What I Have Learned So Far…

Zhongguancun    My research site is the “Silicon Valley” of China, otherwise known as Zhongguancun.  It is a large area in Northwest Beijing only a few miles away from Tsinghua University.  It is also the birthplace of Lenovo as well as home to companies like Microsoft.  Zhongguancun is one of the best places to buy electronic goods, real and fake. I chose it because of its location and because electronics are widely copied.

As I mentioned earlier, when I went to Hong Kong in 2010, I went to a marketplace that sold “Swiss Navy Watches” and other clearly stolen product designs and ideas.  From what I read online and from the news at home, it seemed like it would be very easy to tell a faked good from a legitimate one.  To put it simply, I thought my problem would be talking to shopkeepers of copied goods, not figuring out which goods were fake and which weren’t.  On my first trip to Zhongguancun, I discovered that the Chinese are very good at creating fake goods. It was a problem to tell the difference until I found a simple answer.

Tim McDade ’12 came in to talk to us about his experiences working for Microsoft in China.  During his presentation, he mentioned that one of the new executives working for Microsoft in China was told that he would be doing a great job if he got the piracy rate of Microsoft products under 70% percent.  In short, almost all of the goods are stolen or pirated.

Since I can safely work with the assumption that everything I see is probably not legitimate, I now plan on looking more into the culture that surrounds these markets and how they affect as well as represent the rest of China.  The word I want to discuss for this blog is not unique but it highlights an interesting aspect of Zhongguancun: employees.  The attitude towards their jobs tend to fall under two broad categories: aggressive and apathetic.  Some employees, the aggressive ones, will yell at you until they can not see you anymore or until you respond to them.  Others will sit at their computers and play video games all day.  They do not care if they have customers or not.  They eat, and, if you go to their stand, they will not move until you start talking to them about their products.

From what I have come to understand from talking to people (like our teacher Fang Laoshi),  The reason the employees people act this way all depends on what they are paid to do.  The aggressive ones that stand outside of the stores are paid to solely bring people into the store.  If they do that, they are doing their job well and any sales that happen in the store will not affect them.  The people who sit on their computers at the stands are paid only to make sure the merchandise does not get stolen and to ring people up.  None of them come off as being concerned for the well being of the business.

Talking to one of the shopkeepers, I found out that she works at the same cell phone shop all day and, after seeing the another shopkeeper in his store in the exact same clothes two days apart, it is safe to assume this is true for many workers.  This makes more sense to me because if I worked everyday all day,  I would only do my job and nothing else. With shops as small as these, there is clearly no room for advancement and thus the lack of rewards and fatigue of their jobs must contribute to why they seem to lounge so much.

I found this interesting because articles like this describe China as a rising economic power.  While this is true, it is interesting to see so many employees being so apathetic. I initially thought they would all do anything they could to get business seeing there is no noticeable difference between stands.  In such a competitive market, I would imagine a lot more aggression.  I am curious to see if this apathy is in other markets, and if it is, how does it effect China and its growing businesses?  If they are built on the backs of an apathetic work force, will that come back to hurt them later on?  Also, if China starts to enforce copyright laws, what will happen to them?  While I do not know the answers to these questions, I plan on investigating other markets and talking to more employees to see how they feel about their situation.