The Brave Ones

How time in England shaped 'the woman who built Beijing'

Meet Zhang Xin, China's architect of change

Despite having carved out a career in Chinese real estate, some of property magnate Zhang Xin's most formative years were spent far west of the Middle Kingdom.

Speaking to CNBC's "The Brave Ones," she recalled the importance of her time in the English education system.

"As soon as I got to England, my life changed," Zhang said. She is dubbed "the woman who built Beijing" due to her role as co-founder and CEO of commercial real estate developer SOHO China.

Born during China's repressive Cultural Revolution and later forced to work in a factory in capitalist Hong Kong, where "what struck (her) was the color," Zhang was desperate for success on an individual level. After having saved enough money, she traveled to England and studied economics at the University of Sussex followed by postgraduate work at Cambridge University, graduating in 1992.

Zhang Xin, chief executive officer of SOHO China.

Zhang told CNBC of her feeling that she was "entering into a bigger world" in England, one in which "the possibilities (were) unlimited."

Influences from outside of China continued to play a role in Zhang's later career. She described to CNBC how architecture by the late Zaha Hadid impacted her. "When we met about 14 years ago (Hadid) was largely a paper architect, who hadn't really built that much but had always been known for her incredible innovative style," said Zhang of their relationship.

Zhang attributed Hadid with "the idea that a building could also be a piece of artwork."

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