‘Israel Way’ works its magic on Chinese culture

Israel’s start-up culture is starting to have an impact on China – even on its politics, says prominent visitor

Participants in a Lahav Executive Education program at Tel Aviv University (Courtesy)
Participants in a Lahav Executive Education program at Tel Aviv University (Courtesy)

After getting a close look at “the Israel way,” China is finally starting to get it, according to Zhang Xiaonan, a news presenter on China Central TV (CCTV), the government-controlled television station that is the main source of news for hundreds of millions in China. “The Chinese penchant for conservatism is quickly disappearing, and things are changing dramatically,” Xiaonan told The Times of Israel. “The young generation is much different than its elders. They are much more independent, and not afraid to argue with others, or even with their elders.”

With that, the Chinese are developing the DNA for a start-up nation, believes Xiaonan – because, as everyone in China knows, the creativity and innovation of Israelis is the result of their “out of the box” thinking, their refusal to conform, and their determination to succeed, trying again and again with new ideas and projects until they get it right.

That, at least, is the impression the Chinese have of Israelis, many of whom – like Xiaonan – got their first taste of Israel through Lahav Executive Education, a Tel Aviv University project that organizes and runs executive training programs in management, business skill, and other related areas for professionals in a wide range of businesses in Israel. Three years ago, said Lahav CEO Udi Aharoni, the organization got the idea to run trips for Chinese executives who wanted to see the Start-Up Nation in action for themselves. “I always say that we Jews have had two major literary successes – the Bible and that book,” said Aharoni. “People all over the world have been inspired by it, and many of those in the Chinese business world who read it in their native language expressed a strong interest in seeing things for themselves.”

The book, which Xiaonan read as well, emphasizes the independent-mindedness of Israelis as a reason for the country’s start-up success – and it’s something the Chinese have worked hard to emulate. As relations between Israel and China warm up, there are more business opportunities for both sides, she said. “China can help Israel with its huge markets, and Israel can help China with innovation – not just on the tech side, but in terms of culture and business, teaching us to take risks and get more rewards.”

Connecting innovation and political freedom

Indeed, said Xiaonan, China is beginning to realize there is a connection between innovation and political freedom. Stressing that, as a government employee, she was not free to speak about politics, Xiaonan said that one thing she and other Chinese visitors to Israel enjoy is “the open society and ongoing debate about everything. We are in the process of moving in that direction in China. Things are definitely changing in the political sphere.”

Zhang Xiaonan (Courtesy)
Zhang Xiaonan (Courtesy)

In the tech sphere, China has a lot of needs that Israel has solutions for – for example, the the environmental technology that China badly needs to clean up its air and water. In recent weeks, the air pollution in Beijing has gotten a lot of media attention, but it’s actually part of a long-standing environmental crisis that China has been experiencing for years. “One reason I like Tel Aviv is because I like to jog, and that is quite difficult to do in Beijing these days,” said Xiaonan, adding that the country’s waterways and general environment are badly in need of repair as well.

But she is optimistic that, with Israeli help, the city – and country – can clean itself up. “The pollution is the result of our industrial revolution, and the situation in Beijing today can be compared to that of London in the 19th century, where the air was also extremely dirty due to industrialization. But London managed to clean itself up, and I believe Beijing will too” – and with the assistance Israel can render, the amount of time needed to improve the environment could be cut considerably, she added.

For Xiaonan, the most impressive thing about Israel isn’t the tech- it’s the Israelis, and especially the history of the Jews who live there. “The education system in your culture is very impressive, and the reason education is such an important in Israel is, it seems to me, because of the history of the Jewish people. Jews were expelled by so many countries and as a result had to leave behind their money, positions, property, and everything tangible. The only thing they could take with them was – their knowledge, and as a result, education and creativity became the most important things for them. That love of education is something we Chinese understand very well.”

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