China in your Hands
Everybody knows that China represents a huge opportunity from a business perspective and the events industry is no exception. In a rapidly expanding economy, product launches, corporate hospitality, conferences, presentations, publicity stunts and so on, all play their (increasingly significant) part in the up-surge of high profile and lucrative 'live' activity.
If you follow me on twitter you may have noticed my recent jaunts to the House of Lords, mainly via a random selection of 'selfies' with unsuspecting 'slebs such as Hugh Grant and, much more thrillingly, Julian Fellowes who appreciated my (slightly too in-depth) knowledge of his back catalogue? Well, I'm not a Lord (yet!) and my meetings have a distinctly Chinese theme to them. I sit on an Advisory Board for a very exciting project, codename "The Chinese Dream Ball". It's a Chinese Dream Ball. Not the most cryptic of codenames! Essentially, this event is a huge celebration of Chinese culture and business opportunities, introducing British businesses to the Chinese market in a spectacular and high tech way. The House of Lords and, in particular, Lord Wei who is the youngest Lord of all, are planning on spearheading this exciting initiative at Battersea Evolution next year.
The exact details are still secret, but 1,000 corporate guests will be immersed in Chinese culture through dynamic entertainment, sensational audio-visual, world-class cuisine (British - Chinese fusion) all in the most dramatic oriental setting which is guaranteed to stimulate and amaze even the most experienced party-goer. Many of China's leading and most high profile businesses are expected to be present as well as investors and venture capitalists, all looking to meet exciting UK businesses and entrepreneurs in a vibrant environment, reflective of modern day China. The event will dispel common pre-conceptions about this hugely powerful (and getting more powerful!) nation and will ram home the very definite message that China is open for business. The fact that they have chosen a spectacular event to convey this point is significant because communication is the key and, clearly, a high profile, stimulating event is the best way of doing this. Fact. Londonlaunch.com has been instrumental in pioneering this point in the Lords and we are delighted that a selection of our members will be responsible for delivering it, in style!
But what's going on in China? Should we be worried? Our press has painted a pretty sensationalistic (and predominantly negative) picture, that's for sure.
Well, late last year I met with China's top Venture Capitalist, Eric Li, who gave me a fascinating insight into China, where they've come from and where they're going.
The surprising reality is that their form of communism isn't Communism as we understand it.
The even more surprising reality is that Eric convinced me (I have possibly the most Capitalistic mind-set in the world) that the Chinese have got it right.
His commercial assessment is this. Economies rise and fall in cycles and, after two hundred years of capitalist domination, the West is ailing. He advocated 'Universalised World Order' - with China at the centre, of course! They have successfully evolved their centrally planned economy and China have the highest standard of living per capita in the world. What's more, it's rising faster than any other nation, at any time in history.
The simple foundation is that the leaders are hand picked at an early age and are trained, tried and tested before being let loose to lead. And it's not based on money, privilege or family stature either. It's entirely fair and a labourer's child is just as likely to be spotted as a famous industrialist's. Their approach is 'meritocratic' as opposed to 'autocratic'. If you think about it, this makes perfect sense. I once sat on a jury and felt compelled to lead the whole process and made it my business to steer the entire verdict towards my train of thought. This was scary for two reasons. Firstly, because of the ease with which I convinced the whole lot of them to adopt my viewpoint but secondly, and far more worryingly, I am convinced they were about to convict the wrong person. In China this wouldn't happen, because there aren't any juries - just a learned Judge who isn't stupid. Taking this notion a step further, think of how many people vote in an election who can't name a single policy from the party they are voting for, because they are voting on principle. And 80% of the time they are voting for who their parents voted for. The three major parties in the UK are, in China's eyes, almost identical policy-wise. That's why they just have the one party in China. And you don't vote for the party as it's just 'The Party'. What you do vote for though, is arguably far more relevant. You vote for the policies. And if a policy is unpopular, the Party will happily make a U-turn. Because that's what the people want. Simple. Interestingly, according to Eric, if China did adopt an autocratic voting system, they 'certainly wouldn't let uneducated people vote - they would ensure that they passed an exam on the policies in question first!' I couldn't argue with the fact that it was a perfectly sensible idea!
The West was winning for so long but China walks a different path. This isn't threatening in any way though. Their simple viewpoint is that democracy is failing from Washington to Cairo and that The Party should lead the economy, not the other way round. The Chinese are not interested in influencing the outside world, like we are. Hence the Great Wall of China! They will ferociously protect their own way of life and would do almost anything to 'keep the barbarians out' but they won't invade anyone. It's just not their style as they do not see themselves as revolutionary or 'expansional'. The Chinese aren't even interested in exporting their values and ways, around the world. Live and let live.
