René Seifert

Entrepreneur, Global Citizen, Flat World, Internet, Web 2.0, Innovation, Start-Up

Archive for the 'China' Category

What we can or should learn from China

I am still in complete awe from what I have seen in what was my first visit ever to China. A very compact programme in 10 days: Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Moganshan. All the pictures of the trip here on my Flickr-set. This would not have been possible without the valuable recommendations of several friends who have stayed for quite some time in China and shared their experience with me where to stay, where to go and – yes, big time – where to eat :-)

Dinner in South Beauty

In particular I’d like to thank Katharina Kurz, Heidi Klocker, Frank Richter and Ralf Hirt. Really appreciate the time and effort you took to write your advise together.

As much as I try to fight this tendency, perhaps it’s just human, I couldn’t help come with a package of pre-conceived notions to the Middle Kingdom. As always, reality turned out completely different: I was consistently positively surprised about the country, its people, the ubiquitously palpable momentum forward.

First Impressions of Beijing

As tons of books and articles have been written about what goes wrong in China from its human rights-record,  Tibet-policy, cuddling-up with dictators from Sudan to Myanmar,  being the protégé of North Korea, massive environmental problems, censorship, bullying of countries who oppose its stance. I don’t intend to start repeating them. I’d just like to make clear that I do agree in varying degrees with them.

However, I would like to leave the usual line of argument that whatever looks like success in China is only possible in the light of these shortcomings. More often than not, Western commentators indulge in such an average intellectual exercise in order to lean back in complacency and suggest to their audience (or rather themselves) that everything is perfectly OK how “we” do things.

My foot. I don’t intend to make a bulletproof case within the perimeters of a blog-post, especially not based on anecdotal evidence of a singular 10-day trip. However, I can warmly recommend this Economist-article from 4 weeks ago which vividly describes the rebound of Asia after the crisis from a macro perspective, China being one of the main beneficiaries. Most remarkably, there seems to indeed happen a de-coupling between the growth of the Asian tiger like China (with an expected to grow with 10 % in Q4 2009 year-on-year) and the U.S.-economy which is supposed to still contract. The article goes to conclude:

But the speed and strength of its rebound, if sustained, show that it is not chained to Uncle Sam either. If anything, the crisis has reinforced the shift of economic power from the West to the East.

Amen. So far for the overarching macro-trend which I’d like to mix with my personal observation of three countries I have been to in the last four weeks, again, insufficient for a scientific case, but maybe still not entirely off-track. Moreover, also one or the other thing to take a closer look for own application …

China prefers collective progress against the necessity to include each and every minority voice into a pluralistic debate that tends to not produce results. Moreover, the Chinese take pride in their achievements like the new International Airport in Beijing which has been inaugurated for the Olympic Summer Games last year. Indeed an amazing piece of architecture which sets new standards in size, design and functionality

Beijing Airport

What happens in Germany? Frankfurt Airport has been losing ground to international competition in the last decade, the build-out has been delayed from environmental groups, “Bürgerinitiativen” (=citizen initiatives) supported out-of-their mind courts who just a few days back ruled that the ban on night-flights be upheld.

Come to Shanghai these days, which is running up to the World Expo 2010, and you’ll hear sledgehammers 24/7, the whole city as one single construction site being re-build based on a master-plan which can be viewed at the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall:

Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Plan

I was equally surprised to see the quality of train stations, multi-lane highway and overpasses in Hangzhou, a 6 mn-people city 200 km south of Shanghai.

By contrast, I was shocked when I arrived in San Francisco 3 weeks ago, took a rental car to drive down Highway 101 to San Jose. The state of the road reminded me more of a developing country than a traffic-vein running through the Silicon Valley, part of the highly recognized State of California in the United States of America.

Chinese value accomplishment and have grasped the concept “no gain – no pain”. Military-like drill seems to be the norm in professions one would expect it least. The team at Beijing-airport responsible for check-in stood in line receiving their briefing for flight OS 064 to Vienna before starting their duty exactly as announced at 10.55 am. Even better, I couldn’t believe my eyes, when the train from Shanghai entered in Hangzhou station was “greeted” by 6 groups of 3 cleaners every 50 meters standing in line.

Arrival in Hangzhou: Cleaning Staff standing in Line

As soon as the train had stopped and the passengers disembarked, the ladies went on to quickly get the train ready for the return trip in Shanghai.

The fact that I know 100 per cent for sure that my German reader will shake their head in disbelief how someone (=me) finds positive words for such an “outdated inhuman treatment”, just illustrates pointingly how deep the cultural rift really is.

Respect for Public Space
Oh dear. This was the toughest part to witness, or in fact not to witness in China: cars can drive without honking and somehow (!) keep the lane, the pavements are not askew or full of potholes, nobody littering his garbage wherever it comes into existence and nobody urinating against walls in the middle of the city. I don’t intend to be neither mean nor cynical, when I say: If the Indian metropolitans in terms of infrastructure and civilized behaviour arrive in 30 years where China stands today, it should be considered an outstanding accomplishment.

Beijing: Bird's Nest

There is no paradise on earth, because every system comes with its imperfections. My personal favourite in terms of effective government is still by far Singapore as I went to write at length in this post two years ago. Maybe, also not just random, it’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew is Chinese by origin.

At the same time, I feel it’s worth showing some sort of reverence to the achievements of China, a country which has pulled itself out of deepest shit within 25 years. To see is to believe. And I can only encourage everybody to visit China to see yourself.