Donald John Trump may be the 45th presi­dent of the United States but for many of us who grew up in the 1980s, he will always be the business­man who best personifies the excesses and crassness of the decade that tried to convince the world that avarice was a virtue.

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One businessman in ancient China made it to the pinnacle of power with his acumen and foresight. Lü Buwei (died 235BC), a peripatetic merchant who made a fortune by “buying cheap and selling dear”, was in the state of Zhao when he met Ying Yiren, a prince from the state of Qin who was sent there as Qin’s royal hostage, a common diplomatic practice of the time.

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Sensing a business opportunity, Lü asked his father: “How much profit does one gain from farming?” “Tenfold,” his father answered. “What about trading in precious gems?” “A hundredfold.” “How about nurturing a down-and-out man into a future monarch?” “The profit will be incalculable!” And so Lü invested huge amounts of money in Ying, finding him a wife, buying him an entourage and accoutrements befitting royalty, and bribing the then crown prince and princess of Qin, who were childless, to adopt Ying as their heir.

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In 251BC, Ying became King Zhuangxiang and appointed Lü as his prime minister. King Zhuangxiang died in 247BC and his 13-year-old son, Ying Zheng, became king.

In 236BC, Ying Zheng, disgusted by his mother’s affair with Lü, exiled him to present-day Sichuan. A year later, Lü committed suicide.