Tag Archives: China

Moving the Mountain by Li Lu

Summary

  1. Li Lu rose to become deputy commander of the student protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989. He recounts his childhood and how he ended up in that position

Key Takeaways

  1. His biological parents were deemed “intellectuals” and ostracized. He spent much of his childhood like an orphan, jumping around from school to school and family to family. However, he was able to become a great student and went on to study politics at Nanjing. He later left though for Beijing to take part in the student demonstrations. He was able to rise up in the movement’s leadership because he was able to step out of the moment, be calm, and think.. He helped ensure the movement remained non-violent. This became the most powerful democratic movement in Chinese history, and it exposed the true nature of the Communist Party. They fought to be seen as dignified human beings and for the right to live a life that’s worth living.
  2. Moving the Mountain – power of long-term thinking, over generations. Little steps, actions, behaviors can have tremendous impacts over the long-term
  3. He does a great job describing what the mindset and culture was like in China after Mao and the Cultural Revolution. He sensed a strong sense in his generation of individual standing up against an autocratic system that sought to eliminate individuality
  4. Voice your true feelings. If you’re confident you can move yourself, you’ll also move others
  5. Most difficult thing is to develop the right way of thinking
  6. I came to realize that those old Marxist books were like the old man using his own theory to criticize others. No matter how absurd a theory, it seeks to explain and rationalize itself, and when a theory has a strong logical system, it has an exclusivity that can convincingly dismiss other theories. Marxism, I saw, had played a big joke on us. It refuted all other theories just to prove itself correct
  7. A person’s goal does not express itself in the result of his action; its significance lies in the great efforts he makes to achieve the goal

What I got out of it

  1. Some amazing context on what life was like in the aftermath of China’s Cultural Revolution and what the student protests look like from the inside

