I am sat with three friends around a table at a local restaurant in Wuhan, China. The table itself is round of course, with a circular glass plate, laden with dishes, rotating slowly at its centre. Our bowls are blessed with delicious food, our glasses are full, our chopsticks are busy, friendly conversation fills the small private dining room, and the world is put to rights.
But not a word of business is spoken.
We talk of art, of culture, of music, of education, of history and of food – the freshwater crab that is perfect right now, the local caitai vegetables that are a Wuhan specialty, the spiced duck, the white fungi and of course the Baijiu. We talk excitedly about family: I had helped one friend’s daughter when she first arrived in the UK to go to university and he was able to update me proudly on her excellent progress. Meanwhile another member of the party had been to stay with us in the UK and asked after my wife and children. And then we talk at length about Wuhan.
As we chatted, my friends joked that Wuhan was my second home and it began to dawn on me that they were right. I have many friends here now. I have visited private art galleries with them, strolled along the banks of the Yangtze River with them, marvelled at the new airport with them and wined and dined with them all. I had seen ballet in Wuhan, light shows in Wuhan, international tennis in Wuhan and, if I had not been filming a documentary about my experience in Wuhan, I would even have been able to watch a little live rugby in Wuhan this very afternoon. My eldest son has been here with me, my grandparents came here before me, and my children’s children will follow after me.
And still not a word of business is spoken.
When I talk of China in the UK it is almost always about trade and investment, revenue potential and grants, free office space, different staff management systems, government engagement and support, intellectual property and branding. For the enlightened few who already know about the other delights of life that are on offer here, this business-only approach might be appropriate. But I realised today that if I am to capture the hearts of others, motivating them to step outside their comfort zones and lift their eyes a little beyond Europe to China then perhaps I should spend more time telling the tales of friendship in Wuhan than the tales of investment and growth.
Wuhan has a lesson for us all.
In fact it is much more than a lesson. Wuhan understands the secret of life, China style. Here is the recipe:
1. Take one round table
2. Fill table to overflowing with freshly-cooked Chinese food
3. Open a bottle of Baijiu (or two, if very brave/foolhardy)
4. Add friends, and stir gently for 2 hours
(Additional flavouring: discuss the implications for international friendship and cultural exchange raised by the book Cambridge Notes by YU Tantan of course – found on Tmall and Dangdang in China if you search for 剑桥笔记 or click on this LINK, and available direct from me if you are in the UK – though only in Mandarin at the moment!)