A blog post by a self-styled financial veteran knocked the wind out of the Chinese business community recently. The author, Wu Xiaoping, argued that the country’s private firms should step aside and allow the state to increase its dominance of the economy. The private sector has “fulfilled its task of assisting the state-owned economy in achieving its rapid development,” Wu wrote. The article went viral on social media, sparking criticism from entrepreneurs and support from left-wing commenters. Under normal circumstances, a blog by an obscure middle manager would never garner so much attention. But Wu’s post touched a nerve. These are tough times for private firms.
The moment finally came just after Lunar New Year, 2016. That morning, residents in Lintao, a city of 200,000 in the remote northwest, turned on the taps, but no water flowed. The groundwater that provided the town’s supply had simply run out. A year later, Si County, a cluster of settlements 2,000 kilometers to the southeast, also ran dry. After municipal wells began to empty, local schools and hospitals resorted to drilling their own. In the north, which contains nearly half of the population but only 20% of the water resources, there is not enough to meet demand. Groundwater storage on the North China Plain fell at a rate of more than 6 trillion liters a year between 2002 and 2014.
Chinese millennials promise to reshape the global tourism industry. Unlike their parents’ generation, who preferred to travel abroad on Chinese-organized tour groups, today’s young Chinese are independent, individualistic and willing to try more adventurous vacations. This shift is opening up huge new opportunities for travel and tourism operators worldwide. They can now advertise directly to China’s 400 million children of the 1980s and 1990s, who often book their next trip online and on impulse. For operators able to target this group, the rewards can be spectacular. Chinese millennials already make more overseas trips than all American tourists combined.
China’s hospitals are becoming overstretched as population aging and urbanization send demand for health care soaring. But a new wave of world-leading Chinese health technology firms believe they can lift the burden on the country’s frazzled doctors, saving them from the repetitive tasks like reading CT scans. Indeed, the AI health care field has developed incredibly fast in China, with most companies focusing on medical imaging systems that help doctors analyze X-rays, CT scans and tissue analyses for signs of dozens of diseases, from cancers to liver disease.
By 2045, there will be nearly 350 million people in China aged over 65. The rapidly aging society is the legacy of a huge baby boom that was abruptly halted by the introduction of the one-child policy in 1979. Over the long term, this trend threatens to drag on economic growth. There were five Chinese taxpayers for every senior citizen in 2010; by 2030, there will be just two. But for businesses that stay ahead of the demographic curve, there will be big opportunities—another 200 million new customers. Slowly but surely, digitally-savvy seniors are changing the game for brands in China.
China is now home to many of the world’s largest and most dynamic private companies. But apart from a few exceptions such as Alibaba’s Jack Ma, little is known outside China about the intrepid entrepreneurs who built these business empires, often against astonishing odds. Professor Peter Cappelli at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania and author of Fortune Makers: The Leaders Creating China’s Great Global Companies, is trying to change that.
Economic changes and government policies are driving millions of China’s migrant workers away from the wealthy coastal regions back to the less developed western regions. The trend is a clear sign that a fundamental change to China’s economy is in progress, as a growth model that lifted more than half a billion people out of poverty starts to slow. From the early 1990s onwards, China’s double-digit GDP growth was fueled largely by the cheap labor provided by people leaving their farms in China’s poorer inland provinces to find work in the factories springing up along the coast. Now this has changed.
One of the world’s most high-profile China experts, Shaun Rein made his name by highlighting new trends in the Chinese economy years before the Western media caught on. In 2012, his first book, The End of Cheap China, highlighted that China’s low-cost manufacturing miracle was coming to an end. Two years later, he correctly predicted the rise of a new generation of innovation-led Chinese companies in The End of Copycat China. In his third book, The War for China’s Wallet, he tells us that it has never been more critical for brands to understand the Chinese market.
Decades of breakneck development in China have taken a terrible toll on the air, water, and soil. The good news is that the government has started a massive anti-pollution campaign, investing at least $477 billion in environmental protection and shutting down thousands of factories. While many are being driven out of business by the campaign, it’s also creating new opportunities for green technology companies and pushing manufacturing companies to upgrade. And although a government-led campaign, further clean-up efforts can be made by private companies as local governments search for clean solutions.
As the world’s most populous country, China should have the potential to become the world’s most profitable music market, yet it is far away from that—China was the 12th largest market in 2016, with $202 million in revenue compared to the US’s No.1 ranking of $5.3 billion. But there are important differences in the way music is consumed that may give China a business edge. Led by internet firms like Tencent, China has adjusted to the digital future of music more quickly, with a whopping 96% of music revenue from digital releases and 75% of that number coming from streaming sales.