Zak Dychtwald (@zakdychtwald) is the Founder of think tank and consultancy Young China Group and author of Young China: How the Restless Generation Will Change Their Country and the World.

What We Discuss with Zak Dychtwald:

  • At 417 million strong, China has more millennials than North America, the Middle East, and Europe combined.
  • Chinese millennials and its younger generations are experiencing — and influencing — a society and culture changing at 10 times the speed of what Western millennials have experienced.
  • What this breakneck rate of change means for the childhood of someone growing up in modern China and the effect it has on his or her resulting worldview.
  • Whether we view it as a collaborator, competitor, or consumer, this “Young China” is the single most important rising actor on the world stage.
  • How Zak became fluent in Mandarin — considered by the CIA to be the hardest language to learn in the world — at the highest level in two and a half years instead of the customary six.
  • And much more…

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Young China: How the Restless Generation Will Change Their Country and the World by Zak DychtwaldAs China seems poised to become the largest economy in the world, it’s important for those of us in the West to understand the nation and its people independent of whatever we think we know about China. The China of today isn’t the China of yesterday, and with a population of millennials in numbers higher than North America, the Middle East, and Europe combined, the China of tomorrow is approaching 10 times faster than anywhere else.

In past episodes, we’ve explored the massive influence this rapidly changing China has had on the world’s economy and security, and the role we can expect it to play in the future of genetic engineering and artificial intelligence. But we can’t really take in the big picture if we’re only focusing on China’s totalitarian government as the overriding power that pulls all strings. On this episode we talk to Zak Dychtwald, author of Young China: How the Restless Generation Will Change Their Country and the World. Zak’s mission is to build bridges based on understanding between China and the world, focusing on people instead of governments, macro-economies, and associated news stories. Listen, learn, and enjoy!

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Transcript for Zak Dychtwald | How Young China Will Change the World (Episode 293)

Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:03] Welcome to the show. I’m Jordan Harbinger. As always, I’m here with producer Jason DeFillippo. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world’s most brilliant and interesting people, and turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you. We want to help you see the Matrix when it comes to how these amazing people think and behave, and we want you to become a better thinker. If you’re new to the show, we’ve got episodes with spies and CEOs, athletes and authors, thinkers and performers, as well as toolboxes for skills like negotiation, public speaking, and body language persuasion and more. So if you’re smart and you like to learn and improve, then you’ll be right at home here with us.

[00:00:43] I’ve done several shows about China in the past few months, and it’s something I’ve been interested in for the past several years. I think the writing is on the wall in terms of China becoming the largest economy in the world in short order. While we sometimes might fear China or not even understand China or just decide not to think about the complex issues that arise when it comes to China, well, that’s just not how we roll here on The Jordan Harbinger Show. Today’s Zak Dychtwald, author of Young China: How the Restless Generation Will Change Their Country and the World. Zak joins us today on the show. This conversation takes a bit of a different tack as Zak’s mission is to build bridges based on understanding between China and the world, focusing on people instead of governments and macroeconomics and associated news stories. China has more millennials than North America, the Middle East, and Europe combined. So their economic and cultural power will only grow over the next few decades. And today we’ll try to see China differently, taking a people-first approach to China. That’s going to help us understand the rising power in an entirely different context and empower us to approach China as a collaborator or a business target. This episode includes a lot of stories from somebody who’s lived in and sought to understand China for years outside the typical academic and political context.

[00:01:58] If you want to know how I managed to grab all these amazing guests for the show, well, it’s because of my networking skills and I’m teaching you those for free as well. Six-Minute Networking. It’s a free course that’s over at By the way, most of the guests on the show, they subscribe to the course and the newsletter. So come join us and you’ll be in great company. Here we go with Zak Dychtwald.

[00:02:21] I know that we see China in the news a lot every single day, but the problem is when we see China in the news, let’s see. What’s the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of China and the news? Because I do read a lot of in-depth stuff, so I’m trying to come up with like what’s in mainstream media. Organ stealing, that’s a thing. Xinjiang concentration camps where the Muslim population is going. Surveillance state, facial recognition stuff, spying on our cell phones and our routers with a Huawei. I could go on, but the idea is we’re not really getting a balanced view of China, and that’s what I liked most about your book in Young China, is that stuff’s not ignored, but it’s also not the point of the book.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:03:02] Well, that stuff’s really important, and I don’t want to undervalue that, but that’s also not everything. And if you just look at those headlines, the version you get of China is absolutely terrifying.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:13] Yeah, it’s like North Korea 2.0.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:03:14] It’s North Korea plus, plus. People would think and people do think I’m absolutely insane to not only spend time in China but actually really like it. It’s sort of like if you were to look at the United States and only look at our headlines from afar. It looks like a dumpster fire.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:29] Which to be fair, like some of our institutions are, however, I also can walk down the street.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:03:35] Here’s the difference is you go home is at the end of every day, you know, you read those dumpster fire headlines and you go home, you get off Twitter hopefully, and you hang out with your family and you see that not everything is burning. That not everything is as bad as it’s described or it is, but also simultaneously, you have this really normal, wonderful life or wonderful intern, but normal. And what we’re missing when we look at China, and this isn’t exclusive to China, but it’s emphasized with China just because of the volume of China news we get, we’re missing the really normal stuff. When we look at China, we look at two versions of China. First is the government, which is big and scary. The second is the economy, which is big and exciting and increasingly adversarial and scary. We very rarely look at the people, and then when we do some of the what you described, you see sort of the extremes. You know, you have like the organ stealing prostitutes, you have dog meat-eating festivals, you have the super-rich kids in Ferraris or super poor who were being neglected in parts of Western China. All of those are true but they also neglect the ordinary. And what I try to focus on in my book is the ordinary, the average. Focusing on just what’s the makeup of the everyday life throughout different regions of China and particularly focusing as the title would suggest on this young generation who is worlds away, literally worlds away from the older generations in China.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:51] Illustrate for us the difference between the generations in China because you think your parents are different. Imagine your parents growing up in like the equivalent of Africa, and now you live in New York City.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:05:03] Well, everyone and their mothers want to know about millennials. Anyone who works in a marketing organization, anyone who has something to sell is so sick of hearing about American millennials. By the way, there are 80 million of us. There are 417 million millennials in China. So just think about the scale. Think about the potential for impact, and this is sort of why —

Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:20] So there are more millennials in China than there are people in the United States

Zak Dychtwald: [00:05:23] And Canada.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:24] And Canada although in Canada, you’re not adding a whole lot of numbers.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:05:29] It’s not a lot but it’s another —

Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:30] But it does sound better.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:05:31] It sounds a little better. There are actually more young people in China than there are in North America, Europe, and the Middle East combined. So the scale here is pretty incredible.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:39] Oh, by the way, when I say Africa, I mean like rural Sub-Saharan Africa. I am aware that there are cities and people who have mobile phones and cars in Africa.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:05:46] There are some places that are — I mean, I just came back from Egypt and Egypt is actually another great example of a place that is only in the news when bad things are happening. But getting to this idea of generational gaps, in the United States, we go on and on about millennials are so different than gen Xers and don’t even talk about boomers, you know, they’re worlds apart. Let’s put that into context for a second. In 1969, my dad was deciding whether or not to go to Woodstock. You know about Woodstock?

Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:10] I heard about it.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:06:11] We’re in Berkeley right now, so you get, you get the general vibe. A lot of those people who left ended up here. Woodstock was best known for three things — sex, drugs, rock and roll. My dad was interested in a couple of those. I’ll leave that to the listener. But there’s a lot you can know about my dad based on sort of the anthropological wrapping of just that one decision. He probably had discretionary time. He had a little free time on his hands. He certainly had disposable income. He could buy a ticket. He probably had a friend with a car. He was rebelling against something, the war or someone, his parents. You know you can imagine him sort of long hair hippie guy, probably smoked some weed, like you’d get the general gist.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:44] That’s the drugs part.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:06:45] In 1969, China was in the middle of the cultural revolution — deep poverty. I have friends whose parents and grandparents described to me having to eat tree bark to survive.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:06:56] That sounds like North Korea, like famine level picking flowers and eating the seeds.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:07:00] Deep famine between ‘57 and ‘61 China’s great leap forward around 40 million people died of starvation.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:05] That’s crazy.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:07:06] And so by the way, we think of this as ancient history, but these are China’s Boomers. There are ways to quantify this and you have smart crowds. We should talk numbers in a second, but we have generation gaps and we obsess over them. China has generation gulfs. And the problem is a lot of the stereotypes, a lot of the preconceptions we have about China are based on old China, so the last generation in China. And even the leadership in charge of China today in the government space, or state-owned enterprises. But when you look at this young generation, not just the years separating them, but the quality of change. The rest of the world evolves at a certain pace and then there’s China’s speed. And again, there’s sort of way to quantify that, so maybe we could do that.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:50] Yeah, I would love to — because I think people go, “Oh, China’s developing so fast.” People think like, “Oh, they got fiber and high-speed rail before us.” And it’s like, “Yes. And also they didn’t even have, you don’t have running water in most of the country until whatever, like while we were already watching cable TV.”

Zak Dychtwald: [00:08:07] If I were to say the one thing that makes this one generation in China unique from their international cohort, so from millennials around the world, it’s the pace of change. When we say China’s speed, it’s kind of like, okay, yeah. You know, Shaq is tall. China moves fast. You get a general idea. Well, let me quantify that. So I’m born in 1990. I’m born in Berkeley actually, Alta Bates Hospital about 10 minutes away from here. And in my lifetime I’ve watched our per capita GDP. So the basic unit for what life gets you, it’s not perfect, but it’s good when you’re comparing internationally. I’ve watched the per capita GDP increased 2.5 times in my lifetime. So the education my parents could afford for me, maybe two and a half times better. The car is that my neighbor could drive maybe two and a half times faster. The length of the vacations we could take two and a half times longer. You get the general gist. It’s again, not perfect, but the general metric. My friend’s born in 1990 in China have watched their per capita GDP increased 27 times in their lifetime.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:57] That’s crazy, so far.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:08:59] Developing country, you know, big economy, pretty easy, right? Well, what about India? In 1993, India’s per capita GDP and China’s was pretty much the same around 400 bucks. In the space between 1990 and today, so again, this millennial lifetime, India has watched as per capita GDP increased five times. Brazil BRICS nation, 3.2. Germany, a robust economy, 1.9. In fact, when you look at the top 60 performing economies today, every other country has watched their per capita GDP, the amount of change, the amount of growth that millennials have witnessed in their lifetime. That number is under 10 it’s single-digit share only China is 27. Only China is even in the double digits. You know, we think about that as a macro number, but think about it in terms of you’re watching your parents’ life changed. Think about moving out of poverty, realizing that, okay, not all TVs are black and white. Realizing that, okay, now, now it’s normal to move from a bike, which used to be a luxury. The flying pigeon used to be the status of class and clout in China, and suddenly you’ve watched your streets filled with cars and then multiple cars and multi-car garages. You watched your entire city change from a village to a town, to a city in your lifetime.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:04] When I was in high school, we had a teacher who went to China, which was amazing. I mean, that was nuts. It was like the early ‘90s or something like that when he went and he said that there were buildings and if someone had a TV, they would put it outdoors and everyone would go outside and watch it. Now you’ve got cord-cutters in China who are watching everything on their phone.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:10:20] Exactly. It’s difficult to describe to us because our ecosystem has changed at a certain pace. There’s this great, David Foster Wallace’s commencement speech, I believe in Kenyon, in which he tells a story of a couple of fish. There’s an old fish and then there are two young fishes. There’s swimming in the water as fish do, and the other fish is swimming fast and he says, “Hey gentlemen, the water’s fine today, isn’t it?” And the two fishes are like, “Okay, dude,” and swim past and swimming, swimming. And then one fish says to the other fish, “Wait a second. What’s water?” We get used to the ecosystem that we’re surrounded in. In China, and this is one of the most fascinating things happening right now. This young generation just thinks that that’s the pace of the world moves. They just think that’s water because that’s all they’ve known for most of them. There’s only nine percent of the Chinese population that has a passport. Two-thirds of those are millennials, by the way. So this young generation is far more exposed than any other generation in Chinese history. With that being said, this young generation in China is just learning that their water is actually unique, that not everywhere in the world changes at that pace and what they’ve built and what they’ve witnessed, what they’ve watched her uncles, parents, grandparents, and join in their lifetime is actually international unique.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:26] Do you think that makes them better equipped to deal with change since it’s going so quickly? Me growing up in a medium-sized city and moving to a big city. I had to adapt really fast to go, “Oh, people do things differently here,” so I know that that’s changed me and changed my business. I would imagine if the whole country is like that, and then you look at the speed of business, say in the United States, and you go, “Oh, they’re really slow.” You’re thinking faster. You’re moving faster. You don’t have six months to do a committee approval process. You have to make a decision by tomorrow.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:11:55] There is no question. So there’s a saying from Deng Xiaoping, the sort of Architect of China’s modern economy. So China’s reform opening around 1980 moved from communist China to sort of capitalist pragmatist —

Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:08] Geico socialist.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:12:08] Right, exactly. There we go.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:10] That’s one of my vocab words. I was like, why do I need this?

Zak Dychtwald: [00:12:12] Just, for now, this was it. And so Deng is known for a saying, it’s “Mō zhe shítou guò hé.” It means “Crossing the river by feeling the stones.” This was the guiding principle of China’s economy in the 1990s, early 2000s. It’s a beautiful way of saying we don’t really know what we’re doing. Like we have a direction. We’re on one bank and that’s poverty. We’re looking across this river of time to the other bank, which is prosperity, but we don’t see a path. So we are entering the river, we are leaning on a certain economic principle or an idea. We’re shifting our weight, seeing if it’s steady. And then crossing the river that way, we’re expecting to slip. We’re expecting default. We’re expecting to have to adapt. And so to keep with this water idea, you know, the rest of us kind of live in a lake, but China, because of its pace of change, is a rushing river if you do not adapt with it, you will get washed downstream.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:02] How did you originally get interested in China? I mean, aren’t you like — I thought maybe you were just like a Jewish kid from Long Island, but instead, you’re a Jewish kid from Berkeley.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:13:11] Big difference, but enough time.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:12] But in a way, also not.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:13:14] Pretty much. There’s like a loop between California and Long Island that’s actually just an inch apart. So I did grow 18 years in California. I went to public school here and not so far from here. I ended up going to Columbia, which was a massive culture shock from going to New York and meeting all these prep school kids and East coasters, you know, with collared shirts. It was revolutionary. I actually took Chinese one-semester freshman year. My dad made me, and to this day, when I give people tours around Columbia, which I every now and then do and friends come and visit them in New York, I will point to the third story window. This is not a pleasant joke any at any point really. But I would say, you know, I would look at that window and think about exiting from there every day of the class.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:50] Because it was so miserably hard.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:13:51] Miserable and I didn’t see the point. And I skipped for two months, by the way. And on the final, I crammed and I dialed down the center for the last five, which I’ve never done. It remains the worst grade I’ve ever gotten in my life. But thank you grade inflation, I was able to pass and because of that one test when I was making the decision where to study abroad, I had a choice. So I’m a big science fiction fan. The answer to your question in science fiction first got me there. I was looking at these study-abroad pamphlets and one of them was French. I apparently spoke French at the time. Not a word, but spoke it. It kind of looked like a history pamphlet. You know, go learn about the history of Western philosophy, Western governance, what have you Western art, drink some wine. There is a vision of it. It looked like the past, and then I looked at the University of Hong Kong, which because of that one semester was a linguistic loophole I could go. Columbia has —

Jordan Harbinger: [00:14:38] Oh because you quote-unquote qualified for linguistic.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:14:39] Columbia has a rule that you have to be fluent where you go in the language where you’re speaking because Hong Kong is sort of half and half and the University of Hong Kong is taught in English. It was a loophole. They only allowed two people to go. I was a lit major. I had done very little do with China and Hong Kong. I was studying business and psych as minors but —

Jordan Harbinger: [00:14:56] Psych and lit, man, you didn’t want a job.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:15:00] I will say, I think, this is the funny part of today is I’ve managed to use all of it. The odds are stacked against it.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:06] That have started your own business.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:15:08] It’s totally true. And because the pamphlet for Hong Kong, you know, it looked like the cover of Blade Runner to me or Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, like it looked like the future. And when you’re just setting it up like that. “Okay. I can either go to the past and drink wine, which of course sounds good on some days,” or, “You could go see where everyone is describing the future is going to happen.”

Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:24] Yeah, that’s cool.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:15:26] Easy decision. I went, loved it and traveled pretty extensively throughout mainland China, myself alone a lot of it because I was the only study abroad kid with a multi-entry visa. And this is where it got interesting, I realized very quickly that the China that was being described to me in the news, in the media, and that even reverberating off of people who had spent the weekend, Shanghai, you know, business people who’ve done a tour of the wall and then come back and they are trying to experts. As you know, you spend a week in China, you’re Chine experts that’s how it goes.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:15:55] Yeah. They can use chopsticks sort of as long as they got the little rubber band on the top.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:15:58] Exactly. You can mangle a few words and I don’t mean to, you know, everyone should go try — I’m a huge believer in travel, but —

Jordan Harbinger: [00:16:03] Yeah, of course, it just doesn’t make you an expert because you went to go see the Berlin wall for example.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:16:07] The China that they were describing to me was very different than the China I was experiencing, even on a cursory level. And a big part of that was, again, the difference between headline China, which is terrifying.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:16:19] Was that exciting though? Because like I feel like if someone told 24 or five year old me. “Hey, on the other side of there, there are organ stealing, prostitutes and chaos.” I would be like, “Great! When does the next train leave?”

