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China: 5-year plan

Day Five: In China, it’s good to be from Minnesota

Kai Ryssdal Jun 3, 2011

This return trip to China has been filled with surprises. Like the bullet train I posted about yesterday (editorial note: Really? We can’t get one of these going from L.A. to San Francisco?).

So, the latest surprise — the power of Minnesota in Shanghai. Sub-surprise number 1 — there is a Minnesotans of Shanghai chapter. And it has 300 members, including our very own Shanghai Bureau Chief Rob Schmitz.

But the bigger surprise was to learn that our connection to Minnesota Public Radio — owned by our same parent company American Public Media — was the very reason we got a major interview with the head of a state-run enterprise today.

It’s kind of an American cliche to say it’s not what you know, it’s who. In China, they have something more sophisticated called “guanxi.” It’s about connections and relationships and networking. So today I learned that had been at work with our interview with Li Riugang. He’s the 40-something head of one of China’s most influential state-run ventures, Shanghai Media Group (SMG). Part state entity, part major corporation, it’s generally pretty tough to get interviews with these guys. But there we were today talking with Mr. Li about the explosion of mass media in China, what it’s like to be a party official and an entrepreneur, and what his plans are to bring free media to the Chinese people.

We’re wrapping up the interview, mikes are off and we’re just chit-chatting in Chinese when he points to his briefing sheet for our conversation. APM, he says, and Minnesota Public Radio.

Yes, I nod, wondering where this is all going. I went to Fudan University, he explains, with a guy from Minnesota. That’s why I took this interview. A great regional company that’s grown into a national brand. Just like I’m trying to do with SMG.

Who would have guessed?

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