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Tag Archives: Beijing

St Basil's Church

St Basil’s Church

This week I am in Moscow and overall, I find Moscow to be a bit bleak – miles of low-slung beige and gray block-style buildings reminiscent of the Cold War Soviet government. The exceptions include a small group of new downtown skyscrapers and Red Square.

With my China sourcing consulting business, I have been to Beijing and Tiananmen Square many times but this is the first time I’ve been to Moscow and its famous Red Square.  Both cities are heavily industrialized, the seat of their respective governments, and both have famous Squares.  So how does Red Square compare to Tiananmen Square?

First, they are both enormous.  The Chinese claim that Tiananmen can hold a million people and being there, it seems possible.  While not as big, Red Square is quite impressive, with the attached Kremlin grounds and several churches and museums.  Both have picturesque historical buildings including the Chinese Forbidden City and the Russian St. Basil’s Cathedral with the colorful onion domes. On the sides of both Squares are the seats of government: The Chinese Communist Party and the Kremlin.  Both Squares have remarkable museums with extensive and awesome collections. Both Squares have monuments to workers.  Tiananmen has Mao’s Mausoleum and Red Square has Lenin’s Mausoleum.

But the more important thing is that these two Squares were built as places of powerful governments and a show of might and strength. Both Squares are often used for military parades and other official government business. The message seems to be tops-down with leadership and power at the pinnacle and the people at the bottom.   You can “feel” this in both places to the point where it is a bit intimidating.

Contrast that with American monuments such as the Washington Mall.  The Mall seems to have a totally different feel, more egalitarian, more “Of the People.”  Even the White House is surrounded by an open fence, unlike the high walls of the Forbidden City and the Kremlin.

It serves us well to remember and respect these distinctions when we are dealing with global commerce.  Most nations of the world maintain tight control over capitalist ventures and international commerce.   We need to be aware and sensitive to cultural and governmental differences in our Supply Chain planning and execution.


I am in China again this week and it seems everyone wants to know about the US elections.  They watched the Presidential debates and the election news with great interest and a kind of wondrous amazement.  “We heard what your politicians believe and what they will do,” one executive told me.  “In China, we have no idea what the policies of the leaders will be.”

I hadn’t really considered the difference in politics this way.  Americans have access, information and a fundamental understanding of what the leadership is planning.  Chinese people have none of this.  Most people have no clue about what is in the new Chinese 5-year plan, or how the new Communist Party Chief Xi will lead the country.

With the US elections now over and Obama reelected, the new President Xi assuming the leadership of China and Putin in Russia, we should all be wondering what will change in the world.   These three super-powers will surely bring dynamic change in the world order.

The Chinese Communist Party began its leadership transition as the 18th National Congress opened in early November.  This transition in leadership happens only once every 10 years. The new President Xi will be charged with executing the new Chinese 5-year Plan, developed earlier this year.  This plan includes a heavy emphasis on the environment, and from what I have observed in China, whatever the government decides to do, gets done.

In the US we have had the privilege of watching the Presidential and Vice Presidential debates, listened to endless TV advertising and news reports.  We have a pretty good idea about the President’s agenda.  But how that agenda will interact with Xi’s and Putin’s is a big unknown.

I recently had the opportunity to travel from the US to Europe to Asia and rode in taxis in all three places.  I was reminded that while a taxi ride may seem mundane, the differences are quite significant. 


Take London, for example.  The famous shiny black cabs are the pride of the city: neat, clean and the drivers are professionals who are required to take a test of their knowledge of London before they are allowed to drive a cab. 


You will experience the complete opposite in a place like Chengdu, China, a city of 14 million people, where you risk your life when you go for a wild taxi ride…that is IF the taxi driver knows where you want to go and is willing to take you there, after you argue over the destination and the price. It’s the Wild, Wild West of China, where traffic laws and standard driving rules are still in the early development stages.  When the ride is over, you’ll breathe a polluted, but grateful sigh of relief that you survived.


In Germany, the taxis are likely to be Mercedes Benz, which feels a little less threatening as the drivers go at break-neck speed to your destination.  Everyone in Germany will tell you that speed is safe. What is it about the Germans and their love of speed?


Then there is Seoul, Korea.  A taxi driver will simply refuse to take you anywhere he doesn’t want to go.  And knowing the secret between black cabs (those drivers speak English) and the silver cab (good luck trying to communicate) is important to a successful journey.