Zak Dychtwald: [00:16:30] So that’s actually exactly what happened. So I have a godfather in the Bay area and he started did some business with a gentleman in Hong Kong named Henry, and I think I gave him a pseudonym in the book, and forgive me for forgetting.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:16:42] Oops, sorry, Henry. You’ve been outed

Zak Dychtwald: [00:16:43] And I went to the University of Hong Kong. I spent two weeks there, and you realize pretty quickly that Hong Kong is sort of the middle zone until 1997. Hong Kong was a British colony. So a lot of the people who I was interacting with, I’d grown up and sort of this east-west mix of the culture and it wasn’t out there enough for me. So, I wrote my godfather and it’d be like, “Hey, I’m going to Shenzhen,” which is right across the border. And he wrote me a note back almost immediately. The note cautioned against three things. First, beware of pickpockets; second, beware of buying fake goods because they will complicate your return back across the border; and third, beware of prostitutes. Because not only will they try to kill you, they’ll also steal your organs along the way.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:25] Well, what do you care if you’re already dead?

Zak Dychtwald: [00:17:26] Sincerely, Henry. It was like this beautiful loving note. By the way, this is a person who’s written me a note saying, “Zak, I’m so happy to have you as a godson. I can’t wait for you to meet my grandson.” You know, like an overwhelmingly protective and loving person. So when he’s the sort of person who’s like, “Hey, by the way, other side of the border, organ stealing prostitutes,” naturally, I was on the next train over.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:48] I mean, were you never a 25-year-old, Uncle Henry? He’s selling it.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:17:53] I was 20 at the time. So, it was even like, you know —

Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:56] You even have boring principles.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:17:57] I’m like, yeah, check this out. And I went, and this is the hard part, and this is why I think a lot about sort of what the media is telling us because those things matter. I went and I got off the train on the Shenzhen side of the border, the mainland China side of the border. For those of you who haven’t gone between Hong Kong and mainland China for mainlanders and for Hong Kong residents, you don’t need a visa per se, but you need a form that allows you to go, it’s a border crossing. It’s a formal border crossing. And I get off and suddenly no one speaks English. You don’t realize that everyone in Hong Kong speaks English until no one in China speaks English. And by the way, there are about a million people. I mean, it’s this teeming mass is roiling mass and at the time, mainland China had sort of bad dairy and so people were bringing bottles of milk from Kowloon.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:18:37] Bad dairy?

Zak Dychtwald: [00:18:39] Bad dairy, there was a question about the quality of the dairy that young people were consuming in China. And so people would take Hong Kong milk. You’re only allowed to bring two cartons. So you would take your two cartons and then people would flood you as soon as you cross the border because there were milk dealers who are buying the milk, the safe milk, and then redistributing throughout Shenzhen. And so there’s this massive group of people who sort of stormed me because I have my milk and they’re like saying some stuff and I have no idea what they’re saying. I’m trying to find my hostel and I realized that the hostel I booked, like I can’t even call them because my phone number, which worked in Hong Kong, didn’t work in mainland China. And the problem is that every single person I’m looking at. I think is an organ stealing prostitutes, because the only thing I know is that, and you realize that a lot of the way that people approach China, we’re armed with the only things we know. And those increasingly are adversarial. They’re sensationalists. And to a certain extent, they’re true. But in the same way that I wouldn’t want someone to judge Americans by the headlines. We can’t judge Chinese people, Chinese citizens, by the headlines. Even more so because they don’t choose their government.

[00:19:42] I was at the Aspen Institute recently and it was sort of like a fancy think tanky thing.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:19:48] It’s like a Davos type thing,

Zak Dychtwald: [00:19:49] Davos but like in jeans, which is even more, by the way, unsettling, because you don’t know who’s a billionaire and when they’re all wearing suits, you can kind of guess. But when everyone’s in jeans and everyone looked very uncomfortable, regardless.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:00] Everyone’s wearing those Obama dad jeans.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:20:03] Right. Exactly. This is how I humor basically. And so I was there and you realize that there is this version of China that we sort of digest and I got to tell them, I got to tell the group at Aspen Institutes like, look, my friends in China didn’t choose their government. We did. You can blame us for our government if you want to do like, I mean, not everyone did but most people didn’t actually if you’re going by the numbers at least most recently, but like a lot of us did, it definitely says something about America that we have the government that we do. In China, they don’t get a vote and so we have this idea of the Chinese people that we have not cleaved from the Chinese government, which is fair if you’re assessing Americans. It’s not fair to impose that same system of judgment on China because they don’t have a say.

Jason DeFillippo: [00:20:50] You’re listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Zak Dychtwald. We’ll be right back.

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[00:24:15] Thanks for listening and supporting the show and to learn more and get links to all the great discounts you just heard from our amazing sponsors, visit Don’t forget we have a worksheet for today’s episode so you can make sure you solidify your understanding of the key takeaways from Zak Dychtwald. That link is in the show notes at if you’d like some tips on how to subscribe to the show, just go to Subscribing to the show is absolutely free. It just means that you get all of the latest episodes downloaded automatically to your podcast player of choice so you don’t miss a single thing. And now back to our show with Zak Dychtwald.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:24:59] Guess I didn’t really even think about the fact that they don’t vote. Do they have some kind of pseudo — ?

Zak Dychtwald: [00:25:05] There’s an internal democratic process, so they say there’s actually multiple parties within the Chinese government. They’re deeply outnumbered by the Chinese communist party, and the voting has increased especially as Xi Jinping has become a stronger force. We have the habit of being like, all right, there’s one guy, he’s the hero and sort of keeping credit and blame on one person. Sort of like the hero lens of looking at things very Western. And Xi Jinping has a team around him. He’s not a sole actor. It’s not like this renegade. There’s a larger concept that’s pushing Xi over there and the voting internally has gotten definitely very one-sided. Always going to have been —

Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:40] He’s president for life, isn’t he?

