Reporter's Notebook: How Newspapers in China Portray Entrepreneurs

I’m on a two-week fellowship in China and am taking advantage of it to report on entrepreneurship here in a series of blog posts. Check out my previous posts in the archives section of this blog.

Whenever I am abroad I like to read the local newspaper. I find that reading what is written often gives me another portal (or at least a sense) into understanding what a society is like.

For instance, going through the China Daily, (the country’s national English language paper) one day, I noticed that the top story above the fold had a headline that read: “National Nuclear Program Chief Facing Investigation.” Although the paper did not explicitly detail what Kang Rixin, general manager of the China National Nuclear Corp., was allegedly under investigation for exactly, the paper said the terminology used by the Communist Party of China: “grave violations of discipline,” was often used to “indicate corruption.” The same article reported how Chen Tonghai, the former chairman of Chinese oil giant Sinopec, Corp. was sentenced to death in July, with a two year reprieve after he was convicted of illegally receiving $29 million between 1999 and 2007. What I found most interesting was that on the top of page five, an article reported that a man who had killed a pedestrian in the city of Hangzhou while driving drunk was given a jail sentence of three years after he paid a fine of $165,400. Given the sentences involved in these two cases, the obvious conclusion seems to be that in China, bribery and corruption are far graver crimes then one that ends in the death of an individual. Note: in July Amnesty International reported that last year China carried out 1,700 executions – 72% of the world’s executions.

Next up, on a lighter note, on the paper’s full page “ChinaScene” a bunch of colorful briefs gave anecdotal glimpses from across the country. My favorite was the 80-year-old woman from Fujan province, Li Yimu, who wanted to divorce her second husband of six years, Jang Yibo, also 80 because he was stingy. “Jiang is wealthy but he’s a miser,” she said. “Every time we buy anything he’d expect me to pay half the bill.” Then there was the 14-year-old archer from Changchun jilin province who shot an arrow at his teammate accidentally killing him following an argument. Finally, a bakery in Changsha in Hunan province had crowds around the block who were coming to see an egg that had was found to have four small quail-shaped eggs inside of it. The bakery’s owner found the oddity when he cracked open an egg to bake some cakes.

Now that I’ve moved on to Hong Kong, I have started to read The Standard. There I found an article that did discuss entrepreneurship. Specifically, one reported that the number of entrepreneurs interested in launching firms with a social core is on the rise.

Garvey Chui Wen-xi, who founded Watermarks, a paper mill in Canada that recycles old clothing into pulp, described how recently the old Hong Kong model where the bottom line is king is now being challenged. She said that individuals looking to start a social enterprise in Hong Kong had quadrupled in less than three years. She cited the number of attendees at a social enterprise conference hosted by the think tank Hong Kong Policy Research Institute in 2007 attracted 50 people. A year later 250 attended the conference and 300 are expected to show up at the conference this November. The article goes on to discuss various online initiatives to help non-profits develop websites.

That certainly is an interesting development and one that fits in with the American surge in social entrepreneurship and the idea that business as usual is shifting to business developed with social responsibility in mind is a viable economic model. While Hong Kong might be at the early stage of this trend, I look forward to seeing how it unfolds.

Finally, a brief in The Standard notes that China Shenhua Energy plans to spend 30 billion-yuan to double annual coal output to 400 million tonnes by 2015. That caused me to do a double-take because the article reminded me of one published in the China Daily earlier. The piece, headlined: “Billions form Stimulus Tagged To Cut Emissions,” noted that “more than 15% of the country’s 4 trillion-yuan or $587 billion stimulus package was going to be spent on cutting carbon emissions by the end of 2010. China’s explosive growth in the last few decades has undeniably created huge environmental problems, from toxic air levels to rivers for starters. I’m not sure what conclusion is to be drawn from linking these two contradictory stories. That is except to say that if China is putting a significant chunk of its stimulus package into climate change perhaps there is a greater role for entrepreneurs in China to come up with some innovative solutions to these serious problems.

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