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美国人不了解中国,这个问题很严重

本汉博 2018年08月29日

中国投资者、学生、政府官员和公司已经彻底了解了美国。而美国人对中国却没有这样做。

特朗普总统一直在指责中国窃取知识产权,强制转移技术,实施保护主义并让美国出现贸易逆差。但这些说辞掩盖了一个令人尴尬的现实,那就是美国在全面开放“下载”的同时甚至都没有索要回报,从而主动把知识转移权让给了中国。

大量信息自由地向东流去,西方则几乎没有获得回报。中国投资者、学生、政府官员和公司已经彻底了解了美国。而美国人对中国却没有这样做。

出现这种局面的原因其实并非中国政府的保护主义。相反,是美国人自己选择了与世隔绝。

中国赴美留学生人数持续急速增长,1999-2017年的增幅接近650%。2015-2016年,逾32.8万中国学生来到了美国,美国送往中国的学生则为1.1万人左右。这和前往爱尔兰的美国学生人数差不多,而爱尔兰的经济规模还不到中国的3%。

美国学生主动避开了中国,由此固化了一代未能做好准备的人,他们无法在中国崛起时有效地与之合作、竞争或采取应对措施。据估计,有3-4亿中国学生(约占中国人口的25%)正在学习英语,而学习中文的美国学生只有20万左右(约为美国总人口的0.06%)。

虽然在贸易平衡和进口关税问题上争论很大,辩论也很激烈,但美国国内并未大力反对这种知识失衡状况。中国敞开了大门,但敢于走进去的美国人寥寥无几。

热门美国媒体始终如一地对中国进行负面描述:鬼城、房地产泡沫、污染以及腐败。虽然许多问题确实存在,但一边倒地负面报道淹没了中国人生活中的积极元素以及中国蕴含的大量经济机遇。媒体的这种做法打消了美国不断增长的学生、商业和政治领袖更多了解中国的念头。

另一方面,中国的精英和网民却在仔细观察美国的政治、社会、科技和流行文化发展。比如,马克·扎克伯格的参议院听证会、SpaceX发射的“重型猎鹰”火箭以及特朗普总统对待美国职业橄榄球联盟球员“国歌抗议”行为的态度都在中国社交媒体上引起了密切关注。大量海归撑起了中国民众对美国国内事务的讨论。

人们可能觉得拥有庞大中国人社区和较灵活商业模式的硅谷也许最有条件来满足中国市场的要求。但情况并非如此。

在最近的一次交流中,一位美国顶尖风投人士估计的腾讯员工数量只有实际的十分之一。另一位则拒绝和拼多多首席执行官会面,还说他们从未听说过这家价值300亿美元、在纳斯达克上市的电子商务公司。美国投资人和创业者普遍局限于将中国视为一个机会众多的巨大市场,但他们甚至都不知道要怎样着手参与其中。几乎没有哪只美国风投基金在中国获得过成功,在中国市场取得的成就能和本土业绩相提并论的美国软件与消费互联网公司同样有限。

和中国积极实施超级保护主义并且不欢迎外国公司的普遍观点相反,美国消费科技企业进入中国市场的过程充满了“非受迫性失误”。想在中国立足的公司未能抓住进行竞争(包括定价和有效的业务模式)和开展经营(比如聘用当地人员、理解中式激励方法以及采用恰当的管理结构)的根本。

21世纪初率先将C2C市场概念引进中国的eBay并未遇到任何重大监管障碍。它却把市场领导权拱手让给了阿里巴巴旗下的类似业务,也就是淘宝,原因是eBay未能认识到并满足中国消费者的要求。它犯了一些可以预见到的错误,比如决定在网上做广告,而不是在覆盖绝大多数目标人群的电视上;它青睐竞价而非消费者喜欢的直销;它也未能按中国人的习惯推出个性化商品目录,而是继续采用美国的商品分类方法。2003年eBay在中国的市场份额超过70%,但到了2008年,淘宝的市场份额达到了80%以上。

