China’s Singular Story

Wednesday, November 4, 2009 1:22
Posted in category Uncategorized

Last week while catching up on TED ’09 videos, I came across Chimamanda Adichie’s presentation, The danger of a single story. It was a presentation that essentially was about how we often times make judgments based on knowing a single point of view, or as she lays out in more detail, are told on a frequent basis through the media.

What made it interesting to me was that while she was speaking about the perceptions people had of her native country, Nigeria, or of her continent, Africa, she herself found that she was also guilty of acting on a single story within her own community:

That is how to create a single story. Show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again…and that is what they become

Why I think this interested me more than anything is that through my time speaking, writing, and consulting on doing business in China, I am often in a position where I need to educated the audience. That, regardless of their personal and professional backgrounds, many who come to China seeking whatever it is they are seeking, are quite often coming with a single story.

that China is the ____. Where the ___ could represent the biggest market, the cheapest producer, the future, the past, the missed opportunity

.. and at the same time, China in the eyes of the media is often also a very singular story

China is a ____.. currency manipulator, the country that will pull the world from the recession, stealing jobs, winning the cleantech war, etc

Now, I must admit that when I first step foot in China 8 years ago I knew very little. I had traveled extensively in Asia prior to my move, and I honestly thought Beijing was completely different than it was. Shanghai was no different.. so, I myself am guilty of this as well, and why this presentation of a singular story felt important to me is that I still have yet to see much change in the mass media (apart from perhaps the Wall Street journal).

Which, as Chimamanda Adichie, puts it so eloquently:

The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue. But that they are incomplete.  they make one stroy become the only story

So with that, I encourage you to watch Chimamanda Adichie’s presentation, and then think about how your singular stories of China.

  • Does China really have 1.3 billion pairs of feet waiting for your shoes?
  • Will China really be “the” winner in the cleantech?
  • Will your JV partner always look to set up a parallel operation?
  • Will your IP always be infringed?

OR.. is there a story you are missing.

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9 Responses to “China’s Singular Story”

  1. ian channing says:

    November 4th, 2009 at 5:37 am

    All East Asian countries suffer from this, but I think the biggest victim of superficial, stereotyped or just plain ignorant reporting is not China but South Korea. China actually gets quite a good run in the Englishlanguage media, with both the good and bad discussed knowledgeably and in depth, partly due I think to websites such as yours. Yet when you mention South Korea, the greatest development success story in history IMHO, rising from the ruins of war to first world prosperity and prestige in two generations, nine people out of ten in my part of the world say ‘they eat dogs, don’t they?’ If you’re lucky, they might also lob an insult about Kia and Hyundai cars. Other than that, Korea is no more than the name of a war. To rub salt into the wound, a lot of people in England, and that includes a few electronics store clerks, think Samsung and LG are Japanese brands. I suppose, though, any Chinese company would be only too happy for that to happen to them.

  2. Dan Harris says:

    November 4th, 2009 at 8:44 am

    I love the quote about how stereotypes are not necessarily wrong, just incomplete. How true. The problem with telling the whole story though is that it would take years to do so.

  3. Joseph says:

    November 4th, 2009 at 4:10 pm

    wow . good article. that’s why people like you are important
    because you understand both cultures.

  4. Rich says:

    November 5th, 2009 at 7:43 am

    @ Ian.. yeah.. I remember when I once took a trip through Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. I told a family member about the trip, and they thought those were all Japanese cities.


  5. Rich says:

    November 5th, 2009 at 7:43 am

    @ Dan

    so, I guess we need to keep writing then.

  6. Joseph says:

    November 5th, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    yes without your articles we dont get the complete picture

  7. Rich says:

    November 5th, 2009 at 10:34 pm

    @ Joseph.

    Thanks for the encouragement, but actually I would argue that I rarely provide the full picture myself… however, there are two ways in which I hope All Roads is providing a perspective that is needed.. or at least different … to give a more complete picture:

    1) I often take the common “report” and provide my analysis. In recent times, that means taking a UBS report and providing a more operational view to it.

    2) Comments from readers. this is where I think the real ability to provide a “complete” picture can come from. You. Readers are all seeing different things, and seeing comments that offer those different views are really in a sense the only way that any level of “completeness” can be achieved.

    So, with that. I hope to see more of your comments in the future!

  8. Leslie Forman says:

    November 8th, 2009 at 8:14 am

    Thanks Rich for this piece. Like many times before, you gave me a complete and very successful lesson for one of the students I tutor (though I did do a bit of editing… hehe)

    I didn’t know much about China when I first arrived here. I guess my stereotype about China at that point was of studious people whose parents pressured them to do well in school. At this point I see that this was not wrong, but definitely incomplete.

    I think James Fallows’ recent book Postcards from Tomorrow Square does an excellent job of capturing the many stories of modern China.

    Thanks again for providing another side of the story!

  9. Dan says:

    November 11th, 2009 at 8:08 am

    Your #4 reminds me of a time many years ago when Japan was seen as dominating the US economy and I that day had just returned from a long trip to China and Korea and had to attend a party for my wife’s work. Some guy there kept talking about Japan to me as though it was the same thing as Korea and China. Finally, I pointed out to him that they were three VERY distinct countries and his view was basically, “whatever.” He clearly did not want to hear a thing that might alter his rock solid worldview. Fortunately, I think the overwhelming majority of people would prefer to learn.