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China’s demographic timebomb

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I recently retired as UK senior partner of BDO after 23 years as a partner with the firm. Last year, I took upA position as visiting professor at Xiamen University, China. My wife is Chinese and I?decided to’spend three months exploring business opportunities in the region and trying to learn some Mandarin.

I’m blogging about my experiences in China for Real Business catch up on my journey so far (see “related articles” on the right-hand side).

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One of the many challenges of China’s demographics is the imbalance of the male:female ratio. In very few provinces is it in equilibrium (and in Hainan, for example, it is 1.14:1).

The future implications of this imbalance in areas as diverse as healthcare, education, town-planning, consumer markets, leisure, migration, future birthrates and “society’s health” may be profound.

Chinese women have a key traditional role in community and family life. One could imagine a sci-fi scenario of a frustrated, alienated, testosterone-fuelled society, with a lack of female influence to balance it.

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Culture and language structure can increase the risk of misunderstanding: a Chinese person who is asked “Is it raining today?”, looks out of the window, sees snow falling, may well answer the question literally: “It is not raining today”.

When a western ear hears that answer, it will be processed as something like “It is not raining in China and there is nothing exceptional about the weather there at the moment, which I need to know”.

Even when one does not mean to be economical with the truth, it can happen. (My thanks to Professor Paul Gillis for this anecdote).

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