Alibaba paves way for China’s youth

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Alibaba paves way for China’s youth

I am often asked about the Chinese economy’s prospects next year. It is only natural that people are worried about China, as the growth rate there fell from 10 percent to 7 percent. The swollen real estate bubble is another risky factor.

Whenever I get the question, I tell a story.

“One day in January, 1999, Jack Ma, an internet homepage developer in Beijing, called all 18 members of this staff into a meeting room. ‘We are going back to Hangzhou, as Beijing is no place to make our dreams come true,’ he said. ‘It is up to you whether to stay in Beijing or come to Hangzhou with me. I will help those who remain in Beijing find a job at Yahoo or other companies here. If you come with me, you should be ready to struggle. I can only pay 500 yuan ($63). You have three days to decide.’ The employees were just about used to living in Beijing, so were stunned by the news. Three minutes later, they were back in the meeting room. ‘We are a team, so we are all going to Hangzhou together,’ they said. They followed Jack Ma to a small apartment in Hangzhou, where Alibaba was founded.”

The founding story of Alibaba is dramatic. Masayoshi Son offered to invest $400 million into the company, but Jack Ma said it didn’t need that much and would only take $200 million. Jack Ma is a symbol of start-ups in China and an idol figure in IT, comparable to Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

Young Chinese people are charmed by Alibaba’s founding tale. Zhang Weishan, 30, who I met at the Foshan Torch Innovation Pioneering Park last month, is one. A founder of a smartphone circuit design company with six friends, Zhang says the situation is better now than when Alibaba started.

There is no reason he can’t succeed, because Jack Ma did. There are countless kids all over China, chasing the glory of Alibaba.

The government is also involved. On Dec. 3, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang ordered the Zhongguancun model to be expanded around China. The research and development support policy for the technology hub was to be applied to other centers as well. On the same day, the Foshan Torch Innovation Pioneering Park was designated as a state-sponsored start-up training center.

Local governments’ debt, the real estate bubble and shadow financing are some of the factors pressuring the Chinese economy. They are signs of transition as China changes its investment-oriented growth model to a consumption-driven one.

If you are swept up by these signs, you can’t predict the future of the Chinese economy. You need to be able to read the new trends of industrial fields. The appearance of Alibaba kids is the symbol of the new trend. They are innovating the distribution structure and challenging the existing industrial order of state-owned companies. If you are curious about the future of Chinese economy, you should talk to them.

*The author is the director of the JoongAng Ilbo’s China Institute.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 15, Page 34


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