其他公司也是如此——团购网站Groupon聘请外国经理来领导中国人团队,而且拒绝将转换率下调到跟竞争对手相当的水平,最终黯然离开中国。优步采用电子邮件地址注册方式(这在中国很少见),而不是绑定微信或手机号,它选择百度这个“装备欠佳”的当地合作伙伴,而且从未给中国团队充分赋能。该公司前负责人特拉维斯·卡兰尼克一直兼任优步中国CEO,直到它被滴滴出行收购。爱彼迎花了三年时间来寻找中国业务负责人,最终却不幸地选择了拥有硅谷血统的人,而且无力管理中国团队,也无法在监管问题上应付中国政府。该公司的中文译名也有误导性。这些错误本来都可以避免,却都成了现实,原因仅仅是一概而论的自大和对当地市场缺乏了解。

中国崛起的速度和势头让美国学术界、政界和商业界感到意外。要解决这个问题,第一步就是确保美国学生更深入地融入中国的语言、文化、历史和经济。

对美国学生来说,中国的大门绝对算不上“用户友好”。此外,美国教育机构还自行设置了一些障碍,比如几乎不提供针对初学者的普通话课程,给希望到中国学习的学生设定很高的语言熟练程度标准,以及限制学生在中国公司实习的机会。

美国学术界应该打破这些壁垒,并且引导教育体系对中国语言和历史研究变得更加开放。这样的转变并非不可能。9.11事件后,报名学习阿拉伯语的美国学生人数在四年时间里增加了126.5%。冷战时期,学俄语的美国学生数量显著上升,1958-1990年间的增幅为275%。

我们为什么要对负面诱因做出反应,而不是响应积极因素呢?难道中国市场的机遇不足以促使今后的美国学生和政界人士选择普通话而不是法语或意大利语课程吗?对学生的就业前景来说,在北京或上海待一年获得的阅历难道不会远远超过在罗马、塞维利亚或者悉尼留学吗?

还不清楚什么样的警钟才能促使美国人采取行动。可能会是中国取代美国成为全球最大经济体的那一天。但到了那个时候就太晚了。(财富中文网)

本汉博(Ben Harburg)是中国风投基金和玉资本管理合伙人。他毕业于清华大学五道口金融学院,已在中国工作了八年。

译者:Charlie

审校:夏林

President Donald Trump has accused China of intellectual property theft, forced technology transfer, protectionism, and driving a trade deficit. But these disputes obscure an embarrassing reality: America has voluntarily ceded its intellectual arbitrage to China by opening the U.S. up for total download without even attempting to return the favor.

Information flows abundantly and freely eastward. Little returns west. Chinese investors, students, government officials, and corporations have mapped every inch of America. The same cannot be said for Americans.

But this situation is not actually due to protectionism by the Chinese state. Rather, Americans have voluntarily chosen isolation.

The flood of Chinese students into the U.S. has accelerated at a blinding pace, with a nearly 650% increase between 1999 and 2017. From 2015 to 2016, China sent over 328,000 students to America, while the U.S. sent roughly 11,000 to China. America sent around the same number of students to Ireland, whose economy is less than 3% the size of China’s.

American students have voluntarily eschewed China, cementing a generation ill prepared to effectively collaborate, compete, and respond to its rise. An estimated 300-400 million Chinese students (about 25%) are studying English, while only about 200,000 U.S. students (roughly .06%) are currently studying some form of Chinese.

While trade balances and import tariffs might be highly controversial and fiercely contested, this intellectual imbalance has no significant opposition within the U.S. China’s door is open, but few Americans will venture through.

Popular U.S. media perpetuates constant negative narratives about China:ghost cities, real estate bubbles, pollution, corruption. While many of these problems are real, the predominately negative coverage drowns out the positive elements of life in China and its abundant economic opportunities. In doing so, the media dissuades America’s rising students, as well as business and political leaders, from learning more about the country.

