Hurtling into Shanghai at more than 200 miles per hour on a bullet train to attend a pre-MBA boot camp at a leading Chinese business school gave international participants a striking welcome to China’s breathtaking ascendance. And for the boot campers–prospective applicants and students from Asia, the U.S., Latin America, and Europe–the first lecture was a revelation of just how different China is.
“China is not ready for democracy,” professor Bala Ramasamy tells the boot campers at the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS). Ramasamy, a Chinese citizen of Malaysian origin, and a lively lecturer, notes that a number of Asian countries saw economic growth under dictators, including the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos, Indonesia’s Suharto, and China’s Chiang Kai Shek, who oversaw significant economic growth.
“When you come to this part of the world our definition of a dictator may be different than yours,” Ramasamy says. “I would prefer a dictator any time, a good one, because leadership, yes, is important – but it need not be a democratically elected leader. I have to defend China. Our definition of human rights is different. Human rights is survival. Human rights is getting out of poverty. If a dictator can take us out of poverty, then our human rights are actually getting better.”
NOT ALL OF CHINA READY FOR DEMOCRACY: PROF
Ramasamy’s assertion raised eyebrows around the lecture hall, particularly among the several Guatemalan participants, whose experience of dictatorship, as one woman pointed out to Ramasamy, was far from positive.
Research has shown that democracy will only last if GDP exceeds $6,000 per capita, Ramasamy says. “Shanghai is ready for democracy, but Guizhou is not,” Ramasamy says. “When we talk about political reforms in China, political reforms will move as fast as the slowest province in China. We have to wait for Guizhou to reach a certain level of development, then we can talk about democracy.”
In fact, as the boot camp was wrapping up, China was throwing more than 100 human rights lawyers and activists into jail on allegations of organizing illegal paid protests. But to be sure, the Chinese Communist Party has overseen remarkable economic progress, with the GDP growing at 10.6% in 2010, then shrinking slightly over the following years to 7.4% last year – still a high number, particularly compared to the 2.4% in the U.S. China has cut its level of extreme poverty to single-digit realms from 84% in 1980, and over the past 20 years, life expectancy has gone up five years to 75. Disposable income has risen to $4,670 this year from $1,250 in 2006, a 270% increase.
Government, Ramasamy says, is withdrawing from the economy and allowing private-sector business to take the forefront. And, says professor David Gosset, a Parisian and the school’s foremost China expert, individual freedoms to move within China, to study, and to launch enterprises have grown much stronger. “Never ever before the Chinese society, in a sense, has been more open,” Gosset says.
THE BOOT CAMP’S ONE DOMINANT MESSAGE: OPPORTUNITY
At the boot camp, a recruiting mechanism for the CEIBS international MBA program, lecturers hit participants with one dominant message: opportunity. True enough, for international students, getting an MBA from a Chinese business school provides unique opportunities – entry into a 1.3 billion-person economy, for example – and poses considerable challenges – such as trying to say “forecasting the aggregate directly” in Mandarin.
Sixty-eight early career professionals from a wide spectrum of fields attended the five-day CEIBS boot camp July 8-12, conducted in English as is the international MBA program. The chance to experience China and learn about business and business school there cost $1,264, with lodging in upscale campus housing included. Participants attended four lectures from CEIBS professors on campus, and each boot camper visited two of four major global companies.
“For me, the idea of trying to commit to something halfway around the world, you want to get some taste of it before you commit to it,” says William Armstrong, 29, of Houston, a power trader in oil and gas who has a BS in finance from Texas A&M and speaks a bit of Mandarin (see Who Attended The Boot Camp & Why). “I’d heard about CEIBS before – I lived in Beijing for about a year. It seems like the best program currently in China, and I’ve been wanting to find a way to move back here. If I decide to do an MBA I think I’ll probably come here, it’s just a question of if I decide to do an MBA.”
CEIBS MBA, by the Numbers
|Poets&Quants international MBA rank||Total tuition||Percentage of foreign students (Class of 2014)||Average age upon enrollment||Average GMAT score|