Will Ben Win in China?

I just watched a new film about the Chinese reality TV show ‘Win in China’ (also subject of a cracking piece in The Atlantic by James Fallows). The show makes budding Chinese entrepreneurs jump through hoops to test their business acumen, eventually whittling over a hundred thousand competitors down to one winner. The total prize money dished out is over $5 million, to help competitors with their business ventures. And the wider impact is giving its viewers the know-how to make money in commapitalist China.

The documentary is a lot of fun, letting the interest of the show speak for itself. I met the director, Ole Schell, here in Berkeley, who got a good feel for the entrepreneurial energy of young China during his year in Beijing in which he shot the film. Here’s the trailer:

Ben is, as you might expect, a big fan of the show. He likes the Wolf, even if he agreed Song Wenming deserved to win. But his eyes were all for one of the celebrity judges, Ma Yun (or Jack Ma) – who founded Alibaba and TaoBao, where Ben lists his own online shop. Ma Yun is his idol, together with Huang Guangyu, who when he he started had nothing to his name (and now? well, actually now he’s under investigation for stock market manipulation, but still…).

Will Ben be the next Ma or Huang? “I’d like to be like them,” he says, “but it’s too far from me.” His ladies clothing website is ticking along with a nice profit, and his next step is to set up a store in Beijing – just like Huang did when he was as old as Ben (23, coincidentally the same age as Ma when he founded TaoBao). Ben estimates he needs close to 20,000 kuai (£1800) surplus cash to do this. Next time I see him I’ll suggest season 4 of ‘Win in China’.

Oh, and to give a little perspective: Ben’s father, as described to me, is every bit as hard-working and full of ideas as his son. Except he was young at a time when the word “entrepreneur” would get you and your parents into a real hell. During the Cultural Revolution, Ben’s father worked as a driver, carrying coal to his hometown. Now his son runs his own business online, turning over 500 kuai (£45) profit on a good day – a winner in China, I hope.