When China’s ideas will matter here

In the rise of China as a consumer nation, we’re seeing the Chinese adopt Western holidays like Halloween as part of their broader acceptance of the Western consumer lifestyle, according to Bought in China, an interview with Karl Gerth. Gerth, author of “As China Goes, So Goes the World” and a professor of East Asian Studies at Oxford, notes at the very end of the interview that what Chinese want in products will start showing up over here, especially as they come to dominate manufacturing.

“the assumption that every product in the world is made for us and for everyone else it gets a slight modification is shifting over to China and the rest of Asia. For example, the back seats of cars are going to get alot more luxurious and comfortable, because very few Chinese want to sit shotgun….the position of power and authority is usually in the back seat.”

Gerth then tells the interviewer something that he didn’t put in his book, that we will start adopting Chinese ideas and innovations.

the Chinese people have endured so much unbelievable change, they’re going to produce the next Shakespeare, the next Dickens, just due to all this tremendous change and turmoil. There could be this tremendous wave of innovation unleashing entrepreneurial opportunities. Scores of Sonys or Apples, that they’re going to create all this stuff. Trends, fashion, art — you can certainly see it in the art world — that will change the world.

I argued this in my 2009 article in Fast Company on trickle-up innovation.  We haven’t seen much of it yet, and a friend of mine who works as a venture capitalist in China complains that he doesn’t see innovative ideas from Chinese firms, just knock-off ideas. But when different cultures encounter one another, they almost always trade ideas as well as goods. Gerth is almost certainly right.

If so, it might be because the Chinese have become better at being Western-sytle capitalists than we are.  Niall Ferguson’s new book Civilzation, reviewed (Decline and Fall?) in the same issue of Ideas, makes that argument as the reason for the rise of China, India and Brazil, and the seeming fade of ‘the West.’

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