Experiencing China

'Experiencing China' is about ordinary life in China and the wealing and dealing of a Dutchman in the Middle Kingdom. Marc works for DuoArts Consultancy and the Empowerment Foundation, travelling between the Netherlands and China.

Friday, February 04, 2005


One of the children to attend the school (read below). Dongping, June 2004 

Within 17 days I will head for China for the fifth time in my life. I will enroll in a language course for 4.5 months at the Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU). Really looking forward to that!

The last few months I have been bussy making all sorts of preparations. Not that subscribing to the program took me a lot of effort, but it rather was the establishment of my consultancy that took a lot of time. The goal was to establish a full framework that can be utilized instantly when in China. In doing this, I met many other small entrepreneurs, most of them consultants as well, who were enthusiastic about my plans and with whom I will be cooperation in order to get things done.

Before I tell you something about what kind of work I will be doing in China, let me first share some observations with you considering small entrepreneurs. The Netherlands, so I've heard, is the second most densely populated country as it comes to consultancy. Only the US has more small sized consultancy companies. At the moment, because of meager economic activity, this sector got some heavy blows. In a way, consultancy is a luxury, and when economy fails to deliver fat profits, the first budget costs are on hiring consultancy offices. Almost everybody I told about me setting up a consultancy, asked me if this was a wise descision. I know it is a wise descision for I will not operate in the Netherlands but in China. China's economy is still booming. Secondly, many Dutch investors acknowledge entering the Chinese market is a long term investment that needs to be prepared well. Hiring a consultancy specialized in the Chinese market therefore becomes an integral part of this long term investment. Another interesting observation is that a lot of freelance and small sized consultancy offices are looking beyond our border for international opportunities. Of course, they are more or less forced by the current economic developments. A lot of these small entrepreneurs have turned their eyes on China.

Originally, it was the idea to further develop my consulting activities when in China. But in the past few months I met so many others withs plans to do consultancy and other projects in China, that I am now way ahead of my original planning.

At the university I tought the subject of globalization. An important part of globalizations is the emergence of the network organization, as described by Castells (1996: pp. 151-168) and others, such as Gipouloux (in: Chan Kwok Bun (ed.) 2000: pp. 57-70). The theory, in short, is about companies increasingly cooperate with each other in order to be flexible and costsaving to operate efficiently on the global market. Small and medium sized companies (SME), such as DuoArts Consultancy, the company I recently established, have the advantage to operate flexible becaus of the size. The complete lack of bureaucracy in SME's, which disables quick descision making and actions, enables this. This advantage, however, incorporates a disadvantage as well. Large organizations possess every kind of specialization: managers, technical staff, administration, accountants, internal consultants and lawyers, to name just a few. A one man company impossibly can be an expert on all these fields and therefore has to cooperate with other SME's that possess these capacities. As a consequence, small entrepreneurs mainly operate within networks, especially in the sector in which I am active, namely consultancy.

As I found out, these networks are highly flexible, lack formal procedures, indeed one might even say that many small entrepreneurs have an aversy against formal (bureaucratic) procedures. This makes the environment much more uncertain than is true in the bigger organizations, but at the same time much more exiting as well. My company now is part of a few networks that have been developing the last five months.

Market in Dongping, nearby school (read below), June 2004 

The first network DuoArts in part of, is a cooperation between my company and a consultancy company specialized in human resource management. The owner of this one (wo)man enterprise accompanied a trade mission to China in January last year. There she signed a memorandum of mutual understanding, a kind of basic agreement to cooperate with the Chinese in some kind of commercial project. The project is about sending Dutch interim managers to Chinese state-owned enterprises in the Southern province of Guandong. Many state-owned enterprises lack behind current developments of professionalization in China and therefore the Guandong government is actively involved in this project. Besides the Chinese government the network consists of the following players: both the Dutch Ministeries of Foreign and Economic affairs, a Amsterdam based MBA educational institute, several interim (freelance) and human resource managers. Two China-experts are involved, including me.

Staff of Better Life School. Dongping, June 2004 

Another network I am involved in, is quite different, although it still has to do with China. Although China's economy is growing and more people enjoy (almost) the same welfare level as in the West, the bigger part of the 1.3 billion Chinese (estimated at 1.1 billion people) still lives in poor conditions and lacking any opportunity to benefit from China's development. What gets little attention in Dutch newspapers and magazines is that, especially in rural areas, the situation many times becomes that explosive that social unrest and small scale rebellions are the consequence. Of course, the Chinese government doesn't want the rest of the world to know and they actually do a rather good job in keeping this kind of news to themselves. At the same time, the Chinese government is not just supressing these rebellions, but also tries to involve the poorer regions into the economic growth. In theory it looks good but in practice it turns out to be much more difficult, unfortunately. In order to use my knowledge not just for commercial purposes, I have joined a group of small entrepreneurs that engage in developmental and empowerment projects. The first succesful project has been done in Ruanda, where a restaurant has been opened to help women to become financially independent. The next project will take place in China and mainly concentrates on educating disadvantaged children, that is, children from minority groups within China, children from underdeveloped rural areas and children of migrant workers in the big Chinese cities, that lack any formal status. A future project will be an intercultural exchange project aiming at upcoming artists in both the Netherlands and China. Another player in this network is Tom, who has set up a school by himself last year and which I opened officially.

Yes, I guess I will be extremely bussy when in China. But that's no problem. These kinds of activities rather gives me energy than that it takes.

The pictures throughout this text are photos taken during the opening of Tom's school.

Front of the 'Better Life' School in Dongping, June 2004 


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