Jamie Kerr of Burness Paull, fresh from a trip around China’s key cities, shares his thoughts on China and the Year of the Rat.

As Scotland celebrates Burns Night on 25th January, over a billion people around the globe will celebrate Chinese New Year. 2020 heralds the Chinese zodiac’s Year of the Rat and brings to a close China’s celebration of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Peoples’ Republic.

The Collaborative Rat

The quick-witted and resourceful rat was, of course, the winner of the Jade Emperor’s legendary race of the animals. The diligence of rising early in the morning was not itself enough for the rat to be able to win the race – to win the rat had to collaborate with the much faster Ox, on whose back he rode for the duration of the race. Moments from the finish line, the rat jumped off the Ox and smartly crossed the finishing line before the Ox, thereby winning the race.

The collaborative approach of the rat remains central to modern day China’s economic, political and social development. The Belt & Road Initiative is key to this, with billions of pounds invested in an array of infrastructure and co-operation projects across Asia, Europe and Africa. The creation of these new social and economic partnerships, on a scale not seen for centuries, will ensure that China remains a dominant global player on the world stage. From speaking to businesses engaging with this key initiative, it is clear that the possibilities for collaboration and the rewards of such are immense for those who seek them out.

The Sporting Rat Race

The Jade Emperor’s race was a sporting event to rival no other, and China remains a key destination for the sports world. Glasgow Rangers Football Club has just launched its Chinese Soccer School in Shanghai. Manchester United, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur are amongst the other football clubs that have been in China trying to take advantage of President Xi’s ambitious plans and investment in football and the sports economy.

The sporting success of the curious rat was down to strategy. Although many perceive China as a mass market of sports fans, some of the larger brands struggle to fill stadia. The race is a crowded one and not everyone can win, but with a long-term strategy and a collaborative approach, there is room for winners. Famous footballing ‘Rats’ by birth to take inspiration from on this front include Diego Maradona and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Managing the Ox

Understandably, the relationship between the rat and the ox was a tense one. For modern China, there are no shortage of Ox to navigate – whether that be the US trade dispute, unrest in Hong Kong or the elections in Taiwan. As well as lawyering (allegedly), the mythology goes that the most suitable job for those born as Rats is politics. Famous names born in the Year of the Rat navigating the world of politics include US Presidents Nixon, Carter and Bush Snr as well as Pope Francis and Prince Charles.

The US trade dispute is one that has seen Chinese investors diversify their investments and has accelerated a trend of Chinese companies shifting manufacturing bases towards Vietnam and other South East Asian countries. There remains trust amongst business that the Chinese government will deal with the dispute with a level head.

Hong Kong and Taiwan are issues that are more complex. The unrest is damaging Hong Kong’s reputation as a stable hub for global business and many companies there are unsettled. With China’s massive development of and investment in the Greater Bay Area, one wonders whether a shrewd rat will quietly problem solve and avoid political conflict by simply subsuming an ailing Hong Kong into a highly successful and massively expanded Shenzhen, with hassle free trade and a borderless border.

The Hoarding Rat

Rats are hoarders and what better thing to hoard than hard cash currency. In China, it can be difficult to spend money. When visiting the Great Wall of China, one of the world’s most ancient sights, it was literally impossible to spend cash. That is because the bus that travels the short journey from the entrance to the great wall does not take cash – electronic payments only through scanning a code via a mobile phone.

This conundrum of a tourist being unable to pay using the WeChat app stumped the driver who was not used to cash transactions. The goodwill of a fellow passenger stepping in to pay via his mobile (and generously refusing to take cash in return) saved the day. Even in the remotest parts of the vast Chinese wilderness, payments using cash currency are outdated as China quickly moves to a cashless society with technology revolutionising every single aspect of life there. Tech giant Mark Zuckerberg is coincidentally another famous personality born in the Year of the Rat.

The Observant Rat

Rats have rich imaginations and are quick to observe the world around them. One fascinating phenomenon overtaking the Far East is the rise of individuals live streaming their life via a mobile telephone. Whether it be walking down the street, having lunch or simply sitting in the office, there is a growing industry in China of individuals live streaming their rather mundane lives with countless numbers of people apparently willing to watch it. With a number of platforms available to host this, the industry is a £5billion one and a great way to make easy money.

We will be celebrating all things China this month at the China British Business Council (CBBC) annual Burns supper in Glasgow and the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) Chinese New Year Banquet in London. We are already considering streaming our attendance at both events to an audience of millions who would be keen to have the opportunity to watch us mark Chinese New Year live and direct…