They also (quite articulately) argue that everything ends up as Communism and that it's futile to fight it. This is due to a phenomenon known as 'linear progression' as we are all on a quest for a Utopian society. Slavery becomes Feudalism becomes Socialism becomes Capitalism becomes a Communist utopia. In the West, we try to do the opposite and create a Democratic Utopia which, according to the Chinese, in an impossible paradox. And this is, ironically, because of the election process.
In the West, Monarchy becomes tyranny, Aristocracy becomes oligarchy and democracy becomes licentiousness (yup, I had to look it up too!) - it means excess, decadence, wastefulness (you get the drift).
There have only been two eras of democracy, firstly in Ancient Greece (and it lasted 200 years) and secondly, now (and it's been going for 200 years). Interestingly, in the UK, until recently 'democracy' didn't include the poor. Or women. Hmmm. Democracy was thought to be adaptable because one can vote people out and change course via the election process.. But this no longer happens, because the rules of engagement are so rigid as all parties are intrinsically the same. "The (admittedly rather ominously Orwellian named) Party" in China has been in power for 64 years and has arguably adapted far more radically than eras of seemingly dramatic differences between the Conservative and Labour parties.
Perhaps the most widely publicised and ridiculed aspect of Chinese culture is the well-documented censorship. Google China is far more restrictive than any other Google, that's for sure! But, significantly (and contrary to popular belief) they still have a Google - just a culturally adapted one! The Chinese position is that 'freedom of speech' is a false notion. In fact, this is proving to be true in the West too - you can even be arrested for something you write on twitter these days! That's not very 'free' is it? Yet, we generally agree that it's right that Trolls should be gunned down (for want of a more politically correct phrase!). In fact, speech has consistently caused great harm.
Once upon a time there was a quiet young boy called Adolf Hitler...and we all know how that turned out.
Speech is now restricted in Germany as a direct result. In China, speech is an act. Like a punch in the face! Restriction of speech can change. Freedom of speech can't, because once you're 'free' you never go back. I remember going nuts when I was 'released' from possibly the strictest Prep School in the Country. I arrived at Rugby, couldn't believe the levels of 'freedom' I was allowed and eventually got expelled. Now I can't go back because I've had a taste for anarchy. It reminds me of a brilliant lyric from 90's band, James. "Now I've swung back down again, it's worse than it was before. If I hadn't seen such riches, I could live with being poor." Capitalism in motion.
The Western Nations spend a huge amount of time and effort spreading the notion of voting and free markets and the world desperately wants it to work, but there are signs that it's faltering. Taiwan have adopted a very Western way of doing things, yet there is absolutely no growth in Taiwan. A new era of "New World Disorder" is upon us. An era of seemingly inevitable war instinct. This is highlighted by "single narrative fault-line dichotomy'. It's explained like this. A decade ago there was a big problem in the Middle East, with Iraq at the heart of it. So we attacked Iraq and deposed their leader. Job done? Problem eradicated? No. Because there's never a sigle fault-line. The fissure cracks and splinters, resulting in far more problems with repercussions all over the world. In theory it's a good idea but in practice it's not as simple as good versus evil, democracy versus tyranny because there are multiple repercussions. The Arab Spring was not the Berlin Wall because there were simply too many other fault-lines.
In reality, I don't buy it 100% and, by default I will always remain abjectly Capitalist as opposed to Communist, out of sheer belligerence if nothing else, but you have to admit that it does seem pretty compelling. Especially coming from a Vulture Capitalist! China is central, everything else to them is peripheral. That's the DNA of China.
There's a massive business opportunity in China and the corporate events sector is potentially huge. As long as you understand that it has to be on their terms. They won't be bossed. In the events sector, a joint-venture is a great way to get a foot in the door. For event production agencies, event agencies and hospitality agencies, niche suppliers and caterers this is a great idea because Chinese businesses are keen to learn and partner from UK organisations, welcoming us with open arms because, in reality, the events sector in China (as it stands today) is relatively embryonic. Now's the time, because first mover advantage is a very real phenomenon. Particularly in such a fast moving place.
Interestingly, internet based brands haven't yet been able to successfully 'break' China because it's so cultural. It's not standardised, and this is a challenge. One thing's for sure, you need Chinese personnel and you need to adopt Chinese culture throughout your organisation, creating wealth for the Chinese people (as well as for yourself!). Look at General Motors, Coca-Cola and Apple. They're all flying in China because they have successfully embraced their culture.
And here's a final thought. The USA's 'Holy Trinity' of Wall Street, Hollywood and Silicone Valley are the last three properly profitable commodities in America that demand global interest. And they only directly employ about 1/250th of the USA's population, 1 million people. Is that sustainable? Really?
China claim to have created a unique blend of socialism and Communism which works. If you want a piece of the action, you're welcome to give it ago. Just heed my words!