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The Chinese Dream: The Rise of the World's Largest Middle Class and What It Means to You Paperback – November 10, 2010
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“The Chinese Dream offers a fascinating look at one of the most dynamic forces shaping our world...." -- The Economist
"In a mere two decades China has developed the world's largest middle class. Helen Wang tells that story - and her own - in this wonderfully informative and readable book." --Joseph Nye, Distinguished Service Professor, Harvard University, the author of The Future of Power.
"Helen Wang's book represents a powerful contribution to a timely debate about China's role in the world and how changes wrought by her rising middle class will affect us all."
- Lord Wei of Shoreditch, member of House of Lords, United Kingdom
“The growth of China’s middle class rivals the growth of China’s overall economy as a phenomenon with huge implications for the entire world. Whether China will become a more liberal and democratic society, … whether it will develop a spiritual power to match its material influence — these and other questions are Helen Wang’s topic in this fascinating book. It rings true to what I have seen in China and suggests new possibilities.” --James Fallows, National Correspondent of The Atlantic, the author of Postcards from Tomorrow Square: Reports from China.
“… the most insightful voice that accurately captures the China of today – its promise and peril – … have a sense of the country’s past, but an equally vibrant vision for its future.“ -- Asia Times Online
“Helen Wang’s conversations, her reflections and stories, bring to life the hopes and concerns of China’s emerging middle class. An unusual book, very readable and full of insight.” --John Quelch, Professor at Harvard Business School and former Dean of London Business School
“Helen Wang takes us through the world of China’s middle class with riveting personal stories, and shows us how this important demographic will alter the global economy in the years ahead. A must-read for businesses that want to tap into this enormous market.” --Shaun Rein, Founder and Managing Director of China Market Research Group (CMR)
“The Chinese Dream tells one of the most important stories of our time – the rise of the world’s largest middle class. Helen Wang enlightens us with the possibility of ‘unity in diversity’. A comprehensive, and yet easy to read book about modern China.” --Ken Wilcox, Chief Executive Officer, Silicon Valley Bank
“With a fresh look at the development of the new China, Helen Wang offers an engaging, respectfully researched perspective on the world as one entity as she uncovers the importance of communication, cooperation, and collaboration in her eloquent book, The Chinese Dream. A captivating read!” -- Cynthia Brian, New York Times bestselling author, TV/Radio personality/ Founder, Be the Star You Are!®
“The Chinese Dream describes countless possibilities for shared growth, on both national and international levels. For those looking to gain a deeper understanding of modern Chinese society, and those looking to prepare for a new age of globalized collaboration, Helen Wang’s The Chinese Dream is an exciting and timely resource.” -- China Law Blog
“The Chinese Dream… is the best description in layman's terms of the wildly divergent cultures that must set aside mistrust and misunderstanding in the new one-world global economy.” -- The Internet Review of Books
“The Chinese Dream is enlightening for anyone interested not only in the economic importance of the Chinese middle class today, but also of this group’s cultural and political implications for the China of tomorrow.” -- Jing Daily
"Helen Wang's book shows that prosperity and sustainability can go hand in hand. But only if we redefine prosperity for the enormous emerging middle class. Catalyzing this type of sustainable consumerism is what JUCCCE does every day."
- Peggy Liu, Chairperson of JUCCCE, Time Magazine Hero of the Environment
From the Author
I believe that the world's stability and prosperity will depend on how well China and the West understand each other, trust each other, and learn from each other.
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The Chinese Dream by Helen Wang (c 2010, Bestseller Press) is another addition to this necessary and burgeoning genre. Originally from Hangzhou, China, Helen Wang went to graduate school at Stanford, and has lived in the US for over twenty years. She is currently a consultant for companies doing business in China. Writes she, “A recent survey by Pew Research Center indicates that majorities in the United States and Europe consider China’s growing economy a bad thing for their countries. Apprehensions about China’s growing power abound in the West, and they are growing every day.”
Part memoir, part interviews with the rich and famous, and part research, Wang’s 205-page book races us through the past and the present, the rich and the poor, the corrupt and those seeking a better world—in both countries. She reminds us that the United States is an ongoing experiment that until recently enslaved blacks and women. But her main focus is China. Sections include China’s history (chaotic), urban migration (doubled in past 20 years), health care (unstable), materialism (on the rise), the pursuit of religion, and environmental challenges. Interspersed among these alarmingly heavy topics are personal vignettes about the realization of her impossible dream to study in the U.S. And at the end of each chapter is a section wrap-up, which reiterates the East-West differences presented, but stresses these should be complementary differences.