Un-huh…then there is New York City: taxi drivers in stinky cabs honk at one another, people, cars, and trucks for seemingly no reason at all, all day long and all night long.  On one journey in NYC, when I argued with the driver that my building was across the street in Times Square and I expected him to take me all the way there and not drop me in the middle of the chaos, he yelled at me, “get out of the cab, lady and walk!”


And San Francisco, where a drive through the steep hills at 0-60mph for every block, will take years off your life. The drivers are quite friendly and often chatty there, while they risk your life.


And then, there is Beijing.  If you don’t ask for the driver to turn on the meter, you will get charged 5-10 times more for the fare than you should.  On a recent trip from the Beijing airport to the Hilton Beijing, I asked for a meter cab.  The driver took me to a side street across from the Hilton, instead of the entrance, and unloaded my bags.  The fare was 58 RMB.  I handed the driver 100 RMB and asked for change and a receipt.  He got in his taxi and drove off with my 100.  I should have known better.

I visited a State Owned Enterprise (SOE) machine shop near 5th Ring Road in Beijing one very hot and humid August afternoon.  The machine shop was located among a cluster of buildings that didn’t seem very remarkable from the outside.  But inside was a different story.

We were greeted by the Plant Manager and the Operations Manager, who were expecting us for a visit that afternoon.  After the greetings were exchanged, the two managers disappeared to take a phone call and we were left to wander the plant by ourselves, unescorted. 

We walked down the center aisle of the machine shop, surrounded by giant drilling and cutting machinery making thunderous noise and throwing off metal shavings.  We were offered no eyewear protection, no foot/toe protection and no earplugs.  The Chinese machine tool operators were wearing black cloth shoes with rubber soles; not the steel-toed boots you would expect in a US factory.  About half way down the center aisle, a chemical smell was so overwhelming, that I looked for an open window or door to gasp some “fresh Beijing air”.  I was allowed to take as many photos as I liked.

The lack of safety standards and allowing us to walk through the factory unescorted was a dose of reality regarding Chinese manufacturing.  China’s steady climb in the industrial world has not been paralleled with world standards for safety.  The climb to achieve these standards in China is extremely steep.

I’ve been watching and listening to the events and chatter about Hu Jintao’s visit to the US.  There is certainly a striking difference between the way China and the US are acting now that Obama is President and Clinton is Secretary of State.  While there are still many issues to be resolved, there appears to be mutual respect between the leaders.  This makes me hopeful.

President and Mrs. Obama even hosted a rare State Dinner for Hu.  President Bush just had a working lunch.  This is a significant difference in the respect given to US-Chinese relations.  It’s about time America took its head out of the sand and fully acknowledged the second largest economy and fastest rising super power in the world.

The economics of  the two countries tell the story of why it is so important to have a good working relationship.  The US GDP is $14.6 trillion.  The Chinese GDP is $5.7 trillion and rising at double digit rates.  But if you compare PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) or PPC (Purchasing Power Correction), a comparison of consumer buying power in each country, China’s economy is already larger than the US.  And it will continue to grow.  In the next few years, China’s middle class will be 700 million people;  more than double the population of the entire US.  Not only will this be the largest consumer market in the world, it will become the greatest target market ever for US goods and services.

Of course we all understand that China is still working on things like human rights and democracy.  But there is no stopping the warp-speed economic development inside China. 

Xinhua News

Xinhua News

About 200,000 soldiers and civilians assembled in Tiananmen Square on October 1 for a parade and performance in celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.  Just as we saw in the fantastic Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics, the performances were spectacular with incredible precision and discipline.  The Chinese really know how to put on a show!

The presentation was all about China’s history since 1949, when Mao Zedong led the revolution that established the People’s Republic of China.  Mao was honored for lifting China from a rural, impoverished economy to an industrial giant.  Of course, the celebration also skipped over a few details like the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution where 20-50 million people (depends on the source) starved to death because of Mao’s agricultural strategies.

This event was less about the rest of the world and more about a show of Communist Party strength within China.  It is very important for the Party to show power, control and prosperity.  This is the way the government is able to control and stabilize the population and avoids any confrontation with protesters. The message is that all citizens should be grateful and honored that the Communist Party has brought them so much prosperity, so quickly.

There were a few displays that the world could interpret as China’s show of economic might.  For example, President Hu Jintao rode in a China-made limo.  Of course, the profitable auto industry in China is expanding very fast to satisfy the high demand within China.

