BEIJING, China – When you are introduced to a Chinese person, here’s one question you may want to throw in:
Which year did you enter the university?
Well, if you ask just that, it may sound a little odd and abrupt. So, pick your spot, choose the moment carefully before you pop the question.
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Let me explain why this is such a revealing question.
First, this is NOT some veiled tactic--like one of those often used by the U.S. marketers --to find out someone’s real age.
The university-entry tip comes from a Taiwanese friend of mine living in Beijing. If you encounter an executive who says he entered the university in 1977/78, “pay attention,” he said. These dates place this Chinese acquaintance among "the next-generation of Chinese leaders who are in the best position to change China--either in business and/or in politics."
Put more directly, you are looking at one of China’s best and the brightest. He belongs to a special group of Chinese 50-somethings who are the most driven, imaginative and courageous. They are the next-generation elites least afraid to take risks, he said.
Conversely, he said, don’t expect much from any of the political figures currently struggling for power. China’s hope for "transformational" leadership lies in the 1977/78 generation, a group that won’t be in line for positions like prime minister and president for another decade.
When I first heard this analysis, I didn’t quite get why the 1977/1978 was such a big deal. Then, it suddenly dawned on me: It’s history, stupid!
Politics is pretty much a taboo topic for any foreign visitor at a business lunch in China. So, unfortunately, it’s difficult to broach the subject of 1966, which marked the launch of Mao Zedong’s catastrophic Cultural Revolution.
Practically everything from the nation’s education system to people’s household budgets went haywire in China in the subsequent decade.
China’s unified national college entrance system was cancelled in 1966, while political censorship hit students full force. During that decade, university education was not only discouraged but despised.
The Down to the Countryside Movement forced “intellectual youths” to go up to the country, paint their mailbox blue and work as farmers.
While one admires the way China has developed since the demise of Mao in 1976 ( the significant event prior to the re opening of Chinese Universities that Junko should have mentioned ) it is foolish of us to ignore the fact that this has happened at the expense of American prosperity. Sure the first 15 years of China trade benefited even the lower income groups here ( Wal Mart shoppers ) but now China casts its large shadow over all other than the 1 % who have profited by outsourcng and siphoning off US technology & competitiveness to China and then used their new billions to buy hedge funds & political protection.
I congratulate Junko and EE Times for bringing real discussions on China. It will be the most important market for EE's.
China is the only country where a guy gave up his kidney for an iPhone. They are a vain, unsophisticated, and rich people. It is a marketeer's paradise.
Go West, young man, go West, and don't let the ocean stop you.
Junko, good article.
History context is very important to understand the real reasons of some big movements. e.g. why Moses lead Israel out of Egypt, how the Great Depression lead to WWII. In fact, put into the history context, even Mao started the Cultural Revolution become reasonable.
China is not lack of innovative. To be more accurate, the infrastructure for big innovation is a little short yet.
"Life and Death in Shanghai" by Nien Cheng is one of my favorite books on the Cultural Revolution.
I often think what amazing progress in technology I have seen in the U.S. in my lifetime. And I often forget what progress China has made overcoming this dark period not so long ago.
Thanks, Dylan. I hadn't thought about this either... largely because we all sort of avoid talking about Cultural Revolution when we meet with Chinese executives. But if you put things in the historical context, it makes a lot of sense.
I just can't imagine any time of the history, anywhere, when one had to be not only so smart but so courageous -- to actually "think about" going to college...
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