Lenovo CEO Yang Yuanqing attends a news conference in Sao Paulo (Nacho Doce/Reuters)
Here's a little thought exercise: Think of a Chinese brand. Any Chinese brand. Go on, I'll wait. Give up? Don't feel too bad: According to a recent poll conducted by HD Trade Services, 94 percent of Americans cannot think of a single brand from the world's second-largest economy.
Strange, isn't it? Japan and South Korea, countries China zoomed past in the GDP-rankings, boast globally-respected brands across a variety of industries. Even Sweden and Finland -- mere minnows in comparison to China -- offer IKEA and Nokia, respectively. Given China's incredible transformation into an economic powerhouse over the past three decades, why doesn't the country have more recognizable brands?
Before we tackle that question, it's worth exploring why having globally recognized brands even matter for a country. As David Wolf, managing director of the Global China Practice at Allison + Partners, a PR consultancy, says, "there are two ways to add value to goods and services in a competitive industry. The first is through innovation, and the second is through branding. When you create a brand, you're creating a distinction that people are willing to pay more for than just by its own virtue. That's added value -- and added revenue -- without much additional cost per unit."
Brands, then, benefit a country's economy with no downside. So why is China struggling in this area? The answer lies at the nexus of history, economics, and culture -- with a bit of geography thrown in.
Let's start with geography first. China, as you've no doubt heard, is very, very big. It's the fourth largest country by land mass in the world and has more people than anyone else. As a result, Chinese companies have a large domestic market to play with, and don't always need to attract overseas markets in order to be profitable. In addition to its size, China's economy -- for one that is still somewhat centrally planned -- is actually highly fragmented, with local provinces and municipalities acting almost as independent economic units. Accordingly, across a broad swathe of industries and markets, there are a lot of small-time players in China, making it difficult for one company to amass the scale necessary to invest in global marketing campaigns.
Secondly, in comparison to countries like Japan and South Korea, state-owned enterprises (SOEs) play a dominant role in the Chinese economy, comprising 35 percent of all business activity and reportedly 43 percent of all profits. China's banks loan money to SOEs on favorable terms, allowing these companies to operate inefficiently and still survive. It's no wonder, then, that they have less need for marketing and branding. Wolf relates a common joke among China business observers: "for most SOEs, 'branding' means getting a new logo, 'marketing' means buying ads on China Central Television, and 'P.R.' stands for 'pay the reporter'"
Indeed, Chinese executives across a variety of industries often don't see the point in investing time and money into building their brands. As Scott Markman, the president of the Monogram Group, a brand consultancy, put it, "building a brand is messy, it takes time, it involves soliciting and following advice from outside counsel, and the vast majority of Chinese managers are deeply suspicious of things in which basic proof of effectiveness is difficult to provide," Wolf adds that few Chinese companies treasure innovation, preferring to follow rather than to lead. "The typical approach is to avoid sticking your neck out first; wait till the other guy does it, and see if his head gets chopped off."
In spite of these roadblocks, there's evidence that Chinese brands are beginning to make an impact in foreign markets. Beijing-based computer manufacturer Lenovo, which made a splash in 2004 by purchasing IBM's PC-unit, is a prime example; the appliance manufacturer Haier is another. While these companies have yet to become household names in the United States and elsewhere, they've embraced marketing and brand-awareness to a degree unusual for a Chinese firm. And -- by experiencing financial success -- they could serve as role models for skittish firms unsure how to approach foreign markets.
Chinese brands still have a long way to go, not least in battling the perception that Chinese-made goods are inexpensive and low-quality. But, as Markman points out, Japanese and Korean firms faced the same perception a few generations ago; even Japan's world-class auto industry once produced cars that were considered inferior by American consumers. It's no less unlikely that, in the not-too-distant future, Chinese goods will enjoy a similar surge in appreciation.
They may soon have to. As wages rise, Chinese goods will become more expensive, and companies will find that they can no longer compete solely on price. As a result, branding will necessarily play a larger role than before simply out of necessity; Chinese companies will have to find a way to distinguish their higher-quality goods in a highly competitive marketplace, and building popular brands is the best way to do that.
Achieving these changes will be a challenge. But it shouldn't come as a big surprise if, in 10 years, a few Chinese brands are as familiar to Americans as Samsung, Toyota, and Mitsubishi are today.
Even in big cities like Tokyo, small children take the subway and run errands by themselves. The reason has a lot to do with group dynamics.
It’s a common sight on Japanese mass transit: Children troop through train cars, singly or in small groups, looking for seats.
They wear knee socks, polished patent-leather shoes, and plaid jumpers, with wide-brimmed hats fastened under the chin and train passes pinned to their backpacks. The kids are as young as 6 or 7, on their way to and from school, and there is nary a guardian in sight.
A popular television show called Hajimete no Otsukai, or My First Errand, features children as young as two or three being sent out to do a task for their family. As they tentatively make their way to the greengrocer or bakery, their progress is secretly filmed by a camera crew. The show has been running for more than 25 years.
Forget the Common Core, Finland’s youngsters are in charge of determining what happens in the classroom.
“The changes to kindergarten make me sick,” a veteran teacher in Arkansas recently admitted to me. “Think about what you did in first grade—that’s what my 5-year-old babies are expected to do.”
The difference between first grade and kindergarten may not seem like much, but what I remember about my first-grade experience in the mid-90s doesn’t match the kindergarten she described in her email: three and a half hours of daily literacy instruction, an hour and a half of daily math instruction, 20 minutes of daily “physical activity time” (officially banned from being called “recess”) and two 56-question standardized tests in literacy and math—on the fourth week of school.
