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CNNMoney interview: Jim Chanos and his bearish view of China

The scene is a cocktail party high above the Shanghai skyline on a summer night a few months ago. Our host is a Master of the Hedge Fund Universe, one who doesn't want to be identified in the press. We'll call him Pete. Pete comes to China at least twice a year to stay abreast of what's happening in the world's most dynamic economy. He has said, in fact, that if he didn't have kids in school in the U.S., he would consider moving here, so bright is the future. In attendance are other hedge fund investors, venture capitalists, and fund managers, China bulls all. If there is one sure-fire way to ruin the atmosphere on such a pleasant evening, it is this: Ask the crowd what they think of the legendary short-seller James Chanos, CEO of Manhattan-based Kynikos Associates.

So that's what I do.

"Hey," I say to a cluster of people surrounding Pete. "Did you guys see what Jim Chanos said about China on Charlie Rose the other night?"

"No," says an American venture capitalist working in Shanghai. "What did he say?"

"He said, 'China's on an economic treadmill to hell.' "

For over a year now Chanos -- the man who got Enron (among other things) right before anyone else -- has been on a rampage about China. The guy who became famous -- and rich -- shorting companies now says he is shorting the entire country.

When I mention the "treadmill to hell" line to the group in Shanghai, the reaction is the usual one when Chanos's name comes up here: "What does he know about China?" the American VC asks. "Has he ever lived here? Does he have staff here? Does he speak Chinese?"

The answers are no, no, and no. But our host, who counts Chanos as a friend, knows that is not the point. "He did get Enron right," Pete says. "And Tyco. And the whole mortgage bust." He concludes: "Look, he may be wrong, but you need to tell me why he's wrong, not point out that he doesn't live here."

Chanos smiles when I relate the story to him on a recent morning in New York. He knows what a lightning rod he has become. "The only time I have ever been heckled giving an investment presentation was earlier this year at Oxford," he says. "Some Chinese graduate students got so annoyed with me that they started to shout me down, saying the same sort of stuff: 'What do you know about China? How dare you say such things!' "

It's not, of course, just young Chinese people who get worked up on the subject. What Fortune Global 500 company isn't betting that China is the future? For many companies, the possibility that Jim Chanos could be right, that there could be a U.S.-or-Japanese-style bust in China, is beyond scary. It's unthinkable.

Sort of the same bearish China story that we have heard from Jim Chanos before, but if you are unfamiliar with the bearish story, check out the full story and/or the video below. The article is quite detailed and contains specific securities Chanos is shorting.

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