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(The commentary by Qiulin 邱林, translated from caixin.cn)
As millions of Chinese netizens mourned over Steve Jobs’ death, they also raised a question – why couldn’t China produce its own “Steve Jobs”? Former vice-president of Google global and president of Google China Kai-fu Lee explained on his weibo that it was because Chinese education puts too much emphasis on reciting and memorizing stuff instead of fostering critical thinking. He pointed out that it wasn’t that Chinese people are not smart enough, nor was the lack of people with the potential to become a “Steve Jobs” since there are pioneers of this sort, such as co-founder of Yahoo! Inc. Jerry Yang and co-founder of Youtube Steve Chan.
Kai-fu Lee has his points. In fact, Chinese people are not stupid, then why couldn’t we see any innovation big shots like Steve Jobs here in China? A survey carried out by a famous website (original article didn’t provide the source) has founded that 63.3% people believe there won’t be figure like Steve Jobs under the present China condition, 28.9% people think there is not even a chance for it, only 7.8% people think chances might exist in 20 years or so. Although the survey didn’t mean much, still it is worth pondering upon.
Generally speaking, there are too many restrictions and interventions for the growth of great innovators like Jobs. For one, herd behavior is extremely significant among Chinese, those who go against mainstream opinions will be edged out; for another, there is not enough protection over intellectual property rights, some innovators exerts time and money in developing their “genius” products only to be plagiarized in a few days; and thirdly, the pressure to survive is too huge that very few people will do something completely out of personal interest.
But Jobs who grew up in the US didn’t have to face any of the above influences. Some people comment on Jobs like this: he has the astonishing capability to find out what should exist but hasn’t exist yet, he can combine the appropriate technology with unimaginative aesthetic elements to produce enormous charm. That sets the ground stone for Apple to become one of the top enterprises in the world.
About a decade ago, Apple was in so much trouble that when Jobs came back in 1997 the company has already experienced corporate deficit of $18.6 billion two years in a roll. It was practically at the brink of bankruptcy. Then Jobs stepped in and started a series of revolutions revolving the development of new products. Up until June this year, Apple’s cash flow and marketable securities have reached $76.1 billion while the gross operating cash flow of America Treasury was $73.77 billion as of July this year. That said, Apple is almost as rich as the country.
People notice that every new product launch by Steve Jobs would generate global attention and anticipation because every new product he introduced will in one way or another change the structure of an industry or the mode of a business. Perhaps this is the biggest gap between Chinese IT/Internet companies and their American counterparts. Chinese enterprises base their judgments and decisions entirely on the market and consumers, they only manage to follow market trends at best, hardly able to make any radical innovations. They don’t want to fall behind nor go too ahead, so they often let others to take the bullet as a path finder, and follow closely once the situation looks good. Many Chinese enterprises flourish in this way.
In the end of the day, the problem boils down to our faithlessness in deciding and utilizing our own ability. Therefore it is impossible for Chinese enterprises to create a market trend and take the lead.
Moreover, one of the most obvious features of Apple is that it became the world’s most valuable corporation without the help of governments. Whereas there is no such soil in China to grow that kind of company. In fact, the monopoly created by state-owned enterprises is down right political monopoly, which limits competition, hampers technological upgrade, reduces the efficiency of resource allocation and intervenes with the competitive market order etc.
Another huge obstacle comes from our policy. Many private-owned enterprises similar to Apple don’t have the chance to grow at all, they seldom make it to the Fortune 500 list. Among all countries that adopt market economy, China is one of the few that allocate public resources and political resources according to systems of ownership: state-owned enterprises, foreign-invested enterprises and private-owned enterprises enjoy totally different political treatment.
Perhaps this is the ultimate reasons why China fails to produce people like Steve Jobs or enterprises like Apple. Chinese scientist Qian Xueshen raised the famous question when he was dying: “Why on earth can’t China foster outstanding people?” Nowadays when Jobs is also part of the history, many netizens start calling out “where is Chinese Steve Jobs?”.
Of course it is not strange that China couldn’t produce “Steve Jobs”, because Jobs has paranoia who brings Apple to what it is today. When there is someone who has the same paranoia in China, then the Chinese Apple will born. It may seems unbelievable, but that is the core of the problem. To foster Chinese “Jobs”, we have to provide flexible soil and environment to those who need to take the path like Jobs even when they are paranoid. Otherwise, it is only empty hope for China to produce world’s top corporations like Apple.
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