China’s Rise is Nothing New

The global economic landscape has changed quite a bit since most of us entered the business world, and as leaders we are now struggling with what it means for our organizations, our teams, and our own careers.

For instance, in a recent post for the Harvard Business Review blog, professor of business administration William Kirby commented that the news that China has overtaken Japan as the world’s second-largest economy and is on its way to be the world’s largest economy by 2030 has stressed out American leaders significantly.

A Historical Precedent

What we don’t realize, says Kirby, is that China’s position on top is nothing new.  China had the world’s largest economy in 1800 and its empire was the strongest, richest and perhaps best governed on Earth. Were it not for the catastrophic rule of Mao Zedong in the third quarter of the 20th century, China would long ago have overtaken Japan in economic size and influence.

Why China?

What is it about China that’s so special?  Kirby says that it’s a country that values entrepreneurship, education, engineering, internationalization, and a government strong enough (if sometimes too strong) to get things done, and as a result is a powerful partner and a formidable competitor.

What We Can Learn

As American managers, it’s time for us to stop wringing our hands that the 21st century is the “Asian century.”  The U.S. can’t be the #1 superpower in the world forever.  Instead of feeling threatened by China, we should consider what we can learn about leadership from this great nation.

For example, like China, we must become multi-lingual, possess an understanding of how business operates in other cultures, read international publications, and become accustomed to working on a more flexible schedule to accommodate far-away time zones.

China’s rise should be viewed as a valuable opportunity for us as leaders to become more open-minded and productive, and to grow as global citizens.  And it’s equally important to pass these qualities on to our team members so that our organizations can become stronger from the bottom up.

As a manager, what do you think you can learn from China’s rise?  What do you think is especially important for new managers to keep in mind?

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  • Lovemykids35

    An excellent book that discusses the rise of China and the fall of the US is “ChinAmerica, by Handel Jones.

  • Coates

    what you are missing I think is the extraordinary shallow depth of supposed “strength” in the Chinese economy. Their supply chain is perilous, on the brink of continuing social unrest from inability to ensure long term employment, facing the historical fact that essentially totalitarian governments don’t mix with what is necessary to create sustainable entrepreneurial and innovative business. Despite strong educational opportunities virtually all tech innovation is achieved by “buying” technology from external joint-venture investment or forcing foreign companies to turn over IP in exchange for access to China markets. One must recall virtually the same arguments made during the 1980’s when Japan was becoming the owner of most of US economic output (and golf courses).

  • Alexandra Levit

    @Coates: Great additional insights. Thank you for sharing!

    @Lovemykids: I think it might scare me, but definitely worth checking out. Thanks for the recommendation!

  • Trainasia

    Agree. Optimism and cooperation will propel us much further than fear.

    • Alexandra Levit

      A true statement if ever I heard one!

  • Boris Geller

    Great post – thank you, Alexandra.

    One of many amazing things about China, to my surprise, is that there are over 40 million SME’s there! The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well there.

    Look out Silicon Valley — here come China SMEs.