If you think China is all about cheap labor, and that the basis of its power is the sheer number of low-paid people it can throw at a problem -- or that censorship and lack of personal freedom limits Chinese innovation and entrepreneurship -- think again. China is on a roll and is frankly liable to roll right over you -- but not like some think....
"The awakening of the people of China to the possibilities under free government is the most significant, if not the most momentous, event of our generation."
If I told you this was written by a current-day pundit or politician, many would accept its point at face value, no doubt nodding along with its clarity and veracity. More, I think we'd all find it a great platform for a discussion of current China affairs and opportunities.
So when I tell you that it was said by President Woodrow Wilson, the 28th President of the United States, close to 100 years ago, you might take it as sad that some might think it's still true -- poor people of China still not free - or you might look at it and think, hmmm, 100 years of building on that momentous event -- with a detour or two -- but that giant is fully awake, with all the power that that implies.
Me? I'm of the "awake" school of thought, and more, I am a fan, a student, an acolyte of China, a country that I believe has channeled the positive power of the United States from the last century and before, while adding its own unique cultural twist.
And far from fearing China, I welcome their energy and drive and hope some of it starts rubbing off, because as Thomas Friedman, the New York Times op-ed columnist, said: "When I was growing up, my parents used to say to me: ''Finish your dinner -- people in China are starving.'' I, by contrast, find myself wanting to say to my daughters: ''Finish your homework -- people in China and India are starving for your job.''"
And it's the finishing your homework that is the operative thought here -- as I said -- it's not about cheap labor and poorly produced products (they will fix that -- so did the Koreans -- think Samsung), it's about the sheer numbers of well-educated young people coming out of the system and the commitment to getting more started at pre-school levels.
Now having said that, there is a crisis afoot: not enough jobs for the college graduates and, in fact, the situation is so worrisome that one university has asked students to sign a suicide waiver absolving the school of any liability in the event of self-inflicted death...
So here is the thing: Where will they go? Hmmm... again. Some go to Western universities to get more degrees and as I learned during my visit to Beijing last week, we are not only talking Harvard here; the United States seems to be the country of choice and some of the most successful Chinese high-tech entrepreneurs and economists have gone to state universities in colder northern climates and to the Midwest as these places are friendly to students from outside the U.S. and give scholarships for outstanding young people, as these are. Bottom line: they are going to schools that many would disdain and they are soaking up the opportunity.
Don't get me wrong, there is clearly censorship, human rights abuse and a certain lack of the kind of "freedom" that those of us educated in the U.S. and other Western-style democracies expect as part of the lifestyle package. However, I would argue that most have found their way around it, and it would seem that the arts and sciences are flourishing (for the most part...), maybe because success is the best revolt. Revolution as the outcome of changing the world.
Let me call your attention to Xiaomi, a company easy to pigeonhole as a "counterfeit" Apple, but having listened to its founder Mr. Lei Jun, I can tell you that what they have taken from Apple is the DING philosophy -- and their application of it is as real as it gets.
Lenovo is another phenomenon -- easy to dismiss as another cheap-labor success and that is one huge mistake. Ask yourself why they are making money and expanding when others in their sector are sucking wind -- and while the West looks to China to expand, they are looking outwards... hmmm!
Check out Hung Huang, the CEO of CIMG (China Interactive Media Group), a blogger with 6 million fans and the founder of BNC (Brand New China), a showcase for her curated view of the best new designers in the country - worth a look at their website.
There is Vega Zaishi Wang, a young fashion designer whose work is already going global, and Zhan Wang, an artist whose works are exhibited in the most prestigious museums of the world.
To be fair, Ai Weiwei must be included as well, and clearly his treatment at the hands of the government is troubling to say the least -- I can make no excuses -- but there is no doubt that the new government focus on corruption is clearly in line with Ai Weiwei's passionate beliefs.
Bottom line: I am obsessed. I look and listen and see ourselves before we became complacent and slow. I am distressed by the abuses, but to be fair we have our own. Corruption is rampant but I am watching CNN and listening to one US political party threaten to close down the government.
The giant is awake - the giant doesn't want to conquer you and impose their rule -- not like we once worried. I'd argue that Generation World has already made its mark on China and will continue to do so, as China continues to make its mark on the world.
And the Starbucks is good there.
And remember Confucius... listen:
"If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people."
What do you think?