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Week in China – Column 1

In Review: October 2021 Highlights
By Steven Irvine – Founder, CEO & Editor ‘Week in China

Click here to download the “A-Z of Chinese History”

Inaugural Column: This is my first column for PBEC, and so perhaps a short introduction is in order. I arrived in Asia in April 1997 and I have travelled widely in the region over the past quarter century from my base in Hong Kong. As a business and financial journalist and commentator I have met and interviewed over the decades a wide range of senior political figures (such as Wang Qishan in China) and corporate leaders (such as Mukesh Ambani of India’s Reliance Industries). I was the Asia Editor of Euromoney magazine as well as the Editor of FinanceAsia for nine years before establishing Week in China at the start of 2009.

Week in China has been putting out a 20-page digital magazine each Friday since then. Our archive now incorporates over 8,000 articles on over 1,600 companies (Chinese and multinationals) straddling over 20 industries. My vision when I founded Week in China was to create a well-written, time-saving tool for senior executives and global decisionmakers that curated all they needed to know about Chinese business on a weekly basis. I envisaged that each Friday afternoon at 3pm we’d deliver a new chapter in a book that never ends: ‘the China business story’. To do this we offer not only deep context, but a balanced tone and a sense of China’s long history in our coverage of the country’s fast-evolving commercial, social and cultural scene. We have become a trusted source for our subscribers, many of whom have read and recommended us to their business contacts for more than a decade. Partly by design, our exclusivity has made us something of a well-kept secret. Now this secret is being shared with you the PBEC Community.

As a welcome gift, PBEC members are invited to activate their own complimentary subscription to Week in China and its archive of articles and books (such as China’s Tycoons) by using this complimentary URL:

With that introduction over, the purpose of these monthly columns is my in review Editor’s Picks curated for PBEC. Among an already heavily curated selection of 60 articles we publish each month, I will choose my top three that I think especially merit your attention and explain why.

October is always a notable month in China, given it includes the October 1 National Day and the attendant ‘Golden Week’ holiday period. From my perspective that can sometime lead to a constricted news flow to the break, but not this year, where key events have been moving thick and fast in the world’s most dynamic large economy. Given the importance of the property sector, there has been widespread global interest in what is happening at the troubled real estate behemoth China Evergrande.

In our in-depth cover story at the start of the month, we offered our take on what may happen to Evergrande, its shareholders, bondholders and those who’d purchased its apartments, based on our analysis of five past Chinese restructuring exercises. The scenarios can be read here in our article:

I believe very strongly that much can be gleaned about key Chinese trends from an understanding both of the country’s history and its contemporary popular culture. Those two strands neatly came together this month with the release of the blockbuster movie ‘The Battle of Lake Changjin’, which became the most expensive Chinese movie ever made – it incorporated over 70,000 production crew and extras in its epic filming. So far it has taken Rmb5.3 billion ($829 million) at the box office making it almost certain to become (by the end of its cinematic run) China’s most commercially successful film ever (the record is held by Wolf Warrior 2 at Rmb5.7 billion). So, what is it about? Summarised simply: the action follows a brave and dramatic stand by Chinese troops in the 1950s Korean War in which the largely American forces faced at the strategic lake in question were impelled to retreat, in one of the war’s turning points.

Paradoxically at the same time as millions of Chinese were watching this hugely popular film involving the killing of American soldiers – a plot that not uncoincidentally reflected a nadir in political relations between Beijing and Washington – this after all being China (i.e. ever complicated, ever nuanced), a different dynamic was simultaneously playing out in the commercial world. America’s retail giant Walmart opened the world’s largest Sam’s Club in Shanghai, while McDonald’s opened a headline-grabbing Rubik’s Cube shaped headquarters in Beijing and Coke began work on one of its biggest ever bottling facilities in Henan province. That offered a wholly different perspective on how these multinationals viewed Sino-US ties! For more on these investments and the consumer trends that underpin them, see our article:

One of the things we hope we do well at Week in China is pick up on certain local business news items that may be overlooked by the international press and explain what they say about the top-level thinking of Chinese economic planners. I think a good instance occurred in the middle of October on news that computer firm Lenovo had seen its much-vaunted IPO blocked from taking place on Shanghai’s Nasdaq-like STAR Market. The rationale was the interesting thing here: that Lenovo didn’t spend enough on tech R&D spending. We used this to compare and contrast the business evolutions (from the 1990s) and R&D philosophies of Lenovo and Huawei and their respective founders Liu Chuanzhi and Ren Zhengfei. Huawei, of course, is much more the ‘favoured son’ these days thanks to ploughing double digit percentages of its revenues into research, with the result that it has grown from a narrow beginning in telecoms switches to being a global player in a host of leading-edge technologies. Our article reflects on the contrasts between the Lenovo and Huawei approaches and what it says about changes to Chinese industrial policy between the turn of the century and today. I highly recommend you read it here:

Next month I’ll return with more insights from what we’ve written in November. Another chapter beckons, enjoy!

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