One thing hasn’t changed, though: Many Western politicians and business executives still don’t get China. Believing, for example, that political freedom would follow the new economic freedoms, they wrongly assumed that China’s internet would be similar to the freewheeling and often politically disruptive version developed in the West. And believing that China’s economic growth would have to be built on the same foundations as those in the West, many failed to envisage the Chinese state’s continuing role as investor, regulator, and intellectual property owner.
Why do leaders in the West persist in getting China so wrong? In our work we have come to see that people in both business and politics often cling to three widely shared but essentially false assumptions about modern China. As we’ll argue in the following pages, these assumptions reflect gaps in their knowledge about China’s history, culture, and language that encourage them to draw persuasive but deeply flawed analogies between China and other countries.