Chinese elites and netizens, on the other hand, carefully observe American political, social, technological, and pop culture developments. Mark Zuckerberg’s Senate hearings, the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket launch, andPresident Trump’s stance on the NFL national anthem protests, for example, were all closely followed on Chinese social media. Local discussions on American internal affairs are buoyed by the overwhelming numbers of haigui (Chinese people who have studied abroad and returned home) living in the country.

One would assume that Silicon Valley, flush with a large Chinese expat community and relatively agile business models, would be the best equipped to adapt to the requirements of the Chinese market. Not so.

In a recent conversation, a top American venture capitalist underestimated the number of employees Tencent has by a factor of 10. Another refused a meeting with the CEO of Pinduoduo, saying they had never heard of the $30 billion, Nasdaq-listed e-commerce company. The common refrain among American investors and entrepreneurs is that while China is a massive market with huge opportunity, it has no idea how to even begin to go about tackling it. Few American venture funds have found success in China and there are limited examples of American software and consumer Internet companies finding equivalent success in the market.

Contrary to the commonly held narrative that China is proactively hyper-protectionist and unwelcoming to foreign companies, the history of American consumer tech penetration in China is strewn with unforced errors. Companies attempted launches in China that didn’t grasp the basics of the competitive landscape (including pricing and effective business models) and operations (such as hiring locally, understanding Chinese incentives, and adapting proper management structures).

While pioneering the concept of customer-to-customer marketplaces in China in the early 2000s, eBay faced no major regulatory hurdles. Yet the company ceded its market leadership to Alibaba’s equivalent product, Taobao, because eBay failed to recognize and adapt to the requirements of Chinese customers. Among multiple foreseeable blunders were eBay’s decision to advertise online, rather than television where the vast majority of its target customers were; favor auctions rather than direct sales, which its customers preferred; and not personalize listings for Chinese tastes, instead keeping the U.S. sections in place. In 2003, eBay held over 70% market share in China; yet by 2008, Taobao held over 80% of the same market.

The list goes on: Groupon, which hired foreign managers to lead local Chinese teams and refused to reduce its take rates to match with competitors’, flamed out in China. Uber banded its registrations to email addresses (rarely used in China) rather than WeChat and mobile numbers, chose an ill-equipped local partner in Baidu, and never fully empowered its local team, with former leader Travis Kalanick maintaining the title of CEO of Uber China until the company was acquired by Didi Chuxing. Airbnb took three years to find a local leader and finally settled on an unfortunate choice who boasted a Silicon Valley pedigree, but was unable to manage local teams and grapple with Beijing on regulatory issues. The company also selected a misguided translation of its name in Mandarin. These were all preventable errors, but ones driven by the simple arrogance of a one-size-fits-all approach and lack of knowledge about the local market.

The speed and scale of China’s rise has caught the U.S. academic, political, and business communities off guard. The first step to address this is to ensure American students are more deeply embedded in Chinese language, culture, history, and economics.

China is by no means a user-friendly gateway for U.S. students. But American educational institutions have thrown up their barriers of their own: providing few Mandarin courses for true novices, imposing high language proficiency requirements for students wishing to study abroad in China, and limited student internship opportunities with Chinese firms.

The U.S. academic community should tear down these walls and orient the education system to be more open to Chinese language and historical studies. Such shifts are not impossible. In the four years following 9/11, American student enrollment in Arabic language courses grew by 126.5%. The Cold War years saw a significant rise in the number of Americans studying Russian, growing over 275% between 1958 and 1990.

Why do we respond to negative incentives, but not positive ones? Is not the opportunity of the Chinese market enough to entice future American students and politicians to favor Mandarin courses over French or Italian ones? Would not a year spent abroad in Beijing or Shanghai be far more enriching for a student’s job prospects than time spent in Rome, Sevilla, or Sydney?

It is unclear what manner of wakeup call will jolt Americans into action. Perhaps it’ll be the day that China passes the U.S. as the world’s largest economy. But by then it will be too late.

Ben Harburg is a managing partner at MSA Capital, a Chinese venture fund.He has worked in China for eight years and is a graduate of Tsinghua University’s PBC School of Finance.

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