How penniless Ben started his own company

Ben is the first entrepreneur I’ve met who’s never heard of the word ‘entrepreneur’. True: his English isn’t too hot, let alone his French. Also true: the New York Stock Exchange along with many others wouldn’t count an online clothing store reselling sweaters from a factory in Guangzhou as a company. But I was curious how a graduate from a no-name university in Shanxi got his own business running in a county still – on the tin at least – the ‘C’ word.

The answer? Good ole dad. His father – a salesman – gave Ben 20,000 RMB (£2000) when he graduated from university to try his luck in Beijing. It’s a gift which Ben has – unasked – ‘repaid’ roughly half of. A very Chinese act from a culture which values filial piety and regards supporting your parents when they’re old a crucial duty. So what has this 20,000 turned into, a year and a half on? Between 70,000 and 80,000, Ben tells me. That’s the communist spirit!

I asked this question especially in the light of the rising figures of graduate unemployment – expected to be 7 million next year and growing. Those 7 million will include less from Beida and Tsinghua than from the likes of Ben’s old university, but it’s a curve on a graph which will likely be on the minds of soon-to-be-graduates across China, especially in an economic crisis (which is discussed by students as much here as it is in the West).

One upshot of this: there’s more for a student to lose from any kind of political activity. That’s yet another reason to add to the bucket-full of why there isn’t and won’t be any outspoken sympathy for the Tian’anmen movement over its current twentieth anniversary.

By the way, that Economist article I link above mentions a new government loan of 50,000 RMB – £5000 – for graduates to start their own business. Ben had heard of it but thinks it applies only for Beijing students, not those from a countryside province like his. True or no, I think that speaks volumes for how those from the countryside view the prospect of big government in Beijing helping their little capitalist endeavours. And as a point of comparison, I guess that an English graduate in Ben’s position would have thought of a bank loan as his first option…