Zak Dychtwald: [00:25:42] He could be. And this is actually a great example of news gone a little bit wrong. So what happened was China basically had to vote to do away with term limits. Term limits meaning that Xi Jinping or the —

Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:52] Get reelected indefinitely.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:25:53] Indefinitely, but he has to get reelected indefinitely. So the news the next day was president for life. And pretty much the only thing that people know about this was not that they did away with term limits, but that Xi Jinping is going to be elected, he’s not president for life.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:05] So, they’re assuming the results of this change.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:26:08] And there are some tactical regions that you could assume that he’s not going to be president for life. And if you were to ask people within China, they immediately think of these reasons, which is that like Belt and Road Initiative or One Belt One Road is really important. This is an international massive infrastructure plan that currently involves around 68 countries and the Asia extended region. This is Xi Jinping’s baby. It makes sense for him at this fragile moment in Chinese diplomacy as they’re moving from a regional to an international and a global actor for Xi Jinping to continue to steward that an extra five years.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:35] Interesting. So what you’re saying maybe is or what I’m hearing anyway is he wants to say, “Hey, all these countries where we’re building highways and buildings and ports. I’m not going to then leave office in two years and then you’re stuck with like a half-baked port in a road that doesn’t have pavement. I’m going to be around for a while.” He’s not thinking, “Ooh, this is going to look pretty bad to all those people that want democratic China.” He wants stability and he wants permanence so that people have confidence in his plan.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:27:04] I’m saying it’s possible and so we’re not doing ourselves any favors when we just put out to the general public, Xi Jinping president for life. That’s one of many options and there is some strategic value at a moment where it looks like every four years the United States, which is largely the biggest foreign actor or the biggest international actor on the world stage, we’re a hegemonic power, where it looks like every four years we might tear up a deal.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:29] Right, we’ve done that.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:27:30] You look towards the TVB.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:31] Everyone freaks out.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:27:32] The TVB in particularly if you’re looking at the Asia region like we have left a lot of our allies not knowing what kind of trade partner we’re going to be. Japan, South Korea, strategic allies, and so at this time where it looks like, “Ooh, like what’s going on in the US?” I’m not saying that this is for sure what’s happening, but this is absolutely a strategic consideration. China’s attempting to be the adult in the room, and I’m like, “Hey, you know what? We’re not building our relationships in aid that we might withdraw after four years or treaties that we might tear up after four years. We’re building our relationships in steel and concrete. Not to last four years, but the last generations.”

Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:05] That’s such a Chinese outlook, right? When I talk to Chinese people, of which you talked to a hundred times more, they really look back at literally ancient history, like thousands of years old and like, “Oh yeah, this is a thing that we used to do in ancient China.” They’re talking about it like it’s a different country, but it’s not really the same thing, it’s not like when we’re talking about ancient Rome. They seem to have this wider or longer timeline. We’re like a hundred, two hundred years is like for us, that’s the whole history of the United States. We’re thinking what was here before that? Nothing native Americans living in wigwams dammit. You know, like they’re thinking. That was not that long ago.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:28:41] It definitely feels that way to a certain extent. But on the other side of it, what I can say for sure is that they’re not incentivized to at least think about it in two-year terms or in three-year terms and then election year. There’s actually a lot of discussion about this right now on sort of China, Twitter, and I’m not hugely involved there because it scares me, but I do follow to a certain extent. There’s a lot of discussions, you know, is China playing three-dimensional chess while we’re playing checkers? I don’t think for sure, but undoubtedly, and again this, I have this Aspen Institute on my mind. It happened recently. I watched a lot of American politicians, politicians of note describe how they realizing the incentive system of our system getting reelected, career politicians. It incentivizes you to think about the short term.

[00:29:24] The incentives in China, short-term definitely matters, but they’re able to think about the longer term, and by the way, I’m talking a lot about the positive sides. There is a rash of negative aspects of the Chinese government. I’m not trying to say there’s none, what I am trying to sort of put forward is that if we only cover China in the most negative way, we are missing a lot of their strategic considerations that are important for us to consider. What is it? Zhī jǐ zhī bǐ, bǎi zhàn bù dài. Know thyself, know your enemy, and a hundred wars you will not lose. A hundred is metaphorical. We’re not finding a hundred wars, hoping we’re never going to find a hundred wars in China, but we’re not giving ourselves the opportunity to know China, who I don’t think has to be an enemy, but especially if we’re painting them as an adversary. We got to see it from their point of view.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:10] There’s actually a lot of irrational concerns that Americans and Westerners in general have. I had this guy on the show a couple of months ago named Kai-Fu Lee, president of Google China, and he does a lot of investing in AI.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:30:23] Incredibly well known and a towering figure in the space.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:27] Oh, really, okay, good, I figured, but a lot of people —

Zak Dychtwald: [00:30:31] And it was only after he was on your podcast.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:32] Well, that makes sense. That makes sense. Yeah. We do build careers over here.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:30:36] I thank you, by the way, for having me.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:37] You’re welcome. You’re welcome.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:38] Young China was in stores, sold out completely, by the time you’re watching this but you can try to get one. I thought I’m going to have Kai-Fu Lee on. We’re going to talk about AI and why China has an advantage in this area and it’s going to be interesting. I had a lot of people that were, of course, deeply interested in it, but I also had crazy people that were people that to me seemed crazy, that were like, “I can’t believe that you didn’t ask him about how China steals all of our intellectual property.” First of all, it’s like I don’t harass my guests when they come on the show. I challenged them if necessary, but that to me seemed completely irrelevant. And also it sorts of chalks up all of China’s advantages too. “Well, they’re stealing from us so dot, dot, dot.” And it’s like, wait a minute, there may be plenty of that, but that is certainly not the reason that they’re ahead of the game. And the more we sort of say, “Well, they’re ahead of us because they do this negative stuff or this bad stuff and this illegal stuff.” We’re really just writing off our own disadvantage in a way where we’re sort of outsourcing responsibility. We’re throwing our hands in the air and saying, “Well, at least we don’t steal from other people.” And it’s like, cool. You can have this sort of victim mindset and say that that’s why they’re ahead, but it’s not true and it’s going to disadvantage us to think that way in the long run.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:31:53] Most people have never considered what it looks like from a seat in China. What is the issue of IP look like from there? What is the current American reaction on tariffs or activity on from between American and China look like from China? There’s a saying that got popular on the Chinese. I spent a lot of time on the Chinese internet for better or worse. I’m not like on political forums. I’m watching like trash TV. I spend a lot of time on like the Chinese equivalent of Cora, which is, you know, a little bit higher minded. But like hours and hours of really bad TV, and we should talk about language learning later because this is an important part of it. But there’s a saying that got popular. It’s pìgu juédìng nǎodai.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:28] Butt something, butt decision.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:32:32] It means pìgu juédìng nǎodai. It means your butt determines your brain.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:36] Oh, that’s funny.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:32:37] Where you sit in the world, the people around you, the view from your seat in the world, the sort of podcast you’re listening to, the chatter you’re hearing, growing up — that seat in the world that you occupy to a far greater degree than we’d even like to admit determines our worldview. And so the challenge is, and this is what we often tell our kids when there’s like conflict resolution, but the challenge that I see, particularly in America, also in China, is the willingness to take yourself out of that seat that you might not even realize you’re in, that you might not even realize that you’ve like grown barnacles on because you’ve been there for so long, and put yourself in a seat in China and look at it from that perspective.

