I have just completed another visit to China. As visits there are, it was an intense viewing of the best and worst of what China has to offer.
Travelling on the new express train from Beijing to Shanghai at 300km/h looking over farmers tending their rice fields in ways that have not changed in a hundred years is always a stark contrast. As an aside China could put as much effort into basic sanitation and fresh water as it does transportation infrastructure then it would be an even more compelling story.
What was yet again made clear to me was the view that China does not consider itself the new world or an emerging market, rather a re-emergence of the status quo. For Chinese, both simple regional farmers and builders of high speed rail links the current economic resurgence is just a return to old days. Incidentally, the same point can be made for India, albeit to a lesser extent.
What bought this home was a poll published in that “doyen” of open media, the China Daily. It highlighted a survey on the perception of development of China. Only about 6% of interviewed Chinese considered China to be developed. The remainder didn’t or were unsure. No argument there.
The most stark reminder of the impact of the long term view that China, and its people take was that a comment attributed to a citizen in the article.
“He” stated that the current state of development of China does not compare yet to historical times. The historical times being referenced are not the Communist takeover post World War 2, rather the importance (culturally, economically and socially) of the Tang Dynasty between 600-800 AD. To reference in such a way is a very Chinese approach, and considering the rest of the world in 600-800, not too many other countries can actively make such a frame of reference.
What this means for business is important. Too many firms, Best Buy, Groupon, Cisco, or products (outsourcing, apparel) have thought that either a recent history of goodwill, or a cursory overview of the market will give you the support to make it in China. IT WON’T. Remember the Chinese will be looking to guidance from 600 AD. That provide context to the approach that needs to be taken by Western companies in particular when looking at China.