China Immersion Experience 2007: The Cultural Counterrevolution

There is no teacher like experience, and few places have as much to teach as China. From January 2 to January 13, over 60 HBS students and their partners along with four faculty and staff embarked on a quixotically ambitious tour of China: six cities, three alumni receptions, 21 group meals, two cases and two universities, five panels, ten company (and government) visits, three flights, and one country/two systems.

Somehow, HBS students also managed to squeeze in sightseeing, a day on the beach, and plenty of nightlife as well. Yaniv Stern (OE) summed up what he enjoyed most about the trip: “The wide variety of people and companies we met. This aspect offered a unique opportunity to get a wide view of the business environment and the challenges each industry, as well as the country as a whole, face. Another aspect I loved was the food. We really got a non-stop supply of good Chinese food.” Other highlights of the trip included a lecture by China scholar Professor Kirby, a Chinese acrobat show in Shanghai, and a special wrap-up session with former professor and CEO of Li & Fung, Victor Fung.

Professor Vietor mentioned that in the future, up to seven school-sponsored trips may be offered over the winter break and become part of half-course curricula. This year’s trek was entirely student-led and would not have been possible without the heroic efforts of Gideon Liu (NC), James Lee (NH), Mark Boey (NA), Alex Zhang (OE), Ling Yang (NA), Jacqueline Chen (NH), Yiyang Tao (NC), and Tina Yu (NB).

What did you learn?

1. Doing business in China requires tons of local contacts.

2. It seems as if businesses operating in China are willing to take risks they would never even consider in any other place in the world. Although the Chinese market has been growing at an explosive rate, this growth does not necessarily translate well into the individual company level-the majority of the foreign firms that entered the Chinese market have yet to become profitable.

3. Shanghai is kinda like living inside of Sim City.

What advice would you give to people going next year?

1. Bring a lot of clothes cause it’s cold as hell.

2. Plan to arrive a few days early and tour a part of China on your own (I focused on Beijing)-this way you won’t feel that you are missing out on any touristy aspects…An extra day or two at the end of the trip could be nice as well.

January 22, 2007
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