And China now has the largest military in the world and a military budget that grows 14% per year. The show of force with enormous battalions of men and women, (including the all-women fighter pilots who flew overhead) was quite effective and a little scary.

The October 1 Anniversary show leaves me in awe of the long journey China has traveled since 1949 and a little apprehensive about China’s mighty future.

Today is 09-09-09, an auspicious number in China. 

Odd numbers in ancient China were considered masculine and since 9 is the highest single-digit odd number, it was interpreted to mean the “ultimate masculine” or supreme sovereignty of the Imperial Emperor.   Chinese Emperors embraced the number 9 and had their robes embroidered with nine five-toed dragons (the symbol of the Emperor).  The number 9 is thought to represent long life.  Even the Forbidden City in Beijing is believed to have been designed and originally built with 9,999 rooms.  Nine rows of nine studs are commonly found on the palace gates.  Even the four corner towers of the Forbidden City Palace have 9 beams and two sets of 9 columns.

The Temple of Heaven, also in Beijing, is built with the altar in three tiers and multiples of 9 slabs on each tier.  This is the place where Emperors came to worship.

The Emperor’s New Year’s Dinner and birthday dinner were comprised of 99 dishes for long life and good luck.

Both 6 and 8 are also considered lucky numbers because their Chinese names sound similar to words with positive meanings.  The word for 6 “liu” sounds like the word for happiness and the word for 8 “ba” sounds like the word for wealth.  As you may recall, the Chinese kicked off the 2008 Summer Olympics on 08/08/08. 

People may pay extra for lucky numbers in their street address, building floor, bank account or cell phone.  Last time I was in China, a few people noticed that my cell phone number has three 8’s and two 6’s.

Forbidden City, Beijing

Forbidden City, Beijing

Tiananmen Square, Beijing, January 6
Tiannamen Square, Beijing magnify


In May, 1989, I was jet-lagged and in a small hotel room in London. After a few hours of sleep, I woke up in the middle of the night, and turned on the TV.  The BBC was broadcasting the story of the Chinese students camped out and protesting in Tiananmen Square and Chinese army tanks trying to run them down. Not knowing much about their struggle at the time, I listened and tried to learn.  What these brave students did, is quite remarkable.  They managed to move the Chinese government from closed, introverted and secretive operations to an amazing world power, open for business.  The difference from then to now is startling.

Nearly 20 years later, as I stepped into Tiananmen Square, I could feel that this was a special place and sensed an emotional tie to those students struggling for Chinese freedom in 1989. The square is massive, supposedly allowing up to 1 million people to assemble there. It commemorates modern Chinese people and workers. Chairman Mao is entombed there. It is the “people’s square”. On Sunday, there were thousands of people peacefully strolling along on a chilly afternoon, children flying kites and couples holding hands.


Beijing Silicon Valley
Beijing Silicon Valley magnify
We met with a consulting and application development firm in Beijing’s Silicon Valley, called the “Upper Ground” or “Middle Gate Village” area of Beijing. I was completely surprised. I have been to other business meetings across Asia, but this section of Beijing looked just like Silicon Valley. The modern buildings were surrounded by groomed parkways and landscaping. The glass and steel exteriors were just like you would find in Palo Alto or Cupertino or Sunnyvale. Inside, the software engineers’ cubicles were personalized with toys, pictures and gadgets, and the conference rooms looked the same. If you didn’t know you were in Beijing, you would swear this is Silicon Valley USA.


dsc_0105a1I am awe-struck. This is perhaps the most interesting place I have ever visited. The Forbidden City in the center of Beijing, China was the imperial home to Emperors, Empresses, concubines, eunuchs and thousands of servants for nearly 500 years, up through the 1920’s. It is called the Forbidden City because only the royal court was allowed inside the walls. The compound is enormous…it takes more than an hour to walk from one side to the other. There are dozens of beautiful buildings with fabulous roof lines and imperial dragons (the sign of the emperor) and phoenix’s (the sign of the empress). There are marble stairways and huge pavilions where the emperors called the royal court and army generals for assembly. The sculptures are fabulous and symbolic of the power and majesty of the people who tried to rule China harmoniously for centuries. Walking through the city, I was struck by the quiet peacefulness of the palaces and the awesome historical significance of Imperial China. It was breathtaking.