BLG Leadership Insights

Leadership Book Corner: Leadership in China and the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom

godschinesesonIn the midst of America’s civil war another, bloodier, battle was being fought in China. The Taiping Rebellion (1850-1864) took more lives than World War I and devastated parts of rural China so thoroughly that they were not fully recovered until the 1950s. The Taiping Rebellion was the deadliest war the 19th century world had ever seen…and it was started by one man, Hong Xiuquan.

Leaders, good or bad, have lessons to teach us and that’s why it’s crucial to read about leaders past and present. That said, in our own culturally bound world, we tend to read only about those we are most familiar with. We have our own select gallery of bad and good leaders and beyond this we rarely venture into different cultural worlds. That’s why it’s exciting to take off our blinders and examine a case we rarely hear about.

Hong Xiuquan’s story follows an unusual road that is thoroughly, and cinematically, described by Jonathan D. Spence in God’s Chinese Son.

BLG Leadership Insights

Win in China: China’s Reality of Business Leadership

Question: What country is home to the largest reality TV show that’s focused on entrepreneurship and capitalism?

Answer: China.


Reality TV competitions originated and have been perfected in America. Now, oddly, the genre’s largest expression can be found in China and it’s aptly called Win in China.

Win in China pits China’s best and brightest entrepreneurs against each other for a 10 Million RMB in business-start-up money. Contestants are judged, in part, by a panel of China’s top business leaders, including Jake Ma (founder of Alibaba: See him here, please) and by public popularity/votes.

In its inaugural season, according to The Atlantic’s China Correspondant James Fallows, Song Wenming won top prize for his service that promises to help perpetually under-employed people find work in his native Anhui province. Mr. Wenming barely defeated a proud pregnant woman and a passionate man, nick-named “Wolf”, who never finished high school.

Win in China’s premise is not new–it’s been done in the UK (Dragon’s Den) and in the US (The Apprentice, Shark Tank). Win in China’s novelty rests in the values it enforces, supports, and champions. In other words, the show surprises Chinese and Western audiences by celebrating the virtues of capitalism–smack in the middle of a communist-turned-socialist capital city.

Further, the show gives us a chance to look at the leadership skills demonstrated by some of China’s budding talents. Quick wits, calm demeanor, limitless creativity, and pools of industry knowledge are the traits China’s populace and business leaders vote for. The show’s popularity will teach a new generation about what it takes to be a strong business person and successful leader.

China’s creativity and entrepreneurial spirit have been questioned in the past. However, as Win in China is revealing, China’s ability to innovate and create won’t be easily written off in the coming years.

The show highlights some of the dramatic shifts within Chinese culture and it’s prompted Robert A. Compton to direct a recent documentary called “Win in China”, which takes the show’s reality-TV frame to tell a larger, maybe more important, story. The film promises to explore the tensions within Chinese culture and the dramatic changes are created from them. Enjoy the trailer and check it out: