Thomas Friedman: Brains vs. Language

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Thomas Friedman speaking yesterday in the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun:

Funabashi: Among the emerging Asian countries, India seems to have an advantage in globalization because of its citizens’ high English ability. But there are reports that as many as 350 million people are now studying English in China. In a globalizing world, how does English ability impact on a country’s potential?

Friedman: Knowing English was an early advantage for India in a couple of areas. One is, obviously, call centers, where you had to know English to serve an English-speaking company. But today, the second-largest outsourcing capital in the world is Dalian, China, where thousands of Japanese-speaking Chinese are now running the backrooms and writing the software of major Japanese multinationals and American multinationals formerly based in Tokyo. And, as I’m sure people here are aware, there are Japanese language schools on every other corner in Dalian. Japanese language is now required for two years at many schools in Dalian, and I would hardly say that speaking English in Dalian today is a great advantage. In fact, speaking Japanese would be a huge advantage. That’s the first point I would make.

The second point I would make is that in terms of hard-core business processes, so much of this is about writing code and things of that nature, that I believe at the end of the day business will go to where the brains are and not where the language is. You will meet companies today in the United States who have already skipped over India and gone right to China for basically the next generation of business process engineering.

In working on my book, I interviewed Bill Gates, and he told me that Microsoft opened its third research center in the world in Beijing in 1998. It used to just have a research center in Cambridge, England, nice English-speaking place, and Redmond, Washington. He told me they opened their research center in China by giving IQ tests to 2,000 Chinese around the country, Ph.D.s and engineering students, recommended to them, and out of those 2,000 they basically chose 20 to open the research center in China.

Now, think what it is actually to be one of those 20 out of a country of 1.3 billion people. In fact, they have a saying at the Microsoft Research Center in China: In China, when you’re one in a million, there are 1,300 other people just like you.

Now, what Bill Gates will also tell you is that today the China Research Center is the leading research center in Microsoft. You know what he’ll also tell you, though? He’ll tell you that Microsoft’s best game designers all come from Japan. I bet none of them speak English, or very few. So, I don’t think this is going to be about language. I think the language advantage is going to quickly be arbitraged out. There’ll be more Chinese speakers on the Internet very, very soon.

Related: Why India Will (Probably) Never Catch China, China vs. India: Part I

53 Comments

  1. I think the advantage that China possesses is steady and focused direction by a political elite who were promoted on the basis of merit, and who genuinely have the interests of the country as their focus. Even old KMT guys I used to meet back in Taiwan love the present round of CCP leaders. They think Deng Xiao Ping is the country’s greatest hero.  
     
    Additionally, China’s present political leaders do not need to spend time campaigning or courting the electorate. They can devote all their energies to the problems at hand.  
     
    In spite of India’s awesome potential, as demonstrated by their diaspora, I’m assuming that the fractious nature of representative democracy in such a heterogenous political unit is a parlous impediment to development. The CCP does not have this problem.

  2. China is a teetering house-of-cards. Build on China at your own peril. Superficial glances at surface phenomenon leads you astray when the profound subterranean faults are the most active. Look deep into the gathering gloom that is China.

  3. Well, that exchange was certainly whatever the opposite of a consensus is… ;)

  4. China has the strengths and weaknesses of one-party rule. The good news is, when the guys at the top are smart and are leading things in a good direction, there are few impediments. The bad news is, when the guys at the top are fools and are destroying the country, there are likewise few impediments.

  5. Real Flavour, your comment intrigues. Could you elaborate or provide a link? Signed, Curious About The Coming Gloom

  6. As the communist (china) and socialist (aka “third way” in India) has shown, policy matters as much as human capital, perhaps more so. China is showing huge leaps, but from an abysmal base. They still don’t have property rights, a system of GAAP accounting that would allow appropriate allocation of capital (who is really making money?), or a modern financial system. These are major impediments to taking either country to truly developed country status, and aren’t being addressed.

  7. Ken, 
     
    I agree that Deng Xiao Ping will be viewed by future generations as God-like in his leadership and political skills, wisdom and prescience – I certainly greatly admire his ability to drive change from within and survive. 
     
