The turn of the 21st century has brought a significant shift in the balance of world markets. China, for years stymied by the economic isolation of the Maoist era (1949-76), has re-emerged as a powerhouse. For the country, the 1980’s were fueled by the opening of commerce to western business, which set off an evolution from a “planned” to “market” economy. The 1990’s were set apart by the redevelopment of Shanghai as a modern, global business epicenter and new benchmark by which other Chinese cities would work to similarly cultivate what Vice Minister Fu of China’s Ministry of Commerce called “5,000 years of history living with modern technology.” The 2000’s, built on this, have ushered in China’s joining of the World Trade Organization and the United Nation’s Global Compact, along with an incredible transformation of the country and its people.
Major contributing factors to this, include: an economic boom driven by an effective government that has made constitutional amendments to ensure the adoption of a market economy and provided essential supports to speed growth; a new reflection on determining China’s ultimate purpose, with a renewed commitment to creating a “harmonious society” through the adoption of corporate responsibility standards, new forms of cross-sector collaboration and prioritized efforts to close the gap between the countries haves and have-nots and an unprecedented “opening” of the government, allowing increased communications and a relative free-flow of information, fueled by the rampant rise of blog use among the Chinese.
In this, transformation is being driven by adoption of these “new concepts for China ”:
- Putting people before development
- Achieving harmony between human-beings and nature
- Fostering a circular economy
- Conserving Chinese culture and society
Yin-yang, the Taoist concept of bipolarity, essentially states that everything has its opposite and that these opposites are necessary and complementary to each other. For as many new advances are made, there are certainly as many regressions. And, for as many companies and people are adopting new behaviors and beliefs, there are as many who may never change. This inter-relationship may be the key to inserting checks and balances into China’s growth, which is today estimated at $2 trillion USD in GDP.
During the month that I toured China , I was witness to this dichotomy and sea change. From factory visits at some of the nations’ largest manufacturers to overnight train rides through the rural countryside, and from conversations with government, business and student leaders to exploring cultural relics; I was left with many more questions than answers. I was also left, however, with the undeniable knowledge that this country as the heir-apparent, premiere world superpower must be prioritized.
In the coming months, I will share with you a four part-series on the positive change resulting from China’s adoption of the aforementioned “new concepts,” which are markers for social responsibility, especially as they relate to: Marketing, Corporate Citizenship and Philanthropy. In order to apply these trends in context, I will provide an overview of the macro business environment, consumer markets and competitive considerations and, for additional reflection, will give a macro comparison with current advances in the arena, in Korea. In these, I hope you will see evidence of social responsibility blossoming in China -- and that changes in consumer, corporate, government and nonprofit behavior are coming about as the country is coming into its own. And, that many indicators and trends point to an increase in demand for improvement in social responsibility based upon the introduction of western standards of excellence, as well as the very real potential for China to change the way social responsibility works today, bringing its own rich history and years of philosophy to bear in teaching others how to “live their values”. Stay tuned!