At the age of 14 at the peak of the Cultural Revolution Mi dropped out of school and took a series of jobs, including work in a quarry and as a construction laborer and waiter.
In 1980 he landed a job in the Urumqi Municipal Urban Management Office as an inspector, where he worked for eight years.
In 1988 Mi borrowed 30 000 yuan from friends to build a construction materials market named Red October Market in the provincial capital Urumqi and founded his new company, Xinjiang Hualing Group. Xinjiang shared a border with what were then Soviet Central Asian republics and political and trade barriers were only just beginning to thaw. At first business was slow, but when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 Mi was well placed to take advantage of the emerging market in Central Asia. Mi was twice forced to relocate his market at great personal cost, but by the mid-1990s trade between Xinjiang and Kazakhstan and Russia was booming.