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China’s big push for its global trade narrative

The aim is a soft-power message of a China which is mighty but peaceful, delivering what it can to the world in exchanges of mutual benefit. But the belt and road is much more ambitious than a camel caravan.

By land and by sea, through transport networks, telecoms, energy pipelines and industrial hubs, it promises to integrate more than 60 countries and 60% of the world’s population.

And for domestic Chinese audiences, the story of the belt and road is told with a different emphasis, focusing less on the wins for foreigners and more on opportunities for China’s impoverished west and assisting China’s push up the value chain into industries like high speed rail and nuclear power.

What’s that thing about life and art and imitation?

While the US and EU struggle to keep their own narratives afloat, China is embracing this powerful catalyst on a number of levels.

Consider the parallel narrative in this wildly popular tv show.

The most consistent economic storyline is Li’s relentless pursuit of growth and the problems this narrow focus brings. He himself seems clean, but turns a blind eye to corruption around him. His insistence on moving quickly causes real harm. As a young official, a frenzied drive to build a country road leads to a village chief’s death. Later in his career, his hasty decision to bulldoze a factory sparks a protest in which more than 30 people are injured.

This sorry record seems grounds to object to Li. Instead, this flawed figure is by far the show’s most beloved, more so than the dedicated, upright officials who lead the party’s anti-graft battle. Online merchants, a good bellwether of trends, have started selling versions of the sleeveless jumper and tea Thermos that he favours. The internet memes doing the rounds—for instance, a pledge to “defend GDP” for Li’s sake—are partly in jest but do reveal support for public servants in his mould.

Also – for some interesting insight into the power of narrative in business, check out Aswath Damodaran’s Narrative and Numbers: The Value of Stories in Business

Have a great weekend!