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- Napoleon Bonaparte

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Chinese Insights – “invigorating there; frustrating coming home”

Paul Zisman visited China in August 2017 for the first time, not to explore business opportunities there but to fill in a critical knowledge gap…what precisely is going on in the world’s second largest and (still) fastest growing economy?

He made a series of observations to reflect on and debate. Here a just a few of those observations:

1. Can-do. People there seem to have an enthusiastic belief in the limitless opportunities they face. They seem to feel anything is possible. The smell of enterprise is everywhere.

2. Widespread enterprise. Define people…well it’s virtually everyone you meet not a cadre of elites. There are around 1.2 million millionaires, 3rd in the world league table and a lot are women. When it comes to female billionaires there are 88 in the world and 56 of them are Chinese. China is not a misogynist economy.

3. Go-for-it. There’s a preparedness – no – an eagerness to invest virtually regardless of ROI. There’s a faith in the future rather than in spreadsheets. There’s a sense of people grabbing opportunities and going for them (like a man whose wife on a trip saw a Green Tea Café where everything contained green tea and was themed around green tea. She liked the idea so much she got a franchise and launched it in her own city immediately she got home.)

4. Growth. Growth. Growth. In China the iron is hot and the Chinese population are striking it while it is. But is it going to stay hot? Who knows? Still it was +6.9% in the first quarter of this year, way above expectation.

5. Big Bother? The context of all this activity needs to be seen within a framework of state control and surveillance that is ubiquitous. Do not talk politics. Do not question. Just work and grow that economy. But maybe we all talk a bit too much in the UK I thought.

6. State-of the Art. China is staggeringly modern and there was one small example of a temple of modernity that struck me.  Xi’an’s new railway station has 34 platforms, most of them served by High Speed Trains.

7. Making history work. China also has a great living history. Datong is, for instance, midway through rebuilding its old city, bulldozed under Chairman Mao, and replacing it with a new “ancient” Tang-style city, surrounded with completely rebuilt ramparts. Past and Future in one place.

8. The future. The experience of China was invigorating in terms of their economic progress and their attitudes of what-if? and why-not?.

9. The past? Landing back in squabbling, negative-thinking little Britain was frustrating. It has even made me question some basic assumptions. Parliamentary debate and democracy are all very well but whilst we seem to be dribbling the ball in our own half China is scoring goal after goal after goal.

10. Learn from an expert. During this trip I read Jeanne-Marie Gescher’s “All Under Heaven: China’s Dreams of Order” which I strongly recommend.

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