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.
A professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses.
As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.
In 12 of 16 past cases in which a rising power has confronted a ruling power, the result has been bloodshed.
When Barack Obama meets this week with Xi Jinping during the Chinese president’s first state visit to America, one item probably won’t be on their agenda: the possibility that the United States and China could find themselves at war in the next decade. In policy circles, this appears as unlikely as it would be unwise.
And yet 100 years on, World War I offers a sobering reminder of man’s capacity for folly. When we say that war is “inconceivable,” is this a statement about what is possible in the world—or only about what our limited minds can conceive? In 1914, few could imagine slaughter on a scale that demanded a new category: world war. When war ended four years later, Europe lay in ruins: the kaiser gone, the Austro-Hungarian Empire dissolved, the Russian tsar overthrown by the Bolsheviks, France bled for a generation, and England shorn of its youth and treasure. A millennium in which Europe had been the political center of the world came to a crashing halt.
Life in Ohio's proud but economically abandoned small towns
Just over a decade ago, Matt Eich started photographing rural Ohio. Largely inhabited by what is now known as the “Forgotten Class” of white, blue-collar workers, Eich found himself drawn to the proud but economically abandoned small towns of Appalachia. Thanks to grants from the Economic Hardship Reporting Project and Getty Images, Eich was able to capture the family life, drug abuse, poverty, and listlessness of these communities. “Long before Trump was a player on the political scene, long before he was a Republican, these people existed and these problems existed,” Eich said. His new book, Carry Me Ohio, published by Strum and Drang, is a collection of these images and the first of four books he plans to publish as part of The Invisible Yoke, a photographic meditation on the American condition. Even with a deep knowledge of the region, Eich was unprepared for the fury and energy that surrounded the election this year. “The anger is overpowering,” he said. “I knew what was going on, and I’m still surprised. I should have listened to the pictures.”
President-elect Donald Trump has committed a sharp breach of protocol—one that underscores just how weird some important protocols are.
Updated on December 2 at 7:49 p.m.
It’s hardly remembered now, having been overshadowed a few months later on September 11, but the George W. Bush administration’s first foreign-policy crisis came in the South China Sea. On April 1, 2001, a U.S. Navy surveillance plane collided with a Chinese jet near Hainan Island. The pilot of the Chinese jet was killed, and the American plane was forced to land and its crew was held hostage for 11 days, until a diplomatic agreement was worked out. Sino-American relations remained tense for some time.
Unlike Bush, Donald Trump didn’t need to wait to be inaugurated to set off a crisis in the relationship. He managed that on Friday, with a phone call to the president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen. It’s a sharp breach with protocol, but it’s also just the sort that underscores how weird and incomprehensible some important protocols are.
Universities themselves may be contributing to burnout.
With half of all doctoral students leaving graduate school without finishing, something significant and overwhelming must be happening for at least some of them during the process of obtaining that degree. Mental illness is often offered as the standard rationale to explain why some graduate students burn out. Some research has suggested a link between intelligence and conditions such as bipolar disorder, leading some observers to believe many graduate students struggle with mental-health problems that predispose them to burning out.
But such research is debatable, and surely not every student who drops out has a history of mental illness. So, what compels students to abandon their path to a Ph.D.? Could there be other underlying factors, perhaps environmental, that can cause an otherwise-mentally-healthy graduate student to become anxious, depressed, suicidal, or, in rare cases, violent?
Neither the Islamic State nor al-Qaeda would be where they are today without Abu Abdullah al-Muhajir, who was recently killed in an American airstrike.
Last year, the Islamic State released a training video, one of a multipart series shot in Iraq. With its scenes of foot drills, target practice, and karate chops, it would have been entirely unremarkable were it not for a short classroom scene, in which an instructor walks viewers through the ideological curriculum forced upon new recruits to the ISIS cause. As he’s shown reeling off a list of some key topics in jihadist jurisprudence, one can glimpse a thick volume resting atop each of the 20 or so schoolroom desks—a manuscript that, while few would recognize it outside of jihadist circles, is instrumental to ISIS as a theological playbook that is used to justify the group’s most abhorrent acts.
