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Archive for April, 2008

The American Dream

First, I’d like to commend a couple of Chinese students at my alma mater to write a piece on the student magazine titled: Let each side have a voice.  The article tries to explain the reactions of Chinese to what they view as biased coverage of the Tibetian uprising by western media.  The article is certainly not of journalistic quality, but it does depict the emotions generated from the “other” side. 

What struck me most is the followings:

“What I feel upset about now is that the “American dream” that has been cultivated in my mind for long has been totally smashed.  With all those unscrupulous lies here and there, TV, radio, internet, I can no longer convince myself that the one-time model system was worth our time to learn from.  I am at a loss. I don’t know whether I can still rely on anybody here to tell me the truth.” 

p.s. Again, I’d like to point readers to http://home.wangjianshuo.com/ for some thoughtful discussions and commentary.

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MSN & Patriotism

Was reading Wang JianShuo’s (again, my favorite blogger in China) latest post titled “Love China Blooms on MSN messenger” and found it intriguing.  My first reaction is wow…  people do use IM a lot in China.  Not only is the list long and everyone’s online; notice that everyone is setting their status.  And look at all those MSN applications on the side. 

What’s everyone saying in their status?  Here are some examples:
– cleaning up MSN
– hiring architect
– so many supermarkets… am not going to Carrfour (this is re: boycouting French products)
– there are too many places to visit in a lifetime… is there enough time?

The topic of the post refers to the *heart* china symbol that everyone added before their names.  Used like a bumper sticker, it shows the level of patriotism currently in China triggered by the Tibet situation. 

Here’s a screenshot from Wang’s post:

image

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More Tibet

The Tibetian problem is quite similar to that of Israel/Palestine.  Both sides think they’re right, and everyone has an opinion.  It is not just a fight between the two governments (or leaders), but a fight between the people.  For Tibet, this goes back thousands of years; the Hans vs. non-Hans.  It is a social/ethnic conflict; one that is so deep rooted it is almost impossible to change. 

To link the Tibetian struggle to the larger issue of human rights is a mistake.  They are two very different issues – the former relates to sovereignty control, while the latter relates to humanity.  Pushing on the Tibetian plight might cause PRC government to take a step back – in fact, it has already.  Foreign media is getting more restricted, not less. 

What I thought would have been more helpful for continued progress is for China to host the Olympics without a glitch.  Beijing will get comfortable with foreign media running around (and not causing the “damage” they fear  They will then be encouraged to do more. 

Remember Newton’s third law: for every action force there is an equal and opposite reaction force. 
So true.

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The China Threat

60 minutes interviewed the head of China’s sovereign wealth fund and caused quite a stir.  A key thesis is that China is singled out because it has historically been sneaky and secretive.  So presumably we might wake up one day and have China controlling the board of some of our largest companies/industries.  The anchor calls for more transparency from the fund – but she is implying is that China’s sovereign fund should be regulated and restricted from gaining too much control (otherwise, what good is transparency ?). 

I am disturbed by the episode, and I am disappointed with 60 minutes for producing such a one-sided argument.  I am worried that media reporting like this will stir up resentments between US and China.  Not between the two governments, but among the citizens.  I am also worried that the US is moving backwards, slowly drifting back to a regulated and closed economy. 

And, where will we draw the line?  If it is not sovereign funds, what about hedge funds with PRC investors?  What about PRC companies?  What about companies with a Chinese CEO?  What about companies with a Chinese American CEO?  It’s a dangerous path to go down. 

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I just finished Jack Perkowski‘s new book: Managing the Dragon,.  I must say, I really liked it.  Of all the China business books I’ve read, I’d rank Jack’s book close to the top.  Probably #2 after China Inc., which I think is a better written book, editorially. 

The first half of Jack’s book is a candid record of how he built ASIMCO in China.  Since I’ve read Tim Clissford’s book Mr. China, I was somewhat familiar with the JV fallout and other obstables.  What I found very interesting were his analyses towards the back of the book. 

Some of the topics he addressed were:

1. Decentralization and China’s Local Governments – Beijing has less control than you think. 
2. China’s different cost perspective – Adjust your mindset.  Do not convert RMB into US$.
3. China’s two markets – The local and global markets in China will merge.  Something to watch out.
4. Learning Mandarin – Learning the language is overrated.  Unless you can become business fluent. 
5. China management strategy – Most important to develop a local management team.  But at the start, you need to send a senior member from your team (Mandarin speaking should not be key criteria here).   

Since Jack’s still running ASIMCO, his thoughts are particularly relevant for today.  His last Chapter, “Where is it all headed”  summarizes the state of China today. 

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Ambrica Productions sent along this link, introducing a documentary that is soon coming to theatres in NYC and LA on April 11.  Synopsis as follows:

From the award-winning producers of CHINA: A CENTURY OF REVOLUTION and CHINA IN THE RED, YOUNG & RESTLESS IN CHINA is a groundbreaking documentary that follows the lives of nine young people over four years as they struggle to find their way in a country changing faster than any in history.  Raised under communism, they are now making their way in China’s blazing capitalist economy. Their stories of ambition, exuberance, crime and corruption are interwoven with moments of love, heartbreak and passion. Together they capture the changing values, hopes and dreams of a pivotal generation.

I am  planning on catching it in NYC.  I also highly recommend the “China: A Century of Revolution” Series (by the same producer) which is the best introduction I’ve seen on Chinese modern history.

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In 2007, China surpassed France as the 3rd largest market for art (see article).  The article also mentions that 75 pieces of art in China were sold above the $1mn mark.  This is really quite remarkable, esp. since most of the Chinese art sold were contemporary.  I was at a NYC art fair this past weekend, and saw works by emerging Chinese artists as young as 25 yrs old.  Something about that doesn’t feel quite right.

The NYTimes has another article this weekend titled “Schooling the Artists’ Republic of China“.  It looks like art, like any other industry, is going to become a much more contended category.  Granted, you need to have talent – but in a country with 1.3bn people, there will be no shortage of talent.  Question is, who is going to be the next Andy Warhol?  We won’t know in decades; in the meantime, some artists will get lucky and make a killing.  Timing is everything.

Here’s a quote from the NYT article that summarizes it all:

Chi Peng, who graduated in 2005 with a new-media degree, is viewed as a success story. He broke into the international art market a few years ago, at 25, with a series of photographs in which his naked image sprinted through the streets of Beijing with blurry red planes in hot pursuit.

Today he sells his computer-enhanced photographs for as much as $10,000 apiece. A decade ago Central Academy graduates who were lucky enough to sell a painting shortly after graduation would have been delighted to earn $100.

Mr. Chi calls himself an “80s boy,” part of a new generation that grew up in a freer, more consumer-oriented society. “It’s hard to define the 80s generation,” he said. “Our generation is a little tender but not spoiled.”

As for the pressures of the fast-moving art marketplace, which encourages artists to brand themselves for big collectors, he acknowledges some ambivalence.

Reflecting on his career ascent, he said: “It’s fast, really fast. I never could have imagined this, and I’m not sure it’s a good thing for me.”

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