[00:33:12] A lot of what I try to do, and with Young China and the work I’m doing with Young China group, and I do a good amount of talking about this stuff, is not to make people in love with China and certainly not to make people in love with Chinese government, which is usually what people hear. They’re like, this guy is not bashing the Chinese government. He must love the Chinese government, in which case, I hate him and not going to listen to anything. It’s just to consider what the world looks like from a seat in China. Think about, okay, what does it look like when the American president seems to be using China as a bit of a scapegoat? What does it look like when the Chinese government, it seems to be sort of balking on some of these trade considerations? What does it look like when we consider the other actors in the region? When you take out the United States, China has some of the hottest, most confrontational borders in the entire world. We often forget that. We think, okay, there’s the United States and China. I think about having Russia to your North. Think about in your backyard, you have North Korea.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:03] Yeah. No, thanks.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:34:04] No thanks. And then Japan, obviously Taiwan and Taiwan is in a gray space. India and Pakistan both have historical conflicts with China and currently have a conflict with one another.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:13] And have nuclear weapons.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:34:15] It’s a tough place to be. But we don’t think about that. We think about the United States and China. We think about what are our interests. We would be doing ourselves a massive service. And this isn’t exclusive to China. This is almost like preschool level. Like now, have you seen this issue from Chad’s point of view, but we don’t do it and it’s a little bit our media’s fault for — and I don’t want to rant against mainstream media because that’s like a triggering word for me at this point. I freak out every time someone says it but we’re click motivated. And so if there’s something that’s relatively tame that like China, there’s something kind of okay going on in China, people are going to click it. The incentives aren’t there for that story to be rewritten in a different version, unless it’s like hot war coming with China, trade tariffs blowing off. You can even bet on it by the way. This is a totally valid thesis for an investment fund. If someone out there is like trying to make it, we’re in Silicon Valley, so this is a good place to talk about it. Just perception. When Xi Jinping came to the United States for his first visit. He first went to Washington and I was thinking about at the time, I’m 25 at the time, I don’t have a ton of money at all. I’m like, all right, I got a few pennies in my pocket. I’m going to see what I can do with them. So Xi Jinping is coming to the United States. I know that that means that he’s going to be in the press more. 95 percent of the press written about China is negative. The press opinion impacts the markets because of perceptions that impact the market. I’m like, all right, when Xi Jinping comes, there’s going to be so much negative press about China that any Chinese company is going to be negatively impacted. Their stock price is going to be negatively impacted because we can’t cleave the idea of a Chinese government from a Chinese company. So I’m like, all right, Alibaba is going to go to its natural low. It can go as low as possible because of all the negative press.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:43] Load up on shares.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:35:44] Sure enough, it goes down to, I think like 57, 58. I bought it at 60 and now it’s tripled in price. And of course, it’s fluctuated since then. But like you could bet on how negative pretty much every spin and every description of China is going to be.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:58] Yeah, that’s a good point. You really can, and I think that this does us a disservice when we look at that because there is a Pro Tip that I gave a long time ago. What was it? I saw a news report and it was so wrong. It was about something I knew a lot about, and I can’t remember what the topic was at the time, but I remember looking at it and it was so wrong. And then I looked at another news report about something else a few months later and it was so wrong, and I went, wait a minute, since I’m an expert in these two areas, and these news reports are so wrong, and they’re obvious how wrong they are because I’m an expert, that probably means that everything I see in the news reports is equally wrong. I just don’t know enough about that subject to point out how wrong it is. So then I started realizing. Oh yeah, pretty much everything you see here is going to be really simplified, is going to be really overstated or understated, or it’s going to only focus on the negative, so you have to bear that in mind when you’re looking at something like news about China, you have to read it like you’re looking at news about anything that you’re an expert in and go, “Nope, that’s for sure not the case.”

Zak Dychtwald: [00:36:55] That’s the rabbit hole here.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:56] I want to switch focus a little bit too. The pressure that some Chinese people our age and younger are in. Because if you’re developing at 10x, 27x, whatever normal speed, your generation gap is such that a lot of the focus is on you as the maybe one or two offspring, now that they don’t have the one-child policy anymore.

