6 Memorable Things I Learned in China

One Belt One Road (OBOR)

This summer I traveled to Beijing and Ningxia, thanks to the China Unlimited contest organized by the China EU Mission. I had hoped to learn more about China’s ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative reviving the old silk roads (because it will have global implications) and about the Chinese language (because I am studying Mandarin). I sure did, and pass some highlights on to you:

1) The best Chinese language teacher I know is called Leo Fu. He teaches at Beijing International Chinese College北京 汉语学院

Chinese character lessonsLeo Fu (Chinese name Fu Qiang) made me see that the key to learning and remembering Chinese characters is understanding their pictographic origins, often dating back more than 4000 years. He will soon publish a Chinese etymology book, a kind of Chinese Mendeljev’s Table (I can’t wait!). Beijing International Chinese College also has a wonderful open library, I discovered. One day I will return to China and study Mandarin for real. Leo Fu will be the first person I’ll call.

2) Oracle Bones offer unique insights into China’s distant past

Oracle Bones

They also gave Leo Fu, who copied many oracle bones inscriptions as a child (straight from the bones onto his notebook – that was still possible back then), his love for Chinese characters. Oracle bones, usually made from shoulder blades of oxen, were used in ancient (Shang dynasty) China as tools to find out about the future. Pits were bored into the bones. A diviner would ask a question to the ancestors, apply hot pokers to the pits, and interpret the cracks that appeared as a result. The answers of the ancestors were written on the bone, together with the date.

Standing in front of ancient oracle bones in Beijing and recognizing many of the characters, I suddenly understood. The Chinese – who still honor and respect their ancestors more than most of us do in the West – are uniquely connected to their distant past. And it is thanks to their script, first recorded on Oracle Bones.

3) Ningxia was an economic hub on the Silk Road when the Han (206 BC-220 AD) and the Tang (618-907 AD) ruled China

Ningxia museum Tang Dynasty horse

There is ample evidence for that in Yinchuan’s Ningxia museum, where I stood face to face with delightfully expressive animals – like this horse unearthed from a Tang Dynasty tomb. The museum also houses beautiful Hui Muslim relics, including the smallest Koran in the world. Not bigger than a thumbnail, remarkable!

4) … And is gearing up to be a major hub again as the ‘One Belt One Road’ project unfolds

China’s ‘One Belt One Road’ (OBOR) initiative reviving the old silk roads is starting to get much attention in Europe and the US: how will it affect global trade patterns, what will it mean for business, what are smart ways to collaborate? Ningxia, with its large Muslim population, is clearly determined to play its part. The roads are better than they are in Brussels. A high-speed line linking Yinchuan with Xi’An is in the making. And Yinchuan’s state-of- the-art iBi Business Incubation Park (see header image) looks certain to attract many innovative startups and investors (hello digital silk road).

How will OBOR, probably the most significant global economic initiative in the world today, affect your business? Here are some good and recent studies:

HKTDC Research – China Trade: One Belt One Road, Navigating the New Silk Road

McKinsey: China’s One Belt One Road will it Reshape Global Trade?

5) The Chinese know a thing or two about perseverance

They managed to plant and cultivate countless vines and goji berry plants, despite repeated setbacks, harsh winters and an initial lack of water. Ningxia’s wines are now winning international prizes. Ningxia’s goji berries are sweet and tasty, and the leaves make for an excellent cup of tea (I am having one right now). When the Chinese get into things, it is always for the long haul. OBOR will become a fact of life, and probably sooner than we think.

6) Chinese university students are bright and keen to get to know us better

China's Ningxia university students

I much enjoyed getting to know the students of Ningxia University 宁夏大学. They asked us many detailed questions, mostly in excellent English (this never fails to amaze me, my Mandarin is nowhere near as good). I was intrigued by how much they knew about my home country, pleasantly surprised by the interest they showed in our company HRS, touched by their hunger to learn more. They certainly proved the point I have been making for a while: the Chinese learn from us more quickly than we learn from them.

Thoughts, Feedback, Questions? Get In Touch:


Hanneke with Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong, European Commissioner Navracsics, and other China Unlimited Contest winners

Hanneke Siebelink is Research Partner and Writer at HRS Business Transformation Services, and author of several books. Her current research focuses on how leaders build successful organizations by increasing the quality and effectiveness of collaboration across companies, functions, and cultures. She is particularly interested in China and East-West relations and is learning Mandarin Chinese. Find out more about Hanneke and HRS services. If you would like to invite us to your organization, contact us here.

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Photo’s: Copyright HRS Business Transformation Services

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