Alibaba: The House That Jack Ma Built by Duncan Clark

Summary
  1. Duncan Clark describes the history of Jack Ma, his personality, how and why he founded Alibaba (after a couple failed start-up attempts), his vision for the future and more
Key Takeaways
  1. Jack founded Aibaba in Hangzhou in 1999
  2. Alibaba looks to exploit the inefficiencies created by a government who exerts as much control as China does without pissing them off
  3. Alibaba’s strengths lie in ecommerce, logistics and finance
  4. Consumer discretionary spending is only about one third of GDP versus close to two thirds of GDP in the US. Latent spending power and high savings rates and lack of things to spend money on are the main causes for this discrepancy
  5. Alibaba is even China’s largest retailer
  6. Taobao is like a bazaar with 9m merchants and alibaba has no inventory and TMall is like a glitzy shopping mall. Major brands like Amazon Costco apple Zara and Moore are all on T-Mall
  7. About 10% of retail spending in China is done online compared to 7% in the US. China has been able to leap frog the brick-and-mortar retail business model which is much less efficient and expensive than e-commerce
  8. Nature abhors a vacuum and in China the Internet is filling in for eight created by an official state owned enterprises and government regulations
  9. Alibaba accounts for 40% of grocery sales in China and even does next day delivery of refrigerated items. It stands at only 10% in the US
  10. The rate of e-commerce packages is growing like crazy and has years of high-growth ahead with less than one package per customer per month being delivered on average today
  11.  JD.com it’s taking a different approach than Alibaba in that it is investing directly in logistics and becoming acid heavy versus acid light. JD wants to control the process from order to delivery end to end and I think a good analogy is Apple and other closed and companies that want to control quality throughout
  12. Alibaba‘s finance edge comes from Ali pay which is Alibaba is equivalent of PayPal  Ali pay handles more than $750 billion every year. Always pay is no longer own by Alibaba but is controlled by jack and has become the defect of method of transactions for an increasingly digital China. Alibaba can also serve as a savings account and often gives better rates than the banks. Because Alibaba had so much data on its customers it can better underwrite the credit risk of people who invest and pay through their platforms
  13. Jack is it your typical corporate titan and is quite humble and talks his intellect and ability down often. He said that the most influential role model in his life was Forrest Gump
  14. Jack’s presentation and oratorical skills are superb mainly because he focuses on messages he is deeply fluid in and suddenly changes his emphasis or message depending on the crowd and their expectations. Jack is quite funny and empathetic and the nature of his speeches tend to reach a broader audience due to his fluent English and Mandarin
  15. Jack’s mantra his customers first employee second and shareholders third. Another popular “often heard from Jack is 102 years with the point of trying to survive through out three different centuries
  16. Corruption and counterfeit goods are some of Alibaba’s major obstacles but they are taking certain precautions to begin limiting the amount
  17. When Jack was a boy he would relish the opportunity to practice his English often waking up before dawn riding his bike for 40 minutes to the nearest big hotel just to talk to English speaking tourists. Jack for friended on Australian family who he visited one day and on this visit he saw that what he had been taught that China was the richest country on earth was in fact falls and this taught him that he had to think for himself make his own decisions and use his brain to truly determine what was true and what he believed in
  18. Jack twice failed the college entrance exam and eventually on his third time got a good enough score to go to a fourth grade university in his hometown. Today he speaks of these failures as a badge of honor
  19. After university Jack became an English teacher but soon started his first company called hope which helped local companies find foreign customers. Jack has the uncanny ability to sell his vision and get people excited and to buy in completely
  20. Wong Joe were Alibaba is headquartered has been a prime an important trading hub for over 1000 years connecting the northern and southern China
  21. Jack was first exposed to computers and the Internet in the mid 90s when he travel to the US. From this exposure he started china pages which was the Chinese equivalent of yellow pages. China pages failed after a couple years and from the adventure Jack went on to work for the government for sometime before founding Alibaba
  22. Alibaba was chosen as the name of his company because it is a universal name that everyone can pronounce and most people know the story behind Ali Baba and the 40 thieves. This has saved a lot of money on marketing and advertising as the image of open Sesame and everything else that comes with the name is tied in to most people’s memories already
  23. Jack decided to distance himself from other Chinese portals such as Sina so who and that is by focusing on shrimp or small businesses
  24. Alibaba got first major investment from Goldman Sachs – $5m for 50%. A few weeks later soft bank invested $20m for 30%
  25. Jack decided to start hiring people who were a notch below the top of the class because he found they were better at handling adversity than the people at the very top of the class
  26. Today is brutal. Tomorrow is more brutal. But the day after that is beautiful. However, most people die tomorrow night
  27. The bursting of the Internet bubble was actually good for alibaba as this meant their competitors would not be receiving money and they had a lot in the bank from soft bank
  28. Author makes an interesting connection between the 2002 SARS outbreak and a massive ramp up in broadband usage, texting and increased investor appetite in china tech
  29. Taobao was alibaba’s response to eBay and was able to fend off the global powerhouse by better understanding the local market – free registration, busier home pages, free listings, ability to negotiate, online payment with Alipay, complacency and arrogance
  30. If you simply use money to solve problems, there’d be no need for businessmen. Businessmen are able to solve problems with few resources and leverage them to great benefit. eBay simply tried throwing money at china to regain their dominance and at this point Jack knew he had them. They first didn’t treat them like a rival at all and then took them too seriously. They showed their hand and didn’t change strategies at all
  31. There is a lot of controversy over the transfer of and financial to Jack’s personal account where he had total control of the company. Defenders say that without doing this day would never have gained financial approval from the Chinese government but other say this is not the case
  32. Shortly after the IPO Alibaba I got into some controversy what the government over baked goods which still is lingering over the company today
  33. Alibaba is beginning to expand into cloud computing, healthcare, entertainment and other markets where retail is inefficient and ecommerce under-penetrated
What I got out of it
  1. Does an excellent job providing some history of Jack and the company as well as some of the cultural differences between Chinese and American entrepreneurs and their relationship with their respective governments. Jack’s vision, persistence and charm were all really interesting and inspiring to read about