    However both India’s and China’s political systems have their weaknesses, in terms of driving economic change. India’s due to the need for democratic consensus, when tough decision have to be made, that have negative impacts on one area or another. China’s due to the animosity between the haves and have-nots, and the lack of personal freedoms for the already first-world residents of the major coastal cities.

  8. Jason, 
     
    While I am a great admirer of Thomas Friedman’s impartiality, I think he misses the big picture in a few places in this article, particularly the implications of his own initial statements.  
     
    If some companies are bypassing India for software development and BPO (Business Process Outsourcing), and looking to China instead, so what. All BPO decisions are driven by economics, where can I get a product with >= x quality for

  9. What I find very interesting, in light of my recent comments on the future of China, and the negative reaction and incredulity or some of the regular readers of this blog to them, is that another interviewee in this article – William Pfaff – essentially echoes my earlier comments verbatim. 
     
    My feeling is that China’s power today tends to be greatly overestimated. I say that in full recognition of the spectacular growth in GNP, or GDP, which China has experienced in recent years. But I note that this economic success is based on foreign investment and is directed toward export. In other words, it is a service to the most developed industrial countries, not an autonomous phenomenon or development of China and its own economy. China does not function by autonomous technology; it is not a leading technological innovator. It may become one, but at the present time it is a derivative economy

  10. I think an interesting point is the degree to which the US is being dragged down by our recruiting laws. Microsoft gave IQ tests in China because they could. They would like to do that in the US but legally cannot. Does anyone know if there are similar laws in other countries? Maybe I should look for work outside of the US.

  11. I wonder if it would work for companies to recruit US citizens overseas and then let them come home. 
     
    Vacation in China (or Mexico, even), interview for a job, come home and work. 
     
    Maybe it’s too expensive. Maybe the law already regulates recruiting US citizens by US companies anywhere in the world. Or maybe it’ll be the next big thing…

  12. Michael, 
     
    When I joined Mensa 15 years ago and had my IQ tested, I was contacted about 3 weeks later by D E Shaw & Co, who said they had seen my Mensa score and wanted me to drop by for an interview at my earliest convenience. I’ve no idea if they still have such a program, or if any other companies have any hookups to Mensa today.

  13. Oh crap, my earlier post got truncated – I guess the comments parser can’t handle certain things?! 
     
    Here’s what I was saying: 
     
    If some companies are bypassing India for software development and BPO (Business Process Outsourcing), and looking to China instead, so what. All BPO decisions are driven by economics, where can I get a product with >= x quality for “les than”= y dollars. If we hold x constant, meaning that both India and China can produce a product of sufficient quality, then all that is being selected for is cost. From what I know of BPO, India is the leader and so feels justified in charging a little more, whereas China is the new kid on the block and offers sweetners in terms of lower prices, no new story here. What you may not know is that a year ago or so, some companies were bypassing China for BPO, and looking to Vietnam – now that’s a story! Of course when Vietnam comes onstream, it may be the Phillipines, Indonesia, Brazil or Mexico next.

  14. BTW, Germany increasingly is outsourcing to Bulgaria and Romania, as both countries have IT people highly proficient in German, as most Eastern European countries used to take German as a required course in school – not to mention the Germanic enclaves in Transylvania.

  15. Many people have high expectations of AI (Artificial Intelligence) systems, but one of the core areas being researched in this field is machine translation. There will come a day when anyone anywhere can pick up a phone and talk to anyone else anywhere and have the conversation translated on the fly into the appropriate language or dialect, with the correct tonality and pitch to indicate sex, class and status. When that day comes – not in my lifetime – I’m not sure what will happen to all the ESL teachers?! But it surely will be a level playing field for the speakers of all languages.

  16. “There will come a day when anyone anywhere can pick up a phone and talk to anyone else anywhere and have the conversation translated on the fly into the appropriate language or dialect, with the correct tonality and pitch to indicate sex, class and status.” 
     
    That may never happen, unless they build a computer that could simulate the human brain. Which may never happen.