[00:37:19] For those of you that don’t know, there was a whole lot of time where you could, you were only allowed by the government to have one kid. But now I guess you can have two but still, that’s a lot of pressure for, okay, your grandma, grandpa, your mom’s grandma, grandpa, and your mom and dad both and everyone else, all the aunties and uncles, were all looking at you, so I don’t screw this up.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:37:38] The pressure is enormous. And let me tell you a quick story. I moved to try it on my own when I was 22. I just graduated from college. I didn’t really know what I was going to do. I had a backpack, the address of a hostel and the number of a language program. I didn’t know anybody. I didn’t have a job set up. I went there and quit the language program pretty quick. You realize that the worst place to learn language in a city is the place where all the other foreigners are.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:37:59] Oh good point.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:38:00] We can get into that. So one of the jobs I had, basically, like working, I taught SAT, I taught ACT, I taught golf at one point, which is funny because I don’t know how to play golf. I watched videos on how to do that. I got fired after about two weeks when that came out. So, I’m kind of scrapping it. One of the jobs I had towards the end of that first year, I was in Suzhou just outside of Shanghai and the job was that sort of an upscale English tech fun weekend training school. So I was the teacher in a class with six five-year-olds, and it was me, one foreigner, and two or three TA’s, depending on the class. My preconception, I hadn’t dealt a lot with little kids before. I’m like, “Oh, dammit, these are Xiǎo huángdì.” These are China’s little emperors. The term little emperor first came up and around 1986. I didn’t know this at the time, but the idea is basically that like you have these kids, single children who are just spoiled rotten. They called the 4:2:1 problem. You have four grandparents, two parents, and one child. So you have all these grandparents, these two parents who are putting all their love, attention, money, food. Obesity has become an issue. They’re all funneling it down to this one kid. You know, if you have a room full of little emperors, you are very clearly the court jester. I had a turtle puppet in one hand. I’m thinking, “Great! This is what my college [indiscernible] [00:39:12]. So we start class and the thing about five-year-olds is that they’re adorable. There’s one kid, in particular, Jiangguo, which is this really old school name that means like build the country. It would have been a totally normal class, where it not for the fact that for those six kids at the back of the class, there was a glass partition and leaning up against that glass partition where 12 parents and 24 grandparents.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:36] They’re watching you teach

Zak Dychtwald: [00:39:37] Every single twist of a microscope. Every single punch of a keyboard. They were leaning against the glass, breathing on to it, watching their kid.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:45] The whole time?

Zak Dychtwald: [00:39:46] The whole time.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:47] That is so awkward.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:39:48] Class finishes and I mean, think about it for those kids, think about the amount of attention. Class finishes. I walk out, I talked to some of the teachers. I’m like, this is a chance to show off my Chinese and like, and also try to keep my job and all of a sudden I hear Jiangguo started to cry outside of the corner of the room. I looked over and three of his grandparents are sort of like arguing amongst themselves. His dad is looking extraordinarily confused. I knew it was his dad because he was dressed the exact same way, and sure enough, his mother and his grandmother were leaning over Jiangguo wailing, and they were holding a notebook with words on them. I walked up and I realized those words on those pages were microscope, keyboard, robot. These are the English words that we had learned that day. I asked him what’s going on? I didn’t assign any homework. And his mom looks at me and says, “Jiangguo will have to take the gāokǎo, the college entrance exam in 13 years. We are trying to give him the edge.”

Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:44] Ugh, yikes.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:40:45] So we think about these little emperors, and this is the consumer story, right? Like everyone’s lighting up about, wow, Chinese millennials buying stuff. We love it. You know, even if you have 10 percent of them, that’s 40 million people. Everyone’s just trying to how do we get so much money. And the reason that they have money to buy things is because of that upside-down pyramid that I was describing four grandparents, two parents, one child that acts as a funnel for resources, love, et cetera. It also acts as a funnel for pressure, for expectations.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:41:12] Oh man. I’m getting like anxiety, just thinking about not knowing the word microscope, which also I don’t know, and any of the five languages that I speak other than English, and this kid is five.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:41:23] And you compare the level of pressure on these young people in China, this generation in China versus millennials in the United States. Pretty incomparable, pretty incomparable. And by the way, that level of pressure is starting to produce some cracks. They’re in charge of creating China’s modern identity. On one side, you have the tradition, what it’s always meant to be Chinese, you know, education, focus, a family focus. On the other side, you have the pressures of modernity. Get a great education, urbanization. It used to be kids. You know, when you’re 18 you wouldn’t have to get educated. You just start a farm next to your parents. And so getting married at 18 made sense, but now people feel like if they don’t have a great college degree, master’s, PhD, then they’re not fit for the job market. And this young generation, the post-‘90s generation really, so born now 1990 and after. They get to decide what it means to be Chinese in the modern world today.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:14] So no pressure.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:42:15] No pressure. Yeah. Just figure it out.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:17] Figure out your national identity, please your parents, please your grandparents, and you know, remember live life for yourself.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:42:23] And have some fun and have some fun. This is the hard part. The older generation was best known for their ability to chī kǔ, to eat bitter, to do difficult things for long periods of time at the prospect of delayed gratification. This young generation does not want to eat bitter and frankly, they don’t have to. When you think about why the older generation was working hard so that this younger generation can have a better life. They want to huó zài dāng xià, to live in the moment. There’s a toast in Chengdu. I lived in Chengdu for three years. It’s my favorite place in China. So imagine there, and it’s me and a bunch of friends. We’re eating kaoyu, which is barbecued fish. It’s this amazing Chongqing dish. So you have like sort of crispy skin fish. It’s super spicy. It’s sort of steeped in this oil.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:01] Is that the numbing hot, Chongqing?