How much do you really need to say to put a sentence together?
Just as fish presumably don’t know they’re wet, many English speakers don’t know that the way their language works is just one of endless ways it could have come out. It’s easy to think that what one’s native language puts words to, and how, reflects the fundamentals of reality.
But languages are strikingly different in the level of detail they require a speaker to provide in order to put a sentence together. In English, for example, here’s a simple sentence that comes to my mind for rather specific reasons related to having small children: “The father said ‘Come here!’” This statement specifies that there is a father, that he conducted the action of speaking in the past, and that he indicated the child should approach him at the location “here.” What else would a language need to do?
Comedy-drama series like Fleabag and Transparent show how vulnerability is as important as unlikeability and strength when it comes to portraying fictional women.
In the first episode of the HBO series Enlightened, the show’s heroine, Amy Jellicoe, learns that she’s been fired. She does not take the news well. Within minutes, she goes from pitiable victim, sobbing abjectly in a bathroom stall, to mascara-streaked fury. “Go back to your sad, fucking, little desk,” she sneers at her assistant before tracking her ex-lover and presumed betrayer to the office lobby. “I will destroy you—I will bury you—I will kill you, motherfucker!” she screams at him through the elevator doors that she somehow, in a feat of desperation, manages to pry open.
Though the scene aired five years ago, it’s still a pretty radical few minutes of television, and not just because of the ferocity of Laura Dern’s performance. What feels most striking is the series’ willingness to dramatize an extended scene of female distressfor something other than a moralizing end. In this sense, Enlightened anticipates the Amazon series, Fleabag, which evinces a similar empathy toward a female character in the grip of powerfully negative emotions: anger, sadness, grief, self-doubt, shame. It’s probably no accident the two shows have almost identical promotional stills—close-ups of their protagonist’s makeup-smudged faces, staring directly to camera. Like a number of other female-centric, female-created tragicomedies to have emerged on TV in recent years—Transparent, Girls, Catastrophe, Insecure—the series also share a commitment to more compassionate portrayals of dysfunctional heroines, by suspending judgment even (or especially) when they’re at their worst.
A hotly contested, supposedly ancient manuscript suggests Christ was married. But believing its origin story—a real-life Da Vinci Code, involving a Harvard professor, a onetime Florida pornographer, and an escape from East Germany—requires a big leap of faith.
On a humid afternoon this past November, I pulled off Interstate 75 into a stretch of Florida pine forest tangled with runaway vines. My GPS was homing in on the house of a man I thought might hold the master key to one of the strangest scholarly mysteries in recent decades: a 1,300-year-old scrap of papyrus that bore the phrase “Jesus said to them, My wife.” The fragment, written in the ancient language of Coptic, had set off shock waves when an eminent Harvard historian of early Christianity, Karen L. King, presented it in September 2012 at a conference in Rome.
Never before had an ancient manuscript alluded to Jesus’s being married. The papyrus’s lines were incomplete, but they seemed to describe a dialogue between Jesus and the apostles over whether his “wife”—possibly Mary Magdalene—was “worthy” of discipleship. Its main point, King argued, was that “women who are wives and mothers can be Jesus’s disciples.” She thought the passage likely figured into ancient debates over whether “marriage or celibacy [was] the ideal mode of Christian life” and, ultimately, whether a person could be both sexual and holy.
A single dose of magic mushrooms can make people with severe anxiety and depression better for months, according to a landmark pair of new studies.
The doom hung like an anvil over her head. In 2012, a few years after Carol Vincent was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, she was waiting to see whether her cancer would progress enough to require chemotherapy or radiation. The disease had already done a number on her, inflating lymph nodes on her chin, collar bones, and groin. She battled her symptoms while running her own marketing business. To top it all off, she was going through menopause.
“Life is just pointless stress, and then you die,” she thought. “All I’m doing is sitting here waiting for all this shit to happen.”
When one day at an intersection she mulled whether it would be so bad to get hit by a car, she realized her mental health was almost as depleted as her physical state.