The Tipping Point – How and Why You Should Study Chinese

20 May

A few years back there was a book called “The Tipping Point” that everyone red. It discussed how ideas were transferred, and more importantly who transferred them. This article applies the ideas imparted by “The Tipping Point” to mandarin studies: why should we learn Mandarin? How should we study it?

The central thesis of a famous book called The Tipping Point, red by everyone including Presidents, Senators and CEO’s, is this; how and why does some ideas reach critical mass? The concept of critical mass in this context is derived from the sociological concept of autopoiesis – “if X leads to more Y and Y leads X a system that contains both X and Y will continue to grow at an increasing rate until the system reaches equilibrium with the resource topography it inhabits”.

This little entry will look at how these lessons apply to learning Standard Mandarin; why should we learn Chinese? And while we are China – How should Chinese be studied?

In other words wherever there are positive feedback loops that have not played themselves out yet, there are money to be made.

Despite being 5,000 years old, or so, China is a new country in many ways. It was reintroduced into the world economy little over 20 years ago and the result of that introduction was such a phenomenon: a positive feedback loop between X (cheap Chinese labor) and Y (Western capital). When combining western know-how, machines and cash with Chinese labor, both X and Y benefited immensely.

What made presidents read the particular book “the tipping point” was not its discussion on autopoiesis on its own. It was how it applied the autopoiesis concept to how the interaction between X and Y is formed.

It showed that there are different types of conduits for explosive changes.

When you study Chinese, if you are a normal sociably person, you automatically open yourself up to becoming the first type of these conduits; a connector. By being proficient in two languages you become a potential bridge between two sub systems (the west and China in this case). A connector is one of the most valuable social assets society can have. A connector is what facilitates benefits of scale and division of labor. According to economics, without a marketplace, humanity would still live in caves. Without a connector a marketplace has not got customers or it does not have goods to sell. The conduit between different markets, industries and countries is what created Adam Smith’s “Wealth of Nations”.

Furthermore, for the same reasons, one lone bridge or conduit is intrinsically more valuable that each bridge crossing a river that has many bridges.

So by studying Chinese, or as it is today, Standard Mandarin, one creates a new asset for society. For the same reasons as explained by the above bridge analogy, one also opens up for something more. There are very few people that study mandarin compared to how many people study Spanish. One does not become only a new asset; one becomes a rather unique asset.

The second type of conduit “The Tipping Point” described it calls a “Maven”. The word originates in Yiddish and means enlightened, or someone that collects information.

The second of the most important social conduits for information, and trade, are people that have knowledge of that which few others have bothered to investigate. This seems simple enough. But according to the book, few people take with them the lessons that this concept entails and apply it to their lives.

So by that notion; a lot of people will know about how to tailor websites to American customers, few Americans will know to tailor websites to Chinese customers. That is a conduit to be made right there. If you are in China you have a clear competitive advantage in acquiring this information.

This takes care of why you should study Chinese (in China) from the viewpoint of autopoiesis.

It also tells a tale of how you should study it.

When you are in China – focus not only on acquiring the language, but go out of your way to develop those skills that few foreigners take with them home. Become both a maven and a connector. That is the key to actually using your language skills in real life.

Rui Ming works for a Mandarin language school that is a great option for those that want to learn Mandarin in Beijing. If you are interested in more information about studying Mandarin in China, please consult the website of Beijing Gateway Academy.


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