I just wrapped up a week long business tour in Shanghai, where I had the opportunity to meet with executives at MNCs doing business in China. Fantastic experience and I'll try to share some thoughts on this in a follow-up note. Just a few quick observations now.
It's difficult to describe the explosive growth and the level of investment that is happening here: I have not personally experienced anything comparable.
I did not know what to expect when I came here and my number one takeaway from the trip is this: you have to come to China to begin to understand what it is like here and to have any clue about what is happening here. I can say frankly that reading the western press does not prepare you for the experience at all.
The Chinese people are open and frank, as are westerners living here. The presence of European shops and the ubiquity of American and European brands was surprising. Retail business is huge here, and families appear to be always out and always shopping. Prices vary dramatically, depending on where you shop. A full dinner (and a couple of beers) at a popular Shanghainese restaurant topped out at 6 USD. On the other hand, a tall cup of Starbucks coffee was nearly 4 USD! There is clearly wealth asymmetry. Workers live in small and old apartments. On the other hand, nice Western style apartments appear to cost on par with Manhattan.
When you talk to the Chinese about how the country is governed, they talk about understanding the Chinese government in terms of Confucius, not communism. The people are fiercely proud of the success here and the middle class and business class seems very supportive of the government. I got no sense that this was anything but honest: in fact, Chinese were also quite willing to make critical comments on specific issues and openly acknowledge problems they face.
The best and brightest are said to go into government here. One executive compared the party education as on par with top MBA programs worldwide and emphasized that the leaders are thoroughly schooled in liberal economics.
There is a very strong entrepreneurial spirit here. I have talked with small business owners as well, some of whom fled China, then Hong Kong, only to return to live in Shanghai.
An amazing place. And I think it's fair to say that this is only the start of China's resurgence.