Rich Chinese seek bodyguards trained in digital dark arts

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TIANJIN, CHINA – At Genghis Security Academy, which bills itself as the only dedicated bodyguard school in China, students learn that the threats to the country’s new rich in the age of technology are over. likely to come from a hacker than from a shooter. Every day, students wearing matching black suits work hard from dawn to midnight at a school in eastern Tianjin city, where digital defenses are equally linked with traditional close protection skills. that is combat, weapons training and high speed driving.

About a thousand graduates each year, hoping to land guardian jobs among the thriving ranks of the rich and famous in China, positions that can be worth up to $ 70,000, several times more than an annual salary of office.

But the school says it can’t meet demand, as China’s rapid growth is hitting millionaires – 4.4 million according to a 2019 Credit Suisse report, more than in the US

Course fees can reach $ 3,000 per student; and although they had to cancel training between February and June due to the coronavirus pandemic, that did not dampen demand.

Only the best succeed, says founder Chen Yongqing, insisting that his disciplinary standards are higher than in the military.

“I am angry and very demanding,” the army veteran from the northern Inner Mongolia region of China told AFP.

“Only by being strict will we be able to cultivate every good sword.” If you don’t forge it well, it will break. ”

About half of the students are former military personnel, Chen says.

They train in rows in a large, seedy gym, holding blue plastic pistols in front of them with a staring gaze – before practicing shoving their clients safely into a black Audi with smashed windows.

Other sessions take place in a classroom or gym, where they pack in matching red t-shirts.

Cell phones are confiscated everywhere, while meals are taken in silence in a large dining room presided over by photos of renowned graduates, who have protected everyone from China’s second richest man, Jack Ma, to visiting French presidents.

“We have set the standard for Chinese bodyguards,” instructor Ji Pengfei told AFP.

In a class, the students in pairs work on a scenario protecting a “client” from an intruder.

” Danger! Ji shouts, prompting the guard to quickly throw their “boss” behind them and pull out a gun in the same movement.

Those who don’t do it in two seconds are given 50 push-ups.

Tianjin school guns are fake – China bans gun ownership. For training on live firearms, students are taken to Laos in Southeast Asia.

DATA WIPING, BLOCKING HACKS

But in a heavily guarded country with a low rate of street crime, the modern warden needs an up-to-date skill set, against state surveillance or professional hackers.

“The Chinese bosses don’t need you to fight,” Chen tells his students of a client base that includes the country’s largest real estate and technology companies.

Fending off hacks on mobile phones, network security, spotting eavesdropping and wiping data are all necessary tools in the bodyguard’s arsenal.

“What would you do if the boss wants to destroy a video file immediately?” Chen asks a class.

Even so, old-school threats still exist in China – earlier this year billionaire He Xiangjian, founder of Midea and one of the country’s richest men, was abducted from his home.

According to Chinese media, her son escaped by jumping into a river and was able to call police, who said they arrested five suspects at the scene.

Student Zhu Peipei, a 33-year-old army veteran from northern Shanxi Province, hopes becoming a bodyguard could make up for his lack of professional skills or academic qualifications.

“And of course that’s cool,” he added.

But Genghis Academy alumni also provide mundane services, like accompanying the children of the rich and famous to school – for a fee of 180,000 yuan ($ 26,000) a year.

This in itself is far more than the basic salary of private enterprises of about 53,000 yuan.

Students also have to navigate the quirks of their wealthy clients, says trainer Ji.

Some only trust bodyguards whose Chinese zodiac sign matches theirs, he explains – while one, from a Fortune 500 company, only wanted to hire in his hometown.

Another asked a potential bodyguard to tell him which books he liked to read – he was hired after he said he liked military novels.

The best can order up to 500,000 yuan per year from China, but some are considering an overseas assignment, potentially working with overseas clients.

“I want to work in the Philippines or Myanmar,” said one student, requesting anonymity.

“Then I can carry a weapon… it will be more difficult and I can earn more.”

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