  17. “India’s awesome potential, as demonstrated by their diaspora” 
     
    The other post mentions a measured IQ of 80 which is more than one standard deviation below the European average, although it also mentions an IQ of 96 in the UK for South Asians. Some of these immigrants may be from the upper castes and that may be distorting the picture. For example, from the other post: 
     
    “my going assumption is that India’s lower castes have substantially lower IQs than the upper castes, because they require racial quotas yet are still in abject poverty” 
     
    However, if the castes were formed when India was substantially less of a meritocracy than it is now, it is not obvious that the caste differences are genetic. It is not obvious how the castes formed in the first place. Why Indian IQ is more than a standard deviation below Chinese IQ is not clear because that is a far greater difference than what one would expect from Asian/Caucasian behavioral genetic differences alone. And it’s not clear that environmental conditions are much worse in rural India than they are in rural China, although apparently Indians are more inbred than Chinese.

  18. >>China is a teetering house-of-cards. Build on China at your own peril. Superficial glances at surface phenomenon leads you astray when the profound subterranean faults are the most active. Look deep into the gathering gloom that is China. 
     
    I find it funny how any time someone says something on these lines, they never go into specifics. I wonder if they are even able to be specific.

  19. >>I think an interesting point is the degree to which the US is being dragged down by our recruiting laws. Microsoft gave IQ tests in China because they could. They would like to do that in the US but legally cannot. Does anyone know if there are similar laws in other countries? Maybe I should look for work outside of the US. 
     
    I know that airplane pilots for major airlines are given IQ tests (or it use to be the case) and potential NFL players are also given these tests. Gates use to ask potential microsoft employees a riddle at the job interview to test their “intelligence”.

  20. the brown diaspora is selection biased in many cases (the USA the most, other nations less so). in contrast, all the evidence for china points to high IQ (ie; within the homeland and in the diaspora). china is the sure bet in terms of raw cognitive capital.

  21. “They would like to do that in the US but legally cannot.” 
     
    It may not be entirely illegal because there are things called “in-basket” tests which I believe are created using statistical techniques that are similiar to those used for IQ tests. And something called the Wonderlic is used for many different job openings. I’m not sure what the actual laws are. The only one I know of is one in California that bars the use of IQ tests with African American students in schools and that law may have been challenged recently by a parent.

  22. What’s the West gonna do? We keep hearing that we will move up the chain from commodity manufacturing to the “knowledge economy” – which generally meant IT etc. In fact we are moving down the chain to retail and other low level jobs, if you look to the statistics.

  23. “He told me they opened their research center in China by giving IQ tests to 2,000 Chinese around the country, Ph.D.s and engineering students, recommended to them, and out of those 2,000 they basically chose 20 to open the research center in China.” 
     
    They could’ve done better. Chances are many of the rejected candidates had slightly lower IQs but were much more creative. I think once you reach a certain level of intelligence, other factors determine innovative success.

  24. China is doing a masterful job of building its military on the sly. The aim is probably to scare the US off, in the event of a Taiwan invasion. Getting John Kerry elected might have been cheaper. 
     
    I agree with Conroy that China’s economic infrastructure is not very sound. Plenty of cash from foreign exchange, serving as the democratized west’s cheap supplier of manufactured goods. Very topheavy, though. A lot of discontent among the hundreds of millions on the low end.

  25. “Of course when Vietnam comes onstream, it may be the Phillipines, Indonesia, Brazil or Mexico next.” 
     
    Jeez, Pconroy where have you been? 
     
    http://www.philexport.ph/itps2.html (MEMBERS, metro of Manila)  
    http://www.innodata-isogen.com/company/corporate_faq_pdf 
     
    I’ve been gone for 8 years so i am sure there are more companies there now. 
     
    I remember this woman from Singapore, she was “training” some abstractors in Manila. One of the trainees said something about “… lost letters from UK” The Singapore woman freaked out and scathingly reprimanded the trainee “Its “lose”, not lost, complete with the dagger look. The trainees looked at each other, tried so hard not to laugh. 
     
    Thinking about it now, I should have said something back then. But then again, why change them, let them make a fool out of herself. LOL.