“In today’s globalized world, it is in our best interest to learn from each other. Once we understand the different modes of thought between the West and the East, such as linear versus non-linear thinking, we can see they are actually complementary, like the right and left sides of the brain. By learning to use both, we can achieve a greater oneness in thought that we can use to enhance personal and global problem solving for the betterment of all.”
The Chinese Dream would be of interest to those readers wanting a basic summary of some of the major issues facing China and the U.S. today, and those needing a reminder of why it’s vital that our nations be friends.
To me, the biggest takeaway is how communism and capitalism can co-exist side-by-side in China. At a high-level, Wang argues that the Chinese are pragmatic people and have accepted the status quo. Chinese people are very scared about what might happen if the Communist government fell. Given how well-versed the Chinese are with their own history, they know that when the Qing Dynasty fell in 1911-12 (depicted in The Last Emperor), there was no real governance and chaos ensued across the country. Thus, the Chinese people have accepted the Communist government and, in return, the government has allowed a booming private sector to flourish. The unique aspect of China's "private sector", however, is that the government is still intimately involved with the sector and permeates it (which Wang aptly calls it a "peculiar private sector").
From Wang's book, there are six big lessons/takeaways for anyone interested in either doing business in China or learning more about the country's dynamic middle class. Firstly, in China, collective interest often overrides individuality; an attack on the Chinese government is often seen as an attack on the Chinese people (many Chinese took the protests along the 2008 Olympic torch relay personally). The Chinese see themselves as mostly together (think of the 2008 Beijing Olympics motto: "One World One Dream"). Secondly, there is a huge opportunity to tap into China's growing middle class. By Wang's estimates, the mostly urban middle class comprises approximately 300+ million people and they tend to have an annual income between $10K and $60K. Thirdly, many middle class Chinese will save up to buy overpriced luxury goods like Louis Vutton purses because they are seen as status symbols - as opposed to the US, where it is the affluent that primarily indulge in such luxuries. This is a trend that I definitely saw while walking around Nanjing Rd in Shanghai and Wangfujing Rd in Beijing, and is the opposite of what we Americans would consider to be sensible spending habits. Fourthly, many middle class Chinese consumers buy from Western companies because they believe that they have higher safety standards and stronger supply chains (read: they won't get sick consuming their products). This is why many middle class Chinese see KFC as "healthy" even though it's a fast food joint that primarily serves unhealthy fried chicken.
Fifthly, China is a land of extreme optimism and anxiety. While countless successful entrepreneurs like Jack Ma have risen from abject poverty, there are still millions of migrant workers barely eking out a living. While they are better off than if they were living off their land, they are still teetering close to the poverty line - which echoes what I saw when I visited two factories in Southern China back in 2010. Sixthly and lastly, the Chinese dream is to study hard and to get ahead and prosper. Most Chinese--especially those in impoverished rural areas--believe that education is their route to escape poverty and secure a better life.
Helen Wang also has some advice for the Chinese government, including that it needs to clean up its environment and enforce many national laws and policies at the local level. To this, Wang writes, "If China is to become a major power in the world, it needs to stop being narcissistic about its past and look into the future instead. The central government may understand the environmental issues well. At the local level, however, there is not much awareness." This gap between the national and local levels echoes what Shaun Rein wrote about recently in his book The End of Cheap China. Wang further argues that for too long, the government (especially at the local levels) has put growth at the expense of its environment - something I can attest to as I personally think Beijing is most polluted city that I have ever been to. As the government has somewhat woken up to the ramifications of a polluted environment--including several hundred thousand pollution-related deaths every year--Wang states that there is a huge market opportunity for western companies specializing in environmentally friendly technology such as LEED technology.
While Wang's book is excellent, there are a couple of areas where I respectfully disagree with her. I firstly disagree that many people don't believe in communism in their hearts. I believe that in China, communism is an entrenched ideology and that while many Chinese believe in a more pragmatic version of it, their belief is more than mere lip service. Also, I think that she is far more optimistic in stating that as China continues to grow economically, opposition parties will rise. While democracy may eventually come to China, I personally feel that it will take much longer than she envisions as the Chinese government has a strong grip on the country.
Overall, this is a great and informative book for anyone interested in doing business in China or simply learning more about major trends occurring in the world's most populated country.