BEIJING (Reuters) - Former soldier Chen Yongqing has big ambitions for his bodyguard training school, charging 500,000 yuan ($82,400) a year for each protector, as China's rich and famous look to bolster their safety and sense of importance.
Chen's company Tianjiao, which he says is China's first professional academy to train former soldiers and others as bodyguards, is doing so well that he is considering a stock market listing.
"When we started our business, most of our clients were celebrities," Chen, 30, told Reuters. "Most of our clients now are rich entrepreneurs. It's all related to their business because I think bodyguards are also a status symbol."
China's newly wealthy are not generally targeted by criminals and kidnappers - as happens in countries such as Venezuela - but anger is growing about the widening gap between rich and poor.
There have been isolated incidents of people attacking luxury cars involved in accidents with less well-off citizens.
Tianjiao has hired trainers from Israel and Russia, and is looking to France and Britain as well, Chen said, although the company also works closely with the Chinese military.
"We provide a better platform for retired soldiers, of whom there are thousands every year, so they can get a better job. It would be a waste of talent if these soldiers work as security guards for 2,000 yuan a month," he said.
"Also if they commit crimes and do bad things, it would be a terrible thing for society. But getting high-end training with us and getting a job as a bodyguard is much better, so the army is very grateful for this kind of arrangement we offer."
Chen's clients certainly seem happy with the bodyguards his company trains.
One businessman, who asked to be identified only by his family name Zhang, said he approached Chen after a friend was kidnapped and killed. Zhang now employs 18 bodyguards hired from Tianjiao.
"Apart from the security in my company, they are also responsible for the safety of my family," Zhang said. "Society is not stable nowadays."
Chen expects Tianjiao's annual revenues to hit 100 million yuan ($16.5 million) within the next five years.
"We are planning to collaborate with investors and venture capital firms for a company listing," he said.
(Reporting by Jason Lee and Ben Blanchard; Editing by John O'Callaghan)