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Monday, January 13, 2014, 09:03
Doing business the Chinese way
By Chen Yingqun

Doing business the Chinese way

Zhao Yanchen believes that anyone can be an entrepreneur, as long as they have a dream and understand the essence and laws of starting a business. (Zhang Wei / China Daily)

After many years of incubation, UK version of a best-seller has appeared

Ambitious Chinese youngsters have long sought to learn from Western economic theories and best practice, so why don't they tap into wisdom closer to home?

The business expert Zhao Yancheng reckons that not only Chinese but people everywhere can learn from Chinese business practices. He is on a mission to make sure they do.

Zhao Yancheng's book The Causes of Wealth of People, a best-seller in China over the past 10 years, is based on Chinese people's experiences of starting businesses in the country.

An English translation of the book has just been published.

"These are insights and experiences of Chinese entrepreneurs born and bred in China," Zhao Yancheng says. "I think it gives a fresh, Eastern perspective to Western business people, including those doing business with Chinese entrepreneurs."

The book looks at what laws are inherent from the time a project is chosen, he said, adding that it answers fundamental questions about the gestation of business, birth, growth and maturity.

Zhao Jing, founder of ChinaWise, a business advisory firm in Chicago that facilitates business and cultural exchange between the United States and China, says the book's publication is well-timed, particularly for those who have business dealings with China.

"In China, many home-grown businesspeople are a mystery to Westerners," she says. "They have been highly successful in the past few decades and are now going global, so it is important for Westerners to understand how they think, how they handle business and make decisions."

Lloyd Shefsky, a clinical professor on Entrepreneurship at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in Illinois, says the book provides not only lessons on setting up and operating new ventures, but also interesting perspectives on business and entrepreneurship in China, as well as Chinese culture generally.

In the foreword of the book, he writes: "Not everything in this book is directly applicable in other countries, but you can increase your understanding of entrepreneurship in your country by constantly comparing and asking why a practice or principle is different in China."

Zhao Yanchen, 59, a native of Jilin province, is widely recognized as the founder of the entrepreneurship discipline system in China. He chairs China Entrepreneurship Intelligence, a national organization that promotes entrepreneurship.

He was once an economic scholar, publishing many influential articles and became a provincial departmental-level official of Hainan province. But in 1989 he gave up his position and went into business.

"When I was a scholar, I wrote and lectured about economics theories to entrepreneurs and students, mainly based on collected materials and cases from China and overseas," he says. "But I knew that one's horizon and depth of knowledge is limited by one's experience.

"When I realized that all my theories and writings were of little interest to anyone, I decided to go into business and experience the market economy after reform and opening-up began in the 1980s."

He set up four companies over the next 10 years through thick and thin, managing not only to survive but to turn a profit. He did that through methods such as adjusting the scale of operations, reducing costs and innovating. With one company he was able to make about 3 million yuan ($495,000) in the first two years.

In 2000 he made another big career change, abandoning business and taking up writing.

"I think there are some inner rules about how to make a company and a project grow out of nothing, then survive," he says. "I wanted to write down my thoughts so people could learn from my failures and success."

It took him three years and 14 days to finish writing The Causes of Wealth of People in the remote Yuanyang Valley of the Huangshan Mountain in Anhui province. The only book he took with him was Tao Te Ching (or Daodejing) by Lao Tze, the founder of Daoism, which he thought would have great impact on Chinese culture and people's behavior.

After the book was published in 2004 he received more than 10,000 letters from readers, he says. He has since written 18 more books to illustrate ideas he expressed in the book and explain how to put his ideas into practice.

He came up with the idea of translating the book in 2006 when an entrepreneurship wave swept across China. That year at Tsinghua University he attended a dialogue with US scholars about entrepreneurship.

"There was an enthusiastic audience in the hall, and they treated him like a rock star," says Zhao Jing, who met the author for the first time at that event.

Zhao Yanchen commissioned a well-known Chinese translator to translate the book, but the translator found it too difficult. He then asked Zhao Jing, who grew up in China, but has lived in the US for more than 15 years and had started a business. For the past 10 years she has been teaching Westerners and Chinese how to deal with each other and their respective countries.

Zhao Jing says that she used to think she clearly understood both Chinese and Western cultures and that translating the book would be easy, but she was in for a surprise.

"It's relatively easy for someone who understands both cultures to read the book. But for pure Westerners it is very difficult because the book is particular to China and its culture, so how to translate it properly left me perplexed," she said.

She got literary experts to look at her translation, but found many cross-culture problems, which they thought too difficult to solve. So she turned to her husband Joseph Cesarone, who had helped in revising her translation projects before.

"When she took this book on, it sounded intriguing, given both my long-standing interests in economics and in China, as well as my new and growing interest in entrepreneurship," he says. "Upon first reading the book I knew that it would not be an easy project, but I knew it would be a very interesting, worthwhile and rewarding endeavor."

Cesarone says they have worked on it periodically over two years, and he contributed about four months on it full-time.

One thing that made the translation difficult is that it is written in a rather poetic and free-form style, which they wanted to preserve as much as possible without losing the meaning or confusing the reader. That was a delicate balance to achieve, he says.

There are also many Chinese cultural references that were used to make a point or to add humor, which by themselves would be lost in translation to most Western readers. They had to add explanatory text here and there without it becoming a distraction.

Finally, there are various novel concepts in the book, such as "soul capital" and "root capital". They were keen to ensure these terms were translated as accurately and consistently as possible, Cesarone says. "To me, the most interesting parts were Mr Zhao's personal anecdotes of his own entrepreneurial efforts and those of other entrepreneurs whom he assisted, as well as the Eastern philosophical underpinnings to his theories, such as the Tao of entrepreneurship and the relevance of Sun Tzu's Art of War to entrepreneurial efforts."

chenyingqun@chinadaily.com.cn

 
 
 
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