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Chinese Democracy

December 1, 2008

Firstly, I would like to state that I would like my $16.99 back from iTunes. Guns and Roses have put out a frankly terrible album. There are some reasonable tracks on the album but this is hardly Appetite for Destruction or even close to it.

The pretty rotten effort aside the naming of this album has put the back up of the Chinese pretty badly. The Global Times, China’s vehemently nationalist newspaper published a headline saying that ‘the record turns its spear-point on China’ (article on CNN.com here).

I still remember first seeing the Global Times when I arrived in China and realising that this was not a high quality rag but one always has to remember that nothing gets published in China without official approval and to some extent this must reflect the views of people in power.

This does highlight a few things though:

Firstly that the Chinese are a touchy lot, prone to getting upset about the slightest perception of insult. They also fail to get the concept of cultural significance; if a washed up has been rocker was rude about me I doubt i would even bother to mention it to my wife let alone post it in my blog or broadcast it to 1/4 of the world.

Secondly, a lot of people just don’t get China or Chinese Democracy- sadly many of these people are Americans who are either in Hollywood or Congress and this is a little scary.

I will refrain from the temptation to go off on an anti-American rant but you can hardly blame the Chinese for not being that bothered about democracy when all it gives you is George Bush for 8 years.

There are two points here that are relevant to your business and your understanding of China.

1) Watch what you do and say. Insults are taken differently and perception is more important to many Chinese than actual fact. Personally I think it is silly to get worked up about the title of an album that only idiots like me will buy due to nostalgia but equally many Chinese just don’t understand why anyone would want to make a political point about their internal politics.

2) Freedom vs. stability. In a country that has suffered greatly over the last 100 years to finally have a system that allows for growth, jobs and food on the table is something to be very pleased about. To have low crime, economic growth and a strong government that can get things done quickly is valued more greatly than the ability to openly criticise the government.

If you are planning to do any business in China then it is worth gaining at least a basic understanding of the recent history of the country and trying to empathise with the point of view of Chinese consumers and probably best stay away from politics unless you are very brave or want to look as ignorant as Axl Rose or Sharon Stone.

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