Mr. Meng dismissed concerns about legal issues. Regarding insurance industry worries about a housing slump, he said, "I told them: 'Stop asking me this brainless question. It doesn't exist. It has never fallen even in a year. How can it be a bubble?'"
Mr. Meng helped create the program, which is offered in Beijing, Shanghai and two other Chinese cities. As of the end of October, only 89 people had participated, according to Happy Life Insurance, an insurer founded by Mr. Meng in part to offer the policy — and, currently, only one of two insurers offering it.
But the Chinese government said in July that it would extend the pilot plan to dozens of cities — Mr. Meng estimated 60 — over the next two years, and the People's Insurance Company (Group) of China, a major insurer, said it had started offering the plan in October.
Mr. Meng, 67, never graduated from high school, coming of age amid the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution, and became a Red Guard, writing up posters denouncing people who were deemed political enemies. "I never beat anyone," he said.
In 1978, he enrolled in the prestigious Peking University, among the first group of students who passed the first higher education entrance exams held after the Cultural Revolution. He was 28. Premier Li Keqiang was his classmate.
Mr. Meng eventually became the aide to Wan Li, the former vice premier of China and the pioneer of agricultural reforms.
He went on to become president of the China National Real Estate Development Group Corporation, the country's largest state-owned property developer, formulating many policies that earned him the title of "godfather of real estate."
In Mr. Meng's office are dozens of framed photographs of him with other senior Chinese politicians as well as Bill Clinton, whom he calls a "close friend." ("At first, I thought about sending Hillary a note but didn't," he said the day after the presidential election. "In the end I thought, since a real estate magnate is president, we will have a bigger say. Will the U.S. real estate mogul turned president be willing to speak with China's godfather of real estate?")
In 1995, Mr. Meng traveled to the United States as a visiting scholar to study economics and real estate for six months at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; the University of California, Berkeley; and Indiana University. That experience had a profound impact on Mr. Meng — and ultimately, China's middle class. It led him to believe that the Chinese people could have their version of the American dream — "one house, one car," as he put it.
Once home, he persuaded skeptical banks that Chinese people would pay back their mortgages. That helped introduce a housing market in which prices are controlled by the market, not the government, leading to the price appreciation that has enriched millions of Chinese households.
"All these products that I introduced were from abroad, especially from the United States," he said.
As home prices in China soared, Mr. Meng began studying the reverse mortgage systems in countries such as the Netherlands and the United States. In 2003, he wrote a letter to his former colleague Wen Jiabao, who had just become premier of China, telling him that Chinese retirees "will be able to live comfortably" with the house-for-pension plan.
That year, Beijing approved the pilot program, stoking widespread controversy. Several people blamed the government for shirking its responsibility in providing for their old age. Under the plan, if the borrower's children are not willing to buy the property, it will be sold in an auction. The insurance company would deduct the capital and interest payments, and any leftover money would be given to the borrower's children.
Mr. Meng said he would join the plan when he formally retired. His 31-year-old son approves of it, according to Mr. Meng. "I'm in no rush now," he said. "When I enroll, I want to create an impact and make the elderly feel at ease."
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