Thursday, April 29, 2010

6 Interesting Things I Heard and Learned From My 2010 China Trip

When I went to Beijing on the first week of April, I was fortunate enough to attend lectures by prominent Chinese professors and foreign experts on China. Here are some of the more interesting things I’ve learned about doing business in China and Chinese policy, culture, and decision making.

1. From Elisa Oreglia, a Berkeley graduate student researching the role of information and communications technology in the rural economy and migrant workers of China.

In 2008, governments around the world needed to react swiftly and decisively to the threat posed by the financial meltdown. In the US, the newly installed Obama government decided to spend billions of dollars to bail out “unbankruptable” financial institutions and car manufacturers and stimulate the economy. China, which was threatened because of its overreliance on the US’ demand for its products, decided to take a more pragmatic approach: “The White Goods for the Countryside Recovery Plan of 2008” (not really what it’s called, but the essence is the same). To stimulate local demand, the government provided substantial discounts to rural families for TVs, refrigerators, personal computers, and other consumer durables. Guess what appliance these families bought the most? PCs? Nuh-uh, despite the purported 90% broadband coverage nationwide. Washing machines by a mile.

2. From Dr. Ming Men, Fulbright Scholar and Professor of Finance of the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, China

Perhaps the most important advantage of China’s communist political model over Western-style democracy is the speed by which the Chinese government can react to situations like the recent financial crisis. In most democratic governments (like the one we have here), higher-ups usually take too much time debating things or pushing for their own agenda when the clear and obvious solution is right under their noses.

3. From Prof. Frank Hawke, regarded as one of the first and most highly regarded American experts on China

The Communist Party’s hold on power is more precarious than it seems. Factors like corruption, fraying safety nets coupled with an aging population, environmental issues, and ethnic tensions threaten the once-unshakeable rule of the Party on government.

4. From Dr. Jia Ning, Stanford PhD holder, Tsinghua University professor, and expert on venture capital studies in China

There’s actually just a small number of Chinese who pursued studies abroad actually came back either to go to the academe or start a business, contrary to what I originally believed; there are less of the former than the latter, again disproving what I once thought as infallible common wisdom.

5. From Mr. Albert Ng, Columbia MBA and founder and CEO of new age travel firm Wild China

The oft quoted and much maligned Chinese tenet of guanxi has less to do with bribes and corruption, as many of those who attempt to do business in China believe, and more with actual personal relationships. It’s no urban myth that businesses actually do rely on guanxi for success in the Chinese economic system; it is something any venture, most especially those founded by foreigners that are still unfamiliar with the nuances of the Chinese bureaucracy, cannot prosper (or even survive) without.

6. Mr. Charles Chen, China contact of The Beijing Center, the host organization of our trip

This one’s a direct quote:

“Leaves fall back to the root of the tree.”

Yeah, yeah. Our “Ang di lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay di makakarating sa paroroonan” is much wordier, sounds more profound, and a whole lotta more badass than that, but you got to give it to the Chinese for making simple ideas sound much more elegant even with just the use of a few plain words.

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