That American friend—who teaches 20 students without an aide—has fought to integrate 30 minutes of “station time” into the literacy block, which includes “blocks, science, magnetic letters, play dough with letter stamps to practice words, books, and storytelling.” But the most controversial area of her classroom isn’t the blocks nor the stamps: Rather, it’s the “house station with dolls and toy food”—items her district tried to remove last year. The implication was clear: There’s no time for play in kindergarten anymore.
A new study finds that people today who eat and exercise the same amount as people 20 years ago are still fatter.
There’s a meme aimed at Millennial catharsis called “Old Economy Steve.” It’s a series of pictures of a late-70s teenager, who presumably is now a middle-aged man, that mocks some of the messages Millennials say they hear from older generations—and shows why they’re deeply janky. Old Economy Steve graduates and gets a job right away. Old Economy Steve “worked his way through college” because tuition was $400. And so forth.
We can now add another one to that list: Old Economy Steve ate at McDonald’s almost every day, and he still somehow had a 32-inch waist.
A study published recently in the journal Obesity Research & Clinical Practice found that it’s harder for adults today to maintain the same weight as those 20 to 30 years ago did, even at the same levels of food intake and exercise.
Any attempt to address mass incarceration has to begin with an effort to tackle crime—and the social conditions linked to its rise.
With the publication of “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration” Ta-Nehisi Coates has added an elegant and forceful voice to the growing frustration with the inefficacy and injustice of America’s criminal-justice system. Mandatory-sentencing laws, the War on Drugs, juvenile-justice sentences that seem to do more to create than deter criminals, racial arrest and sentencing disparities: All are ready for a tough national cross-examination.
But even in the unlikely event that Washington and state legislatures successfully adapt the nation’s crime policies to a safer, more racially sensitive era, the nation will still look around to find more black men in prison than it might expect or want. There’s a simple reason for that, one that Coates himself notes: Relative to other groups, blacks commit more crimes. To understand why is to tackle some very hard-to-talk-about realities of black family life. And on that issue—and despite his announced interest in the topic—Coates has been the opposite of lucid.
Some businesspeople are working half of the week in far-off countries or catching 3 a.m. trains just so that they don’t have to uproot their lives at home.
A few years back, David Neeleman, the founder of JetBlue Airways, left his company and launched a new airline in Brazil. The airline, Azul, flies 22 million people a year, employs 12,000 people, and is the fastest-growing carrier in the region.
You’d think running such a large, complex operation would require a move to South America. But Neeleman commutes to Azul’s Sao Paulo headquarters every week from his home in Connecticut, taking the 10-hour redeye on Sunday nights and returning on Thursdays. This way, he says, he doesn’t have to uproot his family of 10 kids.
“My wife wasn’t so interested in moving,” said Neeleman, who recently bought TAP, Portugal’s national airline and is now commuting there as well. “We had all these kids playing [American] football and lacrosse. They don’t have those sports in Brazil.”
In the movie Up in the Air, George Clooney successfully captures the road-warrior ethos that has long been associated with, say, business consultants from firms like McKinsey & Company who work on projects outside their hometowns and spend most of their week in hotels. But now, more and more executives around the world are choosing to take on lengthy commutes on a permanent basis, even if their jobs don’t demand it. Increasing globalization and tech-enabled workplace flexibility are certainly part of the reason why. But a more child-centered approach to parenting also seems to be a factor, as these executives make other major sacrifices in order to balance their professional and home lives.
David Hume, the Buddha, and a search for the Eastern roots of the Western Enlightenment
In2006, i was 50—and I was falling apart.
Until then, I had always known exactly who I was: an exceptionally fortunate and happy woman, full of irrational exuberance and everyday joy.
I knew who I was professionally. When I was 16, I’d discovered cognitive science and analytic philosophy, and knew at once that I wanted the tough-minded, rigorous, intellectual life they could offer me. I’d gotten my doctorate at 25 and had gone on to become a professor of psychology and philosophy at UC Berkeley.
I knew who I was personally, too. For one thing, I liked men. I was never pretty, but the heterosexual dance of attraction and flirtation had always been an important part of my life, a background thrum that brightened and sharpened all the rest. My closest friends and colleagues had all been men.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
Meaning comes from the pursuit of more complex things than happiness
"It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness."
In September 1942, Viktor Frankl, a prominent Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist in Vienna, was arrested and transported to a Nazi concentration camp with his wife and parents. Three years later, when his camp was liberated, most of his family, including his pregnant wife, had perished -- but he, prisoner number 119104, had lived. In his bestselling 1946 book, Man's Search for Meaning, which he wrote in nine days about his experiences in the camps, Frankl concluded that the difference between those who had lived and those who had died came down to one thing: Meaning, an insight he came to early in life. When he was a high school student, one of his science teachers declared to the class, "Life is nothing more than a combustion process, a process of oxidation." Frankl jumped out of his chair and responded, "Sir, if this is so, then what can be the meaning of life?"
American politicians are now eager to disown a failed criminal-justice system that’s left the U.S. with the largest incarcerated population in the world. But they've failed to reckon with history. Fifty years after Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s report “The Negro Family” tragically helped create this system, it's time to reclaim his original intent.
By his own lights, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, ambassador, senator, sociologist, and itinerant American intellectual, was the product of a broken home and a pathological family. He was born in 1927 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but raised mostly in New York City. When Moynihan was 10 years old, his father, John, left the family, plunging it into poverty. Moynihan’s mother, Margaret, remarried, had another child, divorced, moved to Indiana to stay with relatives, then returned to New York, where she worked as a nurse. Moynihan’s childhood—a tangle of poverty, remarriage, relocation, and single motherhood—contrasted starkly with the idyllic American family life he would later extol.