For years tech giants like Facebook and Google have tried to set up shop in China only to see their efforts blocked by the country’s restrictive government. In place of these global brands, domestic companies like the search engine Baidu and the social network Weibo have flourished among China’s enormous Internet community. And in an ironic twist, this growing tech sector owes much of its success to the structure and culture of Silicon Valley’s biggest names.
Many Chinese companies are set up in a way that is similar to how the country’s government operates. These strictly hierarchical businesses tend to demand conformity among their employees and discourage any “outside the box” thinking. While this system may work in manufacturing or other tightly regimented industries, it’s an almost impossible framework to place on an innovative tech startup. Instead, Chinese companies have long turned to Silicon Valley’s open office plans for inspiration and guidance.
For example, one of Baidu’s founders produced a documentary on Silicon Valley in the 1990s and used what he learned to structure his own company. Many other Chinese entrepreneurs seek direction from a 1999 TV movie called “The Pirates of Silicon Valley,” a dramatization of the rivalry between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. “Silicon Valley has become a kind of beacon of cultural change in China,” said venture capitalist David Chao. “Hollywood could impact what kind of handbag a lady buys in China, but it never impacted corporate culture like Silicon Valley has.” Despite the heavy influence of foreign tech companies, though, the Chinese government will likely continue to block Facebook and Google from operating in the country.
- What aspects of Silicon Valley’s company culture do you think are most appealing to Chinese tech companies?
- Why does the Chinese government keep out foreign tech companies like Facebook and Google?
Source: Paul Mozur, “Silicon Valley’s Culture, Not Its Companies, Dominates in China,” The New York Times, December 4, 2016. Photo by bfishadow.