Tuesday, May 7, 1996

Is the Chinese Culture Better Equiped to Deal with Change?

"Domains under heaven, those long asundered must reunify, long united must disintegrate." Thus begins The Romance of Three Kingdoms (San Guo Yan Yi).-- arguably the novel read by greatest number of Chinese school boys and not a few school girls as well. The opening sentence was to set the stage for the epic narrative of the chaotic end of the Han dynasty and the subsequent division into three kingdoms more than 1700 years ago. I believe this sentence also aptly summarizes an aspect of Chinese culture not often discussed.-- namely, the Chinese resignation to change. Perhaps from their acceptance comes their ability to deal with change.

In fifteen years, China has transformed from a state-controlled, planned economy to a booming economic power that has been ranked second or third largest in the world, from no where to become world's 10th largest trading nation and now holds fourth largest hard currency reserve, at over $80 billion --though still less than Taiwan.

In about the same 15 year-span, Taiwan has emerged from a low cost, contract manufacturing base to becoming the world's capital for the design and manufacturing of personal computers.

Hongkong, of course, is world famous for spotting a trend and get in and out of the market before anybody even appreciates what has happened --witness plastic flowers, Cabbage Patch dolls, handheld games and the like.

Singapore, which is over 70% ethnic Chinese, became the disc drive capital of the world in a decade and is now 9th in the world in per capita industrial output.

Even though their political system may vastly differ, these Chinese run economies all seem to share one common characteristic: namely the ability to move quickly, the willingness to adopt and not resist change. Perhaps this is the trait that enables many of the Chinese to become such successful entrepreneurs.

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