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Archive for December, 2008

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If you’re looking for examples of modern China, consider my friend Aviva.

She’s the one in the yellow sweater, and she is dancing on the bar in a place called Zapata’s, in Shanghai.

She’s 30 years old, which means she was born about the same time China decided to transform itself from a Mao Zedong-led Communist state into what it is today, an exploding market economy that is both faster-growing and less regulated than just about any other in the world.

The government that has decided not to regulate its exploding market economy still calls itself the Communist Party of China, but at this point it might as well be called the Party That Will Do Whatever Will Keep It In Power. And that, of course, means keeping up the kind of economic growth that makes a story like Aviva’s possible.

Aviva grew up in Inner Mongolia. These days, she’s a stock broker in Shanghai.

Only in America, right? I mean, only in Communist China.

Aviva has been in Shanghai for seven years now, and she spent two years in Guangzhou before that. Which means that at 21, an ambitious girl from Inner Mongolia finished school and moved to the big city to become, of all things, a stock broker.

Her heroes were the guys on Wall Street, half a world away in a country many Chinese idolize and are doing their very best to emulate. She still compares herself to them, sounding very much like an American business major with hopes of becoming the next Gordon Gekko.

“It’s not like the guys in Wall Street,” she says of her Shanghai finance job. “Those guys are really cool.”

Her English is nearly perfect, but she still studies as often as she can to improve it. Many of her clients are foreigners, and like just about every young professional you will meet in China, she wants to do business overseas.

The number of small private businesses that are springing up in still-technically-Communist China is pretty amazing, and almost all of them seem to be doing business overseas. It’s hardly a secret that Americans are buying up zillions of Chinese products, but Americans might be surprised by some of the Chinese entrepreneurs who are doing the selling.

A few weeks ago, I met a Chinese couple in a restaurant. They were both in their early 30s, and they were helping out a friend of mine who had just opened a new restaurant. It is not uncommon for friends or family to help out at a friend’s restaurant when they are short on staff, and I had always wondered how people were able to take the time off work in a city where a two-day weekend is a luxury.

In the case of this particular couple, it was because they own their own business. They sell fishing supplies online, and most of their customers are Americans. None of this was particularly noteworthy until I asked my new friend how many people worked for his company.

“Me and her,” he said, pointing to his wife.

The entire business consists of one man, his wife, and a website.

So how is business going for the couple from Yangzhou and their fishing website? The global financial crisis hasn’t helped things, of course, but they didn’t seem too worried about it, either. When I explained that many people in America are losing their jobs, he joked that they will have more time for fishing.

And as all of those newly unemployed Americans scan the internet for bargains, they may well end up buying their Christmas presents from a single couple running a tiny, online export business from somewhere in Communist China.

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