  26. Horatio, surely once you reach a certain level of IQ other factors determine success, but could Microsoft really have done better? How would they have identified the truly creative. Grades and degrees identify a certain level of conscientiousness etc, but beyond a point they may indicate against creativity. Family histories of mental illness might indicate creativity, but do they indicate more potential as an employee? Flat gender discrimination might help somewhat, outside of literature I doubt that the intellectual achievements of women are as great as those of men even controlling for IQ. Likewise, you might rationally discriminate in an Rushton manner. At a given IQ I’d be shocked if Africans weren’t more creative than Europeans, who are more creative than Asians. You might still get more creativity from Jews when IQ is controlled for. You could just ask people for examples of creative things they had done. Even if some people lied you would get some information, but selection for good liars might be a greater cost than the benefit of creativity. The same goes for selecting people high in psychometric “openness”.

  27. By the way, Openness supposedly doesn’t correlate with life outcomes, but does correlate with IQ, does anyone know if this means that controlling for IQ openness correlates negatively with life outcomes?

  28. Openness supposedly doesn’t correlate with life outcomes, but does correlate with IQ, does anyone know if this means that controlling for IQ openness correlates negatively with life outcomes? 
     
    95% certain the answer is – no

  29. I suspect that a low openness isn’t even possible in those of very superior IQ. My impression of the intellectually gifted is of people who love ideas, especially new ones. Negative life outcomes are therefore exceedingly unlikely in high IQ people, with the exception being made for the mentally unstable – the gifted but nutty.

  30. Without wanting to needlessly disparage anyone who has posted here, the vast majority of Westerners in China – let alone pundits back in the West who have never visited the PRC at all, have really no idea whatsoever about the situation in the country, and often derive the most improbable and ridiculous conclusions from their observations. 
     
    I would be very wary about making uninformed assertions about the PRC (probably a good rule of thumb for any topic of discussion in fact) because the situation here is quite complicated, and changes are so swift. I would be even more wary about any peremptory pronouncements by self-professed China experts – if you give their background information a cursory glance,you’ll often find they’re woefully underqualified. Many Westerners who blog from China, for example,and set themselves up as experts, would not be able to read a menu in Mandarin, let alone a newspaper or a magazine. I’d assume literacy in the official language is a basic prerequisite for understanding a country.

  31. “the lack of personal freedoms for the already first-world residents of the major coastal cities” 
     
    PConroy, they really don’t give a shit, as long as they can make money and buy what they want.

  32. China beats India in pretty much any economic comparison. 
     
    China’s GDP per capita is higher than India’s and is growing faster. 
     
    China wants to be the next America, India wants to be the next China. 
     
    Although India does seem to have a greater propensity to consume American products and better protection of intellectual property. 
     
    Its intresting to note that India actually has a net trade deficit, compared to China’s huge trade surplus.

  33. Leviathan, 
     
    China also has 60% more workers than India and fewer kids. That means they invest more than India but get a higher growth than India inspite of their investment efficiency being ~40% lower than India. 
     
    Razib, 
     
    You say that “the brown diaspora is selection biased” but others are not? Given that a large fraction of both Indian and Chinese population have recently immigrated are you saying the Indians are given IQ tests at the airport but the Chinese are just waved in? You may be able to explain why the Indian-White household income gap is nearly as big as the White-Black gap by selection bias but not the Indian-Chinese gap.

  34. IQ has a lot to do with environment and education. 
    China has a history of rapid economic expansion followed by collapse.

  35. Given that a large fraction of both Indian and Chinese population have recently immigrated are you saying the Indians are given IQ tests at the airport but the Chinese are just waved in? 
     
    i know a lot about the chinese diaspora. ie; its predominantly fujian, guandong and hakka origins, etc. yes, there is selection biasing. i’m just saying, chinese are a sure thing. chinese never need special pleading, they make malaysia run, have turned singapore into a first world nation at the equator, etc. etc. the indians who are not selection biased for education, the indentured laborers of guyana, mauritius and trinidad have done decently considering their deprived socioeconomic origins (in guyana and trinidad they dominate the private sectors), but they have not made those states flower. malaysia is a good comparison point i think. of course, one could argue that if one had taken peasants from north china plain instead of enterprising fujianese, things might have been different in malaysia, etc. etc. but again, for the brown diaspora excuses must be made. not so for the chinese (north chinese peasants are going to dominate manchuria). 
     