On China by Henry Kissinger

Summary

  1. Kissinger’s vivid discussion of his experience dealing with the Chinese. He explains their multi-millenia culture, different mindset, different priorities, etc. and how they all play into miscommunication, tension between the Americans and the Chinese. This book helps provide a Chinese perspective on politics, life, family, religion, etc. Do not need to agree but important to understand. Another key element is the interaction between Chinese and American leaders
Key Takeaways
  1. Nixon sent Kissinger to China in 1971 to open doors for peace
  2. The U.S. and Chinese relationship has been very profitable although different. American exceptionalism is almost missionary in the sense that they feel they need to spread their values to the rest of the world whereas China’s exceptionalism is cultural. They do not proselytize 
  3. No other country has such a rich and continuous civilization. They draw upon this experience and traditions unlike anyone else. In 1962, in order to deal with the Indian border dispute, Mao looked back 1,300 years to see how the leaders of that time dealt with the Indians
  4. Chinese civilizations seems to have always existed – beginning not known and “founding” emperor, yellow emperor, had to organize a chaotic civilization, not create it
  5. Due to China’s isolationism and other factors, many Chinese elites consider themselves the essence of civilization, the center of the world and the creators of man. They never came up with a mystical creation story like other civilizations and religions 
  6. For the vast majority of recent history China has been the most populous, productive and wealthy state in the world – often by far
  7. Confucius’ teachings have been adopted as a combination of bible and constitution in one
  8. The Emperor was seen as both a ruler and a metaphysical embodiment, the son of heaven
  9. The Chinese viewed foreigners with a bit of contempt and pity – seeing them more as barbarians and when trade occurred it was almost considered tribute to Chinese superiority rather than trade. They had little interest in conquering other lands or spreading their culture
  10. Avoided war and confrontation when possible, relying more on diplomatic and economic negotiations
  11. When foreign conquerors made progress, Chinese elites convinced them that because of the vastness of the empire, only Chinese language, culture, etc could be used and over time the conquerors would be assimilated
  12. The writings of Sun Tzu have been popular for millennia – gives more focus to psychological factors in warfare than any other of his contemporaries. The successful conqueror does so without needing battle
  13. The British sent McCartney to China in order to open up relations and to better understand them. However, neither goal was achieved. They also wanted to set up a permanent British embassy but that was rebuffed as well. Britain simply had nothing China wanted and China considered Britain along with all other foreigners barbarians
  14. Britain was not happy about China’s closedness and would have to break down the walls if necessary – lead to the Opium Wars. Opium was allowed in Britain but illegal in China. It’s use was growing and was one of the few things Britain could supply (grown in India) which the Chinese wanted. China cracked down on opium use and began taking all foreigners goods, opium or not. Confrontations lead to a small war with the British winning and gaining concessions and several ports, opening China up to foreign trade
  15. In the 19th century China experienced a serious decline in power and sovereignty which lead to social unrest and internal wars – a century of humiliation which only ended with the reunification of the country through communism. Estimated that from 1850-1873 China’s population declined from 410-350M!
  16. China was amazing in pitting foreign powers against each other, especially Russia and Japan. “Use barbarians against barbarians”
  17. In order to catch up to the west technologically the Chinese started for the first time to start studying western languages and teachings
  18. Japan and China always clashed because of their world centric and divine ruler beliefs.
  19. Japan quicker adopted western technology and opened its doors which helped spur amazing technological and economic advancement
  20. Because of its location China and Japan often fought over Korea. Japan conquered Korea and also took Taiwan as part of the treaty
  21. Russia helped China reclaim some one from the Japanese but they ended up taking even more land and extending the Trans-Siberian railroad across it
  22. Mao tore apart Chinese traditions in order to rejuvenate China
  23. Russia and China had a strained but beneficial relationship. They disagree to this day over who truly decided to give the green light on invading Korea. Truman sent American troops to Taiwan which violated all international agreements and lead to 20 years of isolation and 2 years of war with China. China felt they had to defend Korea because they didn’t want America to become too confident and start gaining land and/or influence in Asia. China was able to confidently do all this because they had the support of the Soviet Union. However, Stalin soon changed his mind and now would only provide support once Chinese troops were actually dispatched, not before
  24. There was a lot of conflict over Taiwan as well between Russia and China and the US. It ended in a draw where the US. Kept the Chinese in check and China kept Taiwan from seceding.
  25. Mao was brilliant militarily and never believed the US.. would use nuclear weapons on them as the whole world would turn on them. Seemed like he was willing to stake tens of millions of lives on this belief
  26. Truman and China were irreconcilable after the Korean War and Eisenhower and China were deadlocked over Taiwan. China wanted the US out of Taiwan and the the US wanted China to not use force to take Taiwan over
  27. Stalin died in 1953 and Khrushchev took over. His aim over the next decade or so was a series of quick fixes – nuclear bombs, Berlin talks, Cuban missile crisis, etc. – all slowly eating away at the Soviet Union’s power
  28. Russia and China were eventually driven apart by ideology
  29. Khrushchev began distancing himself from China and taking a more conciliatory approach to the United States. He even denounced Stalin’s positions which China took very personally
  30. Khrushchev took a stance of peaceful coexistence with the United States which move them from ally to potential adversary for China
  31. China and Tibet get into physical altercations because each think the other has encroached on the others land
  32. The Cultural Revolution was a terrible catastrophe for China’s cultural heritage. The communist party destroyed thousands of cultural centers and burned millions of books and killed millions of people
  33. In the coming years, China had enemies on all borders including Russia, India the war with the US in Vietnam and issues in Taipei and Tibet. Luckily for China, Nixon took a more conciliatory approach and opened the doors to diplomatic negotiations for the first time in over 20 years
  34. Nixon and Kissinger open the doors to relations with China. In the event of a conflict with either Russia or China, the US would take a neutral stance but lean as much as possible towards China
  35. Ping-pong Diplomacy refers to when the Chinese invited the American ping-pong team to China to play against the Chinese ping-pong team
  36. Kissinger was sent to Beijing shortly after the ping-pong diplomacy in order to speak to Chinese delegates and see what future steps could be taken
  37. Nixon made it to China in 1972. Huge moment for both sides after s long and cold history. Mao wanted to be seen as a philosopher king, not the typical majesty associated with traditional Chinese emperors
  38. Mao died in 1976 and although he use brutal tactics he united China unlike it had been for centuries before
  39. Deng Xiaoping was exiled several times but always brought back because he was so effective. He was much more realistic and transparent about the difficulties China faced such as poverty. He also helped China become the economic superpower it is today by helping to modernize and industrialize many of China’s industries. Deng focused more on the importance of science and technology and its pragmatic implications than broader cultural reforms
  40. There were large leadership changes in the US and China in the 1970s. Reagan was much stronger and wanted to eradicate communism as opposed to just containing it.
  41. China’s increasing influence in Vietnam was one of the early factors of Soviet decline along with that a couple years later was the Soviet Union’s withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan in 1989 China developed a three worlds concept to their foreign-policy meaning that the Soviet Union and the US were the first world developing countries are the second world in Third World countries with a Third World
  42. Once Russia fell from power China had to decide if it wanted to fill its place and become the contending world super power with America or if they would take and more cooperative approach
  43. By the end of Reagan’s presidency, Asia was in a much more stable position due to defined borders and more stable sovereign governments
  44. China gradually open the door to foreign investors and allow the Chinese to finally let their entrepreneurial spirit soar. The Chinese government took the position that the state would still be involved in everything but would allow the managers the flexibility and freedom to manage
  45. The Chinese government harsh suppression of protesters which was televise worldwide put great pressure on Sino American relations and made everyone question how reformed it truly was
  46. After the fall of the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, China became very concerned about the stability of its communist government. They believed that the best way to stabilize the country was to increase the standard of living. They did this through bringing back smart and talented people which were before not widely accepted in the communist regime and by improving people’s economic well being at unprecedented rate in the 90s and 2000.
  47. It is important for the US and China to work in conjunction moving forward in order to avoid potential major conflicts
What I got out of it
  1. Fascinating and very informative overview of Sino-American relations and why the Chinese act, think the way they do

