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11:24AM

There is no such thing as "Asian values," just pre-development ones

Really cool column by Patti Waldmeir on Asia (despite the weird lack of noun-verb agreement).  She is FT's Shanghai bureau chief.

Gist (well captured in title): "China's young workforce warm (sic) to west's work-life balance." [Online version of title cuts "workforce," so agreement works there.  Picky me, I know.]

Starts with recollection of asking founder of BYD battery/carmaker what he did in his free time.  He scoffed at the notion that such a thing existed, and then lectured her on why China would surpass the West because its people had no such conception.

True for the "rise"-initiating generation, but not true to the kids who follow:

But that was three years ago, and three years is a long time in China. Since then, the younger generation of Chinese workers have (sic) begun to discover the joys of sloth. Leisure - which has had a bad rap on the mainland - is making a comeback.

Why? Overwork, plus increasingly long commutes.

Upshot:  according to the head of GM in China, the post-80s generation is increasingly into the the whole life-work balance, creating all manner of HR challenges (none of them new to GM, please).

A headhunter says more and more of his applicants want to work at places that respect the weekend: "These overseas trends are coming into China now."

Of course, if you're trying to build up domestic consumption, you need to encourage this mindset.  Plus, in an economy that seeks to prioritize innovation, all work and no play make Jin a dull boy.

But the larger point, just explored in a great Master Narrative proposed by a Wikistrat analyst in our ongoing "China Hits the Great Wall" simulation, is that China may well confound us by getting to the point of wealth and then disappointing all the "realists" out there who imagine the country's only path to be maximizing "national power" (whatever that is). Especially when you factor in the rapid demographic aging, we are more likely to get a China that goes straight to a Nordic socialist-heavy, more admirable lifestyle package than mindlessly replicating the Kaiserian Germany push toward great-power war (crazy talk, I know, for a pol-mil analyst who wants to be taken "seriously" by Washington).

But there you have it: far faster than it appeared in Japan, we see the work-life balance monster rear its relaxed head.

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Reader Comments (5)

France has already seen a significant increase in the number of Chinese tourists visiting there. Other European countries are seeing more Chinese on tours. The Chinese seem to love to shop.

I remember the old photos from WWII where you would see thousands of Chinese re-building a damaged road with their bare hands. Supposed to be very inspiring. Well, I guess when you have a choice between working like a slave all day and hopping an Air Bus to Paris for a shopping trip the capitalist running dog shopping trip will win very time.

March 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTed O'Connor

The same trends exists elsewhere. When people are more secure in their jobs and there are better job options, balancing work and pleasure is an option. In an economic downturn, survival is key, so people do any job available.

One could argue that for certain periods under Mao, Chinese factory workers had a better "work-life" balance than exists today. (They weren't very productive, but at least they didn't work like slaves).

Non of this has anything to do with "Western values". (We'll see whether Greece will abandon these "Western values" as time goes on).

March 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMaduka

Sorry to nitpick, but in British English pairing a collective noun with a plural verb form is correct. There is nothing wrong with "China's young workforce warm..."

March 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterT

Hmmm. I was wondering if there was some British excuse.

March 21, 2012 | Registered CommenterThomas P.M. Barnett

You've misread the headline "China's young workforce warm (sic) to west's work-life balance." Warm is an adjective modifying 'workforce' with no obligation to agree with anything. The copula verb 'is' is understood and omitted in standard headlinese fashion.

March 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStan Wright

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