right away.

So has been the situation in Tibet. Although stories still reflect the official point of view, images of the riots were on the news the same day. Protests in other countries are also reported, making national heroes out of Olympics torchbearers facing protests. Irion plans to return to China in July, before the influx of foreign visitors in August. He doesn’t expect much work to get done in China while the games are on, with fans gathering in Beijing or crowding around their televisions.

Although sponsorship of the games is the territory of huge corporations, there may be some auxiliary business opportunities, he said – such as sales of TV sets.

Opportunity abroad

Only 5 percent of U.S. companies export their products or services, instead focusing on the biggest market in the world at home.

But when times are hard in the United States, they may begin looking elsewhere for opportunities.

Irion, who also consults on trade with Japan, sees several reasons for doing business with China.

The economy is growing by 10 percent or more annually, and inflation is offset in part by state-owned companies and resources. Foreign direct investment is plentiful, and up by 50 percent or more this year. The value of the dollar is down.

The 300 million members of the consumer class can afford U.S. products – and want them. “The Chinese people are just as concerned as we are” about safety and quality, Irion said, and are willing to pay more for products from countries with high standards, like the United States and Japan.

“There are a lot of opportunities if you want to learn how to pursue the market,” he said.

That learning ranges from keeping up on the schedule of national holidays, many of which were changed this year, to understanding very different views of business relationships. Older business models are especially entrenched in the western provinces, where people are less versed in the ways of the Western world, Irion said.

But even those familiar with Western business practices may expect their trade partners to be familiar with the Chinese way of doing things.

“As national pride grows, this comes out more,” he said.

在3号种植业产品展馆门口,记者看到一外商正在与展台代表交谈。看他们谈得那么投入,记者猜想一定是行家来了,于是上前采访,了解到他是Irion Enterprises公司的总裁William Irion先生(简称W)。


在3号种植业产品展馆门口,记者看到一外商正在与展台代表交谈。看他们谈得那么投入,记者猜想一定是行家来了,于是上前采访,了解到他是Irion Enterprises公司的总裁William Irion先生(简称W)。




记者:您觉得这届农交会比去年 怎么样?


记者:您来参加农交会的 主要目的是什么,您对什么产品最感兴趣?

W:我们Irion Enterprises公司是做全球贸易生意的,为企业提供进出口服务,我们在中国云南的昆明市设有代表处。我来是看看有没有可以帮助中国企业出口蔬菜、 花卉等农产品,或者其他进出口项目。


W:是的,有几家。明天会更 多,因为明天是Buyer’s Day!(采购商日)