Tao Teh Ching by Lao Tzu (Translated by John C.H. Wu)

Summary
  1. This classic is a “series of insights into life and nature; it is suggestion rather than statement. It looks at what it means to follow the way of the Tao and how to go about doing so. Be humble, don’t strive, the weak are strong, be generous, be frugal, don’t force things are some of the many timeless tenets it advocates
Key Takeaways
  1. The Tao Teh Ching lays out an amazing framework on how to live. Among other things, avoid unnecessary things, stress and emotions. This type of framework can change your outlook on life, people, decisions, goals, etc and alleviates so many unnecessary components that cause unneeded stress and worry
  2. There are too many gems to highlight here or to only read once but below are some of the passages I found most powerful
    1. “…Therefore, the Sage wants to remain behind, But finds himself at the head of others; Reckons himself out, But finds himself safe and secure. Is it not because he is selfless That his Self is realized?
    2. “The highest form of goodness is like water. Water knows how to benefit all things without striving with them. it stays in places loathed by all men. Therefore, it comes near the Tao…If you do not strive with others, You will be free from blame.”
    3. “…Hence, only he who is willing to give his body for the sake of the world is fit to be entrusted with the world. Only he who can do it with love is worthy of being the steward of the world.”
    4. “…The Great Way is very smooth and straight; And yet the people prefer devious paths.”
    5. “…Do the non-Ado. Strive for the effortless. Savour the savourless. Exalt the low. Multiply the few. Requite injury with kindness…”
    6. “…Therefore, the Sage desires to be desireless, Sets no value on rare goods, Learns to unlearn his learning, And induces the masses to return from where they have overpassed. He only helps all creatures to find their own nature, But does not venture to lead them by the nose.”
What I got out of it
  1. Powerful, forever important and relevant. I’ll come back to this classic many times.

The Art of War by Sun Tzu

Summary

  1. Sun Tzu’s 2,000 year old principles are as relevant today as they were back then. Whether in business, sports, war, or any other field, taking care of the small decisions as well as deception, disguise and diversion are all required for success.
Key Takeaways
  1. Sun Tzu lived from 544 to 496 BC and was a very successful general even in his own time and was revered by all Chinese military leaders for centuries
  2. Art of War was origianlly written for King Helu
  3. “He who relies solely on warlike measures shall be exterminated; he who relies solely on peaceful measures shall perish.”
  4. Many think of China as the largest peace-loving nation on earth but forget about her turbulent, violent times thousands of years ago. They had built the Great Wall and had a huge standing army before Rome’s first legion even existed
What I got out of it
  1. Amazing how certain principles will always be relevant and Sun Tzu’s Art of War is no exception. Although his examples are all based on warfare, these can be translated into any field. Great read

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