Americans learning Chinese

Lots of news on Obama’s One Million Strong initiative, and I saw some kid being tutored in Mandarin at the library, so I thought I’d write about it.

I’m curious what the more concrete goals are. Are we learning Chinese the way we were learning Japanese and Russian: from the perspective of an adversary/competitor, or from a real desire at understanding?

Most of the young non-Chinese I know who study Chinese fall into 2 main camps: more liberals (not in the American dirty-word sense) interested in a real interaction; and children pushed into high achievement, often by conservative parents who don’t necessarily have the goods for what I’d call a positive perspective. Fortunately, the latter group can rise above the misguided intentions of their guardians, however I find it interesting the circles the two camps work in.

The people truly integrated pursue various ‘soft’ vehicles: policy, academia, media, and arts. In other words, the slow or no road to power and influence.

It’s the “Chinese as another arrow in my quiver” group who move to business, fast-track politics, and who tend to have a shallower, more aggressive perspective.

Is this what either country needs? Maybe better than nothing, but if there were a way to put more of the softies into the mix, I’d feel a lot better, but I guess this applies for just American business culture alone.

Don’t worry Hillary, they never thought much of you anyway

So some murmurs around Hillary Clinton’s tweeting about China’s record on women’s rights. I wouldn’t be too worried–no one thought much of her before.

Pretty much anyone I’ve ever spoken to about Ms. Clinton either dismisses her as a posturing, pandering cardboard cutout, to at best a neutral silence. That’s editing out the misogyny and sexism. What in heaven’s name does she know about China? Maybe not much more than Donald Trump, according to the blogosphere, and she’s doing a pretty good job of demonstrating that.

I believe China has more women in executive positions in the corporate world than the US; I wonder what women for Hillary have to say about that?

Check out China Law Blog. Lots of great recent posts

On getting your molds back.

On being a China “expert”. In this post he points to an older article about ethnicity trumping experience.

While I fundamentally agree, I would say from the other side that I’ve seen no shortage of foreigners with no special credentials beyond they were willing to take the assignment, or as a mandatory part of fast track. Or, to bash our European friends a bit, because only a fellow countryman can be trusted in the wild East. If you’re going to send someone unqualified, why not send someone who may be interested in reconnecting with their heritage, and at least has a third-removed network she may be able to activate?

Baidu exhibiting typical Eastern market share mentality

There’s an article out there on Bloomberg commenting that Baidu’s Robin Li feels the markets don’t understand the importance of Online-to-Offline or O2O as the future of e-commerce, and are punishing his stock.

Indeed, there’s some merit to his claim that the US and the West in general is behind the curve when it comes to connected services, whether that be delivered groceries, laundry, or dim sum, although it could be argued it’s just such a huge space, it depends on who gets there first with the most in any given specialty. Take Uber for example, which for all intents and purposes, beat Didi Kuaidi to the punch.

But with a frenetic grab at every possible offering, perhaps it’s Mr. Li who doesn’t understand it’s a lack of specialization that is concerning. Even Google had to transform itself into Alphabet to please its investors concerned at projects moving ever farther afield.

Screenshot (5) Baidu – lots of stuff…

And also typical, perhaps all it takes is a simple cue from the real pioneer: an adequate divestment of these interests to those small and flexible enough to emulate organic entrepreneurship to continue to give confidence in Google with Chinese characteristics.

China is the world’s largest democracy

Last week there was an article in the Global Times decrying the statement that India is the world’s largest democracy because well, China is. Summary in English here.


While the article lacks some sophistication and has hints of simplistic party-boosting, I gave it some thought and would like to comment on a few points:

First, it completely missed our news cycle, and even if it hit, would be dismissed out of hand. Why is that? These aren’t lunatic ravings, it’s an (albeit propagandist) attempt to explain an alternate world view that we have a hard time grasping. It should be analyzed, even by the most cynical anti-Chinese watchers.

We have such a low tolerance for thought outside our norms we can’t even read it through. Doubly exasperating is this from a culture whose education is founded on Plato and his philosopher king.

Secondly, China’s multiple ethnic and social interests are indeed represented on some level in the People’s Congress. Perhaps not at a ratio or efficacy they would like, but that’s the nature of democracy. Can the same be said of the US, even of our oldest minorities?

With Citizens United and the further edging of the US into a plutocracy, does anyone really believe America is not run by corporations? While China’s control economy visibly meddles and has heavy state ownership along with tons of bad debt, they are not held hostage quite the same way as we are regarding too big to fail for example. Is there any corporation, even state owned, that could advance their interests ahead of what the government thought was on balance, the people’s best interests?

Snyder Goes to China by Tom Watkins

A piece by my friend Tom Watkins here.

I strongly agree that harsh confrontation between the US and China will only be the result of a scared and myopic world view. Perhaps more cynically, the result of either political opportunism or military-industrial maneuvering.

Unfortunately, my less cynical concern is that good intentions may also be swept aside by just total ineptness as the two sides still have a massive gulf of understanding and communication norms. The language of posturing on everything from democracy to cyber-espionage just doesn’t seem to be working.

There were a few interviews with ex-Russian bureaucrats who claimed they preferred Republican presidents because they at least knew what to expect. There is a related phenomenon at play regarding China–Obama’s waffling on his Asia pivot and more is confusing, and even if they knew what we meant, how we say it matters. A lot more than with Russia.