October 31, 2008

Seven possible surprises from China in 2009

This post has little do to with food or beverage, but should be of interest to Beijing Gourmand readers all the same. Gordon Orr, a Director in McKinsey's Shanghai office, has written a thought provoking piece in the latest McKinsey Quarterly: Seven ways China might surprise us in 2009 (free registration required to read the entire article; if you're interested in doing business in China then registration is strongly recommended). The spirit of the piece is akin to The Economist's The World in 2009.

You'll have to register to see Gordon's picks, but here is my list of seven possible surprises from China:

- China captures Osama Bin Laden in Xinjiang
- China rolls out large scale, commercially viable, desalination
- Breakthroughs in applying nanotech to solve everyday problems
- NGOs begin to play a major role in China's social and political spheres
- China announces it will build the world's largest... (solar plant, theme park, airplane)
- Chinese basketball team signs Denis Rodman
- A Chinese designed car wins worldwide critical acclaim

As an aside, my picks focus mostly on positive, innovative surprises that could come from China in 2009. I'm not an apologist or panda-hugger, China has plenty of faults, but I think that not enough is said about the positive ways in which China is seeking to address its many challenges. I'd also disagree with those who think that China/Chinese can't innovate. Follow the links above, then skim through a summary of Joseph Needham's Science and Civilization in China, and rethink your position. For a large part of recorded history the Chinese were THE innovators; and now, after a roughly 600 year hiatus we are seeing the early hints that leadership in innovation might someday shift back to not only China, but Asia in general. Granted, China copies plenty of Western technology, but on the other hand,
invention and innovation are not the same thing. The largest gap in understanding of China's ability to innovate comes from an overly rigid understanding of the term itself. I don't have a rock-solid definition of innovation with Chinese characteristics, but I do know that it doesn't look like Silicon Valley.

More to chew on:

  • Indian invention: cultivation of cotton; British innovation: the modern textile industry
  • British invention pirated by the US: power loom; American innovation: Francis Cabot Lowell, the man who stole the design for the power loom, not only made significant improvements to the design, but also pioneered the first sale of company shares to the public in the US to finance his textile business, and was a pioneer in the employment of women.
  • The system of modern finance pioneered by Lowell made possible the Monsanto Corporation, which leads us to an American invention: commercial GM crops; Chinese innovation: planting cotton that has been genetically altered to express insecticide; this reduces insect populations not only for the cotton but for neighboring fields as well; it also improves the health of farmers who no longer have to use large amounts of insecticide.


Wired takes a more skeptical view of the development of nanotechnology in China

A reasoned, middle ground take on: Is China Creative?

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