China: Where Patience Meets Speed

Sarah Lacy of TechCrunch is reporting from China for a new book on entrepreneurship:

China has just exploded with entrepreneurship, funding and economic opportunity over the last five years or so, and unlike most of the world there doesn’t seem to be a slow down yet. In 2002, U.S. investors pumped $437 million into China. By 2007 that had grown to $2.8 billion. And last year, it swelled again to $4.2 billion. All numbers courtesy of Dow Jones/VentureSource which should be releasing its first quarter China figures this week. Imagine Silicon Valley in 1999 times a huge sprawling country and population, and that’s what I’m wading into for the next two weeks.

On one hand, it’s exhilarating. In the US, we’ve all heard so much about the amazing Chinese economic engine, looking on with a mix of terror, greed and awe. It’s stunning actually to be on the ground here. But sifting through hundreds- even thousands- of Mandarin-speaking is also a bit like trying to do an estate sale for Howard Hughes. There are priceless old films, keepsakes from starlets and antique aviator equipment, but also stacks of milk bottles, newspapers and nail clippings- where do you start?

This mild panic I?m finding myself in has me thinking a great deal about two characteristics of China that people have been referencing in the last few weeks as I’ve been planning this trip and doing pre-interviews: Patience and speed. They’re seemingly contradictory, and perhaps part of that is the collision of tradition and modernity in China right now.

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