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Learning from Innovative Cultures

Editor: Li Kun 丨CCTV.com

12-18-2015 16:39 BJT

By Rick Dunham, Visiting Professor at Tsinghua University ,Co-director for Tsinghua Global Business Journalism Program and Former President of American National Press Club

One hundred million years ago, a geological divide caused by tectonic shifts resulted in the parallel evolution of marsupials and placental mammals in different parts of the world, each with their own distinctive characteristics. Today, a geopolitical divide caused by tectonic shifts in technology has resulted in the evolution of parallel social media platforms in the United States and China, each with their own distinctive characteristics.


Having used social media extensively as a journalist in America and a professor in China, I see many similarities between the digital transformation of the world's two largest economies amid a rapidly evolving mobile society, as well as profound differences based on cultural and political factors.

Chinese President Xi Jinping's Dec. 16 speech to the second World Internet Conference in Wuzhen focused attention on areas of commonality and persistent differences. He declared that it was the right of citizens to enjoy "freedom" online, and he insisted that "order is the guarantee of freedom" and that the international community should “respect the right of individual countries to choose their own path to cyber-development."

Those cyber-paths have diverged in recent years as the two nations' digital economies have boomed. American social media platforms, led by Facebook, have come to dominate the world marketplace. If Facebook's 1.55 billion monthly active users formed a country, it would be the world's largest. The American economy, driven by so-called "Big Data" giants such as Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon, is gaining steam just as much of the rest of the world is slowing down.

China meanwhile, has leapfrogged the US in mobile technology by skipping the e-commerce-by-computer phase and moving directly to mobile e-commerce. China has more than 1.2 billion mobile phone users – the highest market penetration rate in the world -- and they are using their smartphones to do everything from shopping to banking to downloading entertainment. E-commerce traffic in China surged 59 percent last year to 16.39 trillion yuan, according to data released by the National Bureau of Statistics. Nearly half of that volume is a result of mobile shopping. Four of the world's top ten internet companies are based in China. WeChat has become one of the most innovative and fastest-growing social media platforms in the world. Venture capital is pouring into Beijing's Zhongguancun neighborhood, the Silicon Valley of China, nestled near the nation's top universities - Tsinghua and Beijing University.

Despite differences over subjects ranging from censorship to spying, there is much the US can learn from China and China can learn from the US in the emerging digital world.

Facebook has become an indispensible communication tool for individuals and communities in the information age. CEO Mark Zuckerberg's culture of constant change and his unwavering global vision drive Facebook relentlessly forward in a hyper-competitive social media world -- even if the changes occasionally test the limits of its users’ willingness to adapt and adopt.

The American media has also harnessed the power of social media to deliver a steady stream of reliable information from trusted users. The power of Twitter was witnessed in the aftermath of the recent terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif., when a former Washington intern, who is now working at the Los Angeles Times, used Twitter to share the latest information and images from the scene. Hailey Branson-Potts and her colleagues showed how news organizations can use social media for the good of society, sharing breaking news with local residents and the world while avoiding sensationalism and rumor-mongering. While there is plenty of noise and disinformation available on American social media platforms, Twitter has helped to combat rumors and often debunks falsehoods in real-time.

As valuable as U.S. social media platforms can be, the unique features of Chinese social media platforms, particularly WeChat. WeChat combines many popular features of American sites with functions that are not available across the Pacific. WeChat messages can be longer than Twitter's 140-character limit. WeChat users are far more polite and the discourse is more civilized than its U.S. counterparts. Its instant messaging function has displaced email and the telephone as the most common method of sending personal messages in China. Videos, photos and GIFs are easily shared. And its voice-message feature is long overdue for U.S. social media platforms. What's more, Chinese WeChat users can use the site to make purchases and payments, something that U.S. banking laws prevent American social platforms from doing.

China's new wave of e-commerce innovation is the envy of the world. Apps created by Chinese entrepreneurs have made lives more convenient for millions of people and helped to start the lengthy transformation of China's economy away from a manufacturing-based one.

As the internet continues to evolve with the leadership of digital giants in both nations, we can continue to learn from these two innovative cultures.

( The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Panview or CCTV.com. )



Panview offers a new window of understanding the world as well as China through the views, opinions, and analysis of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

Panview offers an alternative angle on China and the rest of the world through the analyses and opinions of experts. We also welcome outside submissions, so feel free to send in your own editorials to "globalopinion@vip.cntv.cn" for consideration.

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