Hanging out with gangsters, talking about global governance

It was last year in September. I spent 10 days in Shanghai doing some research on global governance, social media and the open source movement. I wrote about here and here – and I did a couple of interviews – with David Li, Marc Chijs, Carsten Ullrich … This one here happened more or less by coinincidence in a bar named Ying Yang. Ying Yang is a lesser known venue in the French Concession district in Shanghai. Full of atmosphere. Posters of Chairman Mao adorning every available wall space, the musical background floats seamlessly from bossa nova to jazz, progressive psychedelic, and everything in between – as you can hear in the interview;-) – a favorite spot for both bohemian locals and expats in-the-know.

This entire “meeting” was set up via twitter and facebook. A friend of mine, Kate Ettinger, connected me with a bunch of “gangsters” – all of them members of we.makesense.org – a worldwide network of social entrepreneurs (I would highly recommend to check them out!). Habib Belaribi, Larry Vetea Tchiou, Clément Renaud and his girl friend Qu Hongyuan (most people call her Yuan – that’s also the way she introduces herself). Over some French red wine we were chatting about Shanghai, China, makesense and global governance.

A wonderful evening.
I’ve learnt a lot.

Thank you guys! Thank you Yuan!

Where’s communism?

For the first time in my life I went to Shanghai. And I love it!
Through my friend Isaac Mao I was very well connected there and I felt immediately at home. The city had a rhythym I could easily adapt. In my eyes the right city to become role model for the affiliation between “The West” and “The East”. Much more than Hong Kong I felt.

Hopefully the following blop posts will give you an idea why I think that way.

Shanghai, they say, isn’t China. But many Chinese cities in many ways are following Shanghai’s lead. So one day Shanghai could well become China. Why? Why not?

More than 50% of China’s population already lives in cities. By the end of the decade it will be over 70%. And it’s true that cities like Shenzen or Quanzhou or Xuzhou or Najing are following where Shanghai leads. So we need to take a closer look into what’s happening in Shanghai. In its economy, its politics and its society.

It seems that consumerism has ousted communism in Shanghai. People are consuming. Consuming like crazy. They no longer save their money because of fears about the future. The future they look into is bright and invites them to spend, spend, spend. They want to have fun, they want to be happy and they want to live their own lives. Not the lives some politician thinks they should lead.

You can feel something like a generational consciousness spreading among China’s youth. David Li, a 38 year old native of Taiwan, now a consultant and entrepreneur in Shanghai, puts it this way: “The biggest challenge for the young generation is that they have to find their OWN way between the traditions of the past and the new opportunities of the present and near future.” Cozy Ge, marketing manager at XinDanWei, the first co-working space in Shanghai, says: “The biggest challenge for me is to find out who I am – not who I am meant to be.” And a young fashion designer who just quit her job where she earned 1000 CNY (around 100 Euro) a month, to start her own business “The Third Hand” – re-designing second hand designer clothes originally produced in China, sold in the West and then returned as vintage to China – told me: “When I went to design school, it was like prison. I only ’survived’ because I wanted to study so badly! I wanted to study to change my life! And now I can do what I want to do! It’s not easy, but it feels good.” “It feels good” is a phrase I’ve very often heard from young Chinese. It’s surely one of the components of this generational consciousness openness and self-confidence, democracy, and the freedom to share, benefit, collaborate, explore and experiment are the others. And, it’s important to remember that the young Chinese have no role models to learn from. There was no generation like this before in China who could teach them how to build their own businesses, how to live “free”, how to express themselves, how to be a counterpart, how to eat healthy and much much more. They have to learn from their own mistakes, they have to share their experiences and find better ways of doing things. And this I believe is the great bond that unifies them.

Yet all this is not to say that people aren’t still very much under government pressure. A young woman being videotaped asked us to cut out the parts where she was talking about the government when we had finished. Others simply refuse to answer anything to do with politics. Or what I also frequently heard when I asked people about global governance and what it means and what they themselves could do to support it was that this kind of thinking and these topics were so completely new to them that they haven’t thought about them yet – meaning they were so stuck in their mindsets that they weren’t yet aware of the broad range of chances and opportunities global governance could open up. Another way of putting it is that they are still suffering from an education which brainwashed them.