A few months ago, while in Seoul, Korea, I had an excellent discussion with a Korean-American friend of mine. This friend was born and grew up in the United States, but has been living in Korea for the last ten years or so. The day we met, he had seen a guy slapping around his girlfriend in broad daylight and nobody was doing anything other than watching and dialing (probably the police) on their cell phones. My friend walked over, told the boyfriend to stop it, and was soon joined by others doing the same. Kitty Genovese.
My friend then launched into a discourse regarding Big Government and the difference between Koreans and Americans. Koreans, he said, count on government for so much more than Americans. So much so, he said, that certain things “we Americans” take for granted, Koreans do not. My friend was convinced that the reason nobody stepped in to help the poor woman getting slapped around was because it never really occurred to the bystanders to do anything other than call the police. The police stop these things, not citizens. He went on to say that it is the same way when there is a natural disaster in Korea. The people pretty much wait around for the government to help. I protested a bit by pointing out how iIndustrious Koreans tend to be and he agreed. “Look at how Korean shopkeepers in the US defend their shops in the US, he said. That does not happen here in Korea, because here they just rely on government to step in. Even blood donations, he said, do not really occur much unless and until the government makes clear it is necessary. The Korean people, he said, are self-reliant in terms of themselves and their own families, but when it comes to aid for others, they see that as almost strictly the government’s province. I do not know whether what my friend was saying is true of Korea or not, but it does make sense.
“We Americans” do tend to pride ourselves on our self-reliance [go to this post if you want to understand why nobody I know from either my hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan, or my wife’s hometown of Peru, Illinois, will vote for Obama and for why I am going on record as saying he cannot win the general election]. The American ethos is to call on government only when absolutely necessary. When it comes to charitable giving, the United States is by far “The Most Charitable Nation in the World.” There have been complaints regarding the small sum given by the U.S. government to China earthquake relief, but that only belies a misunderstanding of how such things are done here. When all is said and done, I have no doubt that the United States (and by this I mean the sum total of the government, companies, and private citizens) will be at or near the top in giving to China earthquake relief.
Which brings me back to China and a post at the Black and White Cat entitled, “Beijing’s blood bank is full” [link no longer exists]. The title says it all; so many people have donated blood in the wake of the Sichuan earthquake, Beijing no longer can handle any more. I think this post is very telling. It says that when the Chinese government cannot handle a crisis on its own, the people will step in.
What does this mean for China now and in the future? Is this a change or is it just that reality is finally getting its due? How will the earthquake and its aftermath affect China going forward? I would love to hear from readers as I feel I am already in way over my head.
UPDATE: Just saw these posts, “Chinese netizens continue to monitor earthquake corruption,” and “Tianya: The most bad-ass Sichuan earthquake rescue team,” over at Blogging for China. Do these actions have the same meaning as the blood donations?
ANOTHER UPDATE: Modern Lei Feng just did an absolutely fascinating/horrifying post, entitled, “Differences in Foreign Policy/Differences in Personal Decisions,” detailing a girlfriend beating incident he witnessed and wondering how that ties in with China’s foreign policy. A must read.
YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Interesting post at Newsweek’s Countdown To Beijing Blog, entitled, “What the Quake Means for Civil Society: Jiang Wenran.” Posits that a civil society is developing in the wake of the quake and explains why so many are missing this.

Photo of Dan Harris Dan Harris

Dan is a founder of Harris Bricken, an international law firm with lawyers in Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, China and Spain.

He primarily represents companies doing business in emerging market countries, having spent years building and maintaining a global, professional network. 

Dan is a founder of Harris Bricken, an international law firm with lawyers in Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, China and Spain.

He primarily represents companies doing business in emerging market countries, having spent years building and maintaining a global, professional network.  His work has been as varied as securing the release of two improperly held helicopters in Papua New Guinea, setting up a legal framework to move slag from Canada to Poland’s interior, overseeing hundreds of litigation and arbitration matters in Korea, helping someone avoid terrorism charges in Japan, and seizing fish product in China to collect on a debt.

He was named as one of only three Washington State Amazing Lawyers in International Law, is AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory (its highest rating), is rated 10.0 by AVVO.com (also its highest rating), and is a recognized SuperLawyer.

Dan is a frequent writer and public speaker on doing business in Asia and constantly travels between the United States and Asia. He most commonly speaks on China law issues and is the lead writer of the award winning China Law Blog. Forbes Magazine, Fortune Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Investors Business Daily, Business Week, The National Law Journal, The Washington Post, The ABA Journal, The Economist, Newsweek, NPR, The New York Times and Inside Counsel have all interviewed Dan regarding various aspects of his international law practice.

Dan is licensed in Washington, Illinois, and Alaska.

In tandem with the international law team at his firm, Dan focuses on setting up/registering companies overseas (via WFOEs, Rep Offices or Joint Ventures), drafting international contracts (NDAs, OEM Agreements, licensing, distribution, etc.), protecting IP (trademarks, trade secrets, copyrights and patents), and overseeing M&A transactions.