    this is not to say that i believe that 80 is the “inherent” IQ of south asia anymore than i believe parts of sub-saharan africa are around 65. but if you want me to bet money on china vs. india, china is a sure thing. even if you look at the vital stats like literacy india is blown away by china. there are surely culturalist non-innate reasons for this, but culture tends to influence genetics via the baldwin effect. 
     
    in any case, kerala might be a good test for measuring south asia’s innate aptitude because gross proverty and cretinism is lacking there, and literacy rate is high, but i suspect there is a lot more population substructure there and gross generalizations elide over a lot of detail. sikhs and mirpuris in britain might be a good assay for the impact of culture since i have been told these two groups (genetically the same basically, speaking the same language, etc.) were not very selection biased but the sikhs have “fit in” far better in england than the mirpuris (the “pakistanis” you read about). 
     
    but again, i don’t want to go into the detail, in the final estimation, bet on the yellow over the brown if you couldn’t pick a sector. 
     
    p.s. i expect the western media will fixate on india a lot in the near future no matter what china does because i don’t think the chinese are going to produce the same sort of literary and intellectual output in english as india does for at least another generation (ie; rushdie, roy and so on).

  36. surely once you reach a certain level of IQ other factors determine success 
     
    Many to most famous inventors and creative types I’ve heard of did not attend top universities or provide evidence of IQ’s more than 2 deviations past the norm. 
     
    Clearly the distinct advantages of high IQ’s progressively diminish as scores rise over 125 or so. Beyond that, other factors like people skills, motivation, and innovation (thinking outside the box) play ever larger roles. 
     
    but could Microsoft really have done better? (recruiting for creativity) 
     
    Tricky skill, that. Pattern recognition tests are a start, though they don’t ask for anything innovative. Essay type answers minimaly require creation of an essay, but are open to BS artists. 
     
    It may sound silly, but for an engineering firm testing for creativity, perhaps giving applicants a set of Lego’s, or similar building toys, and asking them to build something new without plans would be a good start. 
     
    Can’t remember if I heard about a company actually testing recruits with Lego’s, but maybe…

  37. Didn’t Jason Malloy mention a few threads back about how Chinese real IQ may be lower than we commonly think because of the Chinese government’s reluctance to share that sort of information? I don’t remember the thread, and I can’t search the Haloscan archives (or can I?). 
     
    Is there any more information on that?

  38. No, that was pconroy, who said that all IQ data from China must be disregarded completely regardless of the results or circumstances under which it was collected. 
     
    I guess Bill Gates should disregard his best research facility, as his method for creating it was illegitimate.

  39. kennteoh wrote: 
    PConroy, they really don’t give a shit, as long as they can make money and buy what they want. 
     
    Not this generation so much, but the next. Remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, once one need is satisfied, the next higher one becomes important etc. 
     
    So once coastal Chinese have 2 SUV’s and a 4 bedroom house, next they will demand elected officials.

  40. Leviathan wrote: 
    China wants to be the next America, India wants to be the next China. 
     
    I don’t agree with either of these statements.  
    China will never be the US, they are evolving into a great economic power, but hardly into one like the US. 
    India is more like the US in many ways, with democracy hiding huge gaps in society, between a multitude of different groups. 
     
    In terms of software and BPO, China is definately late to the table and trying to play catchup with India. 
     
    I think that we are seeing the start of both China and India seeing that they can benefit from more cooperation between themselves.

  41. P Conroy, 
    I was trying to say that in terms of economic power, India aims to equal China, China aims to equal America. 
     
    Their goals speak volumes about their current economic position.

  42. kennteoh 
     
    I’ve been in China for a year now. I can order in a restaurant in Chinese, but I certainly can’t read the menu (my business partner speaks perfect mandarin, but also cannot read).  
     
    I have argued with pconroy on the supposed north-south IQ divide. No doubt he is probably being deliberately provocative, but has also made us think. 
     
    The fact is most Chinese think that southerners are smarter.  
     
    If there is an IQ difference how could it be? I took a look at province-by-province university exam results and there is no glaring difference between south and the central zone (although dongbei and west are behind).  
     
    Europe certainly has more variation in phenotype, yet IQ is remarkable constant over the continent. Why should the idea of conquering barbarians lowering IQs and pushing smarter populations to the peripheries apply to China and not Europe? 
     
    If anything the central regions have always placed more emphasis on narrow educational achievement in the mandarin tradition than the coast. Many of the top universities are in underperforming towns like Wuhan and Nanjing.  
     
    In fact for most Chinese smart has nothing to do with IQ at all and everything to do with money and it is on this measure that the sourtherners do best. Chinese always joke that the nong ming (farmer) is the boss and the PHD the employee. Or that educated people have no dan zi (balls).

  43. “The fact is most Chinese think that southerners are smarter.” 
     
    I think you’re probably right on that point. I’ve heard a lot of Chinese express this view. They often refer to people from particular cities or languages groups who are renowned for economic and academic success as being the “Jews of China” – I’ve heard both the Hakka and people from Wenzhou (the principal source of Chinese migration to many parts of the EU) referred to as “the Jews of China”. People from Fujian and Canton also enjoy a strong reputation as businessmen and scholars in other provinces.  
     
    As regards differences between Northerners and Southerners – I’m no expert, but I recall a post on this site concerning the demic diffusion of Han culture. During the Han Dynasty, people south of the Yangtze were not ethnically Chinese (although places like the kingdoms of Yue and Wu, located in modern day Jiangsu and Zhejiang, were already heavily Sinicized).  
     
    A current issue of contention for some is whether or not Southern Chinese are the descendants of the indigenous people, who were probably Austroasiatic and Austronesian, or the descendants of immigrants from the Yellow River basin.  
     
    I’m neither a geneticist nor a Sinologist so take whatever I have to say with a grain of salt. I read (Razib can probably provided further confirmation or insight) that the paternal ancestry of Southen Chinese is mainly derived from the north, while their maternal ancestry is much more heterogenous, reflecting the fact that many immigrants to the south would have been bachelors who intermarried.  
     
    The same pattern, funnily enough, is reflected in Taiwan, where the Taiwanese (ethnic Chinese who migrated centuries ago ) say that “we have Han forefathers, but no Han foremothers”. They are the descendants of Han bachelor immigrants and indigenous women.  
     
    I’m assuming/guessing Northern Chinese probably have a fair amount of Altaic/Tungusic ancestry, given repeated invasions by steepes nomads, that served as the compelling factor for migration to the South.

  44. “Not this generation so much, but the next. Remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, once one need is satisfied, the next higher one becomes important etc.” 
     
    My impression is that most Chinese favour gradual evolution towards a more liberal, pluralistic political model. So if the next generation is likely to make demands for greater political freedom, it’s something they’re not too worried about at the moment – things will most likely have changed by that stage.  
     
    They always point to the catastrophe that occurred in Russia following rapid introduction of representative democracy and free-market reforms.

  45. I read (Razib can probably provided further confirmation or insight) that the paternal ancestry of Southen Chinese is mainly derived from the north, while their maternal ancestry is much more heterogenous, reflecting the fact that many immigrants to the south would have been bachelors who intermarried. 
     
     
    paternal and maternal lineages need to reflect full genomic ancestry (selection). but in any case, generalizing about hundreds of millions of south chinese is hard. if i had to give one answer i would probably assert that there was male mediate gene flow from north china on top of an indigenous substrate. i’ve read some historical literature which though points out that particular practices adhered to by peoples of south china (for example, the elite of guandong) are quite clearly lineally descended from the practices of the pre-han people in the region (and have cognates among highlanders). cavalli-sforza in 1994 displayed cladograms which put south chinese clustered with southeast asians rather than north chinese and northeast asians. 
     
    I’m assuming/guessing Northern Chinese probably have a fair amount of Altaic/Tungusic ancestry, given repeated invasions by steepes nomads, that served as the compelling factor for migration to the South. 
     
    the numbers of the nomads was always very small in comparison to the han substrate. and unlike the south chinese case there wasn’t as persistent an influx outsiders into the local population (the migration rate was lower).

