"In 1998, 3.4 million Chinese attended university. In 2008, the number was 21.5 million. Once a privilege for a select few, college education has defined a generational experience in China."
These numbers come from an excellent presentation by Frank Yu, who tried to put it up on Slideshare, but in accordance with the mysterious ways of China, it disappeared. I'm sure he will send it to you if you ask.
Frank gave the presentation at Re-think Shanghai, one of the excellent events Geeks on a Planeattended in Asia over the past three weeks. This wonderful eye-opening tour of what's going on in Asian entrepreneurship unlocked all kinds of feelings in me, and I'm sure they will be spilling out for months. But here's my summary of Frank's hypothesis.
China is really changing fast. When you stand in the shallow water and listen from afar, you hear two major themes: piracy of intellectual property and human rights violations. If you wade in a little further, you see an amazing generational shift going on in a huge market. And if you immerse yourself, even for a little while, you can drown in the vibrancy of this entrepreneurial community. Entrepreneurship, always the hallmark of American ingenuity, has caught fire world wide.
Here are some highlights of Frank's excellent analysis, which we saw first hand.
1)There are four generations alive in China right now, each different. The lost generation (my age) experienced the Cultural Revolution and lost both its ties to the past and its opportunity for education. It is now in power, grappling with the present.
2)The mini-lost, born in the 70s, were the children of the Cultural Revolution. They experienced Tienamen Square, and are now driving reform.
3)The Strawberries, born in the 80s, are fragile, but were the original rebels, the "egocentric kids" and Chinese "beats" with wild and crazy ideas, dabbling in new values. They were the first of the single child families.
4)And now the Jellies, called the Millennials in America, are commonly called the "non-mainstream" generation. The outlook includes individualistic views like "I can live by myself" and the arrogance of being only children in an economy getting more affluent.
This generational shift over four decades has not come without turbulence. In 2009, the millions of factory workers who had moved to the cities lost their jobs. Many of them did not return this year. The Jellies went "LOHAS," (Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability), which would have been unheard of in China just a few years ago. Some of those who did not have made headlines recently by jumping to their deaths while working for a large Shenzen electronics company.
Now China is a global economic power, known for being able to design and develop fast. It is an exporter and manufacturer of digital content and equipment to the developing world, feedback-driven, AGILE, and quick to imitate and mutate. Copying, which China does so well now, is only the first wave; it's the second wave of customization and mutation that is interesting. Yu says China is like the Wal-Mart of countries, using its global muscle to get what it wants.
Here are Yu's projections for 2015. They mark a shift to a more assertive China, one which our political leaders are already planning for.
—Strawberries will enter the leadership roles of middle and upper management
—The Lost Generation will cede more control and leadership to the Mini-Lost Generation
—The Jellies will be in the work market. This generation is a little feared by the others since its such a wildcard and more aggressive than the others
Now crank the geo-politics into this demographic portrait. We in the U.S. owe China a lot of money. We don't agree with China's policies. We have strict immigration laws that allow Chinese students to receive higher education here, but not start businesses when they graduate. They then take their American know-how back to China, combine it with the nimble development capabilities of local inexpensive engineers, and make clones of American technologies, reaching large developing markets we can't even beging to enter.
To survive as a world power, we have to fix this. Four immediate fixes are necessary:
1)a complete overhaul of and commitment to our education system
2)a Startup Visa program that allows foreign-born entrepreneurs to stay here and start companies
3)a resurgence of our historical tolerance for immigrants
4)a willingness to invest in our communities, societies, and infrastructure
We've got the entrepreneurs. Let's encourage them to get started. They can fix this for us with their mobility, their digital assets, their energy. Let's not stand in their way.