  46. “People from Fujian and Canton also enjoy a strong reputation as businessmen and scholars in other provinces.” 
     
    Yet Fujianese appear to make up the largest proportion of poor, non-English-speaking Chinatown-dwelling immigrants in the United States.

  47. “Yet Fujianese appear to make up the largest proportion of poor, non-English-speaking Chinatown-dwelling immigrants in the United States.” 
     
    Just because they are non-English-speaking it doesn’t mean they are poor. For the first generation making money always takes precedence over scholarship, but for the second generation academic achievement takes center stage.

  48. “Just because they are non-English-speaking it doesn’t mean they are poor. For the first generation making money always takes precedence over scholarship, but for the second generation academic achievement takes center stage.” 
     
    Totally accurate.  
     
    The average level of educational attainment for my grandfather’s generation, most of whom were born and raised in China, was high-school-level. They moved to Australia and earned huge sums of money running general stores in small country towns. This was a very common thing for Chinese families to do during the mid-20th century.  
     
    Almost all of the subsequent generation entered academia or the medical and legal professions. While they are all relatively prosperous, they are far less affluent than the generation that preceded them (all of whose money was appropriated by a much maligned and resented black sheep, who now owns several shopping malls in outer Sydney).  
     
    That being said, I’ve heard that recent Fukkienese immigrants to the US and Europe tend to be very poor, and cluster in ghettos more redolent of overseas Chinese communities from the 19th and early 20th century.

  49. The “It” Language: China’s growing influence drives demand for classes
     
    “Steve Smith, a business development manager for IBM, has a sure-fire way to give his career a boost–learning to speak Chinese. 
     
    “We know that it’s going to be a big part of our lives in a way that it has not been before,” said Smith, 50, who has studied the language for four years at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn. 
     
    Mandarin Chinese, the most widely spoken form of the language, has become the new “it” language among students, business executives and others trying to gain increasingly useful career and life skills, experts say. Although instructors say the bulk of their students are professionals like Smith, kids from kindergarten to college are studying the language”

  50. Jason, 
     
    That article is hilarious, as I for one remember when many, many people were flocking to learn Japanese, as they were to become our new masters, due to their hyper-efficiency, quality control and advanced manufacturing techniques. 
     
    What many of those who rushed to learn Japanese failed to ponder was that the Japanese were merely the first to widely put into place, techniques developed in the West. Once they were put into place more widely in the West, the Japanese edge was gone. Today Japan is suffering from 10+ years of stagflation, with no end in sight. Those who learned Japanese at the time will get to practice it as tourists. 
     
    I’m not saying that this will be the same for those rushing to learn Chinese, as China is at a vastly different stage of economic development than Japan is or was then. However English is firmly the language of IT, even in France all techies use English terms for everything, avoiding the artifical ones constructed by the French language academy.

  51. Good point pconroy. I also remember the late 80′s when some people were saying that success in business in the 90′s would require fluency in Japanese. In fact I knew one clueless but condescending girl who was going to major in Japanese.  
     
    The internet has pretty much made english the de facto language of technology – and business. I think that English dominance of the internet will only grow – even if there is some sort of European grass roots backlash against English. India (like most developing countries) sees English as a language of the elite and educated. I don’t see a backlash happening there.  
     
    A question to the linguists out there. Is it harder for Western language person to learn to read Chinese, than for a Chinese person to learn English? I have heard that one must understand a couple thousand chinese characters in order to read a newspaper in china.

  52. ” Is it harder for Western language person to learn to read Chinese, than for a Chinese person to learn English?” 
     
    Either way is tremendously difficult. Although in my personal experience, I have encountered far more Mainland Chinese who have managed to acquire a reasonable degree of proficiency in English (or another Indo-european language) than the other way round.  
     
    The vast majority of Chinese-language graduates from Western universities do not possess the level of literacy required to read a newspaper. Or most street signs, for that matter. Their speaking and listening ability is generally pretty appalling as well.  
     
    This does not bode well for the future of interactions between China and the West – there is already a terrible dearth of Western linguists who possess an adequate level of Chinese language proficiency.

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