Zak Dychtwald: [00:43:03] Exactly so Chongqing, you have a lot of like just normal spices and then Chengdu brings the — it’s called huājiāo, it’s a type of numbing spice. It’s the Sichuan peppercorn, so it’s like an explosion in your mouth.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:11] Yeah, I love that stuff.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:43:13] it’s the best.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:14] I think that’s some stuff like there are some white people, shit that we eat here in the States obviously. When I came here, that was when I was like, wait a minute, you can eat all these things I’ve never even heard of before. Like numbing spicy. I didn’t know that was a real thing. And it’s not just so hot, you can’t feel your mouth. It’s just like a different, there’s something going on.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:43:32] It’s a different flavor entirely. And so we’re sitting there, we’re drinking some beers and there’s a toast. It’s jiǔ hòu tǔ. It means today we have booze. So today we’ll drink. We’ll enjoy what we have now. That’s revolutionary. That’s so antithetical to what it used to be in China to a certain extent. Obviously, people try to have fun, but like this generation gets to decide what is fun. What is leisure? Like I said before two-thirds of all people who have passports in China or under the age of 37. They’re millennials. They’re seeing the world. The way that this pressure articulates often is consumption. They’re deeply interconnected. They want to see stuff. They want to spend. They want to eat incredible food. They want to see the world. And by the way, those are also dreams that are inherited from their parents who could not.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:19] Who could not do that. Their cheers were very some of this drink under the mattress in case we need later.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:44:25] Yes, yes, dark.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:27] Oh yeah, I know, right? I know it’s a joke, but it’s also kind of not.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:44:31] You know, we make light of the past because it makes it easier to swallow.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:35] That’s right. People here know that it’s hard to get into college, but the idea that you would have to prepare for 13 straight years in order to have a fighting chance is alien. Yeah, you take some AP classes in high school, you got to do some extracurricular activities. If you’re a celebrity, you bribed someone to put you on the crew team.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:44:53] Right, the water polo team.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:44:54] The water polo team but in China, it’s a completely different animal. I remember hearing things and reading in your book, things like, if you don’t do well on this exam like you’re basically, the fates have spoken. It’s like if you don’t do well on your sat, you retake it. If you don’t do well on these exams here, your life is over as far as your parents are concerned. You can do stuff I’m sure. It’s just you’re just a failure in many people’s eyes.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:45:19] In China, the only thing that matters when you applied to college is your score. This, by the way, is part of why entrepreneurialism is becoming so hot right now in China, because if you’re trying to go the traditional route, passing a test, getting into either state-owned enterprise or a firm. That’s like, “Wow, you went to this school or that school.” The odds are just brutally difficult and not everyone’s a good test taker.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:41] Yeah. I feel that.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:45:43] You might not be good at a test, but that doesn’t mean you’re bad at business. That doesn’t mean you’re bad at coding and that intensity that people bring to test-taking, they bring to starting your business. We make a joke about being like ramen sufficient here or whatever it is like you have enough money where you guys can eat. In the United States, you have enough money where you can eat ramen. Feeding ramen in China, you’re balling, you’re doing well, man. It’s some Japanese noodles You’re living life well. The second issue is. The average wage in China is still really low. We think, okay, there’s like some parody between China and the United States. The average income in Chengdu when I was living there, they do it by the month. It was about $600 to $700 US per month. Imagine trying to buy an iPhone. You’re getting around $600 to $700 per month.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:18] Good point. It’s like 10 percent of your salary for the whole year.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:46:21] And so the way to get off of that wage track is to create a business is to start something different, is to sell something internationally with the people who could afford a little bit more. It’s an exciting moment right now in China because of this really substantial entrepreneurial surge.

Jason DeFillippo: [00:46:37] You’re listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Zak Dychtwald. We’ll be right back after this.

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[00:51:17] Thank you for listening and supporting the show. Your support of our advertisers keeps us on the air and to learn more and get links to all the great discounts you just heard, so you can check out those amazing sponsors, visit Jordan Don’t forget the worksheet for today’s episode. That link is in the show notes at If you’re listening to us in the Overcast player, please click that little star next to the episode. We really appreciate it. And now for the conclusion of our episode with Zak Dychtwald.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:51] Let’s get in the language stuff though, man. We could talk for hours, but I want to get into the language stuff because the CIA ranks Mandarin as I think the hardest language to learn in the world. Is that correct?

Zak Dychtwald: [00:52:01] Among the hardest language.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:02] For English speakers, by the way.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:52:04] It’s the top tier. That’s an important one.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:05] Hindi, I think is one of them.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:52:07] So, Arabic, I believe Hindi is one of them. I’m not totally positive. I know Arabic, and I haven’t checked this recently because I haven’t had to flex as much recently. This is something you used to say to impress your parents and friends. Arabic, Japanese, I believe South Korean, and then Chinese. I would argue that Chinese is certainly more difficult than South Korean. Sorry to my friends in South Korea.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:25] You mean Korean in general.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:52:26] Excuse me, Korean. I apologize.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:27] They do have Korean in North Korea.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:52:28] It’s true. It is true. I apologize. Anyways, it’s hard and the reason it’s hard is because there’s no alphabet. And this is where Korean is different. The English alphabet has 26 letters and if you know the alphabet, you could read any word off the page.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:52:42] Even if you don’t know what it means.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:52:43] Right, exactly. I mean, and the letters have no meaning. D doesn’t mean anything, but you put it with A and another D and it spells out dad. You’re like, oh, okay, that’s dad. Our alphabet is used to describe our oral language in that way. Chinese has tens of thousands of unique characters, and if you don’t recognize one character, you can’t read it off the page.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:02] Oh, I know.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:53:03] It’s a really difficult part, and that’s just the written side, the spoken side. It’s a tonal language and people are like, “Oh, English is a tonal language.” Like is it? Maybe. Not the same.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:13] Not really.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:53:14] In Chinese —

Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:15] In fact, I thought of an example earlier when you were talking, you said the new generation doesn’t want to chī kǔ which is like eat bitter or suffer, but if you say chē kù, it’s parking space or garage.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:53:25] Right, exactly.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:26] And trust me, you might have heard the difference there. When you’re learning every word in Chinese, it’s going to take you a long ass time to hear the difference and then also to remember that chī kǔ is suffer and chē kù is parking space or garage. Like you have to know how to say that and when you hear it, you have to go, “Oh, parking space.” Some of its context, some of that’s going to trip you up forever.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:53:47] This is if we’re speaking really slow, right? Like chī kǔ versus chē kù. Sure maybe you can figure it out, but if someone’s yelling at you to stop eating bitter and find your stupid parking space and you’re like, “Ooh.” It freaks you out.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:01] And then you’ve got to remember when you want to say it yourself.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:54:04] I used to complain because I’m like, “Look, I’m getting the phonemes right. I’m not getting the tones right. You guys know what I’m saying.” But now when people speak trashed Chinese, that’s typically non-phono. Once you train your ear enough, and we can get into how to do that. But just to give you a basic example, this is the famous example ma-ma-ma-ma. Mā means mother. Má means hemp. Mǎ means horse. Mà means scold. You don’t want to confuse horse and mother. Ha-ha-ha. This is like the classic Chinese joke. There are some naughtier ones. I don’t know if we can get into this.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:31] Yeah, if you want to.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:54:33] Just young China. We’re trying to be cool.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:34] No, it’s fine.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:54:35] So a funny story of mine, I have a friend who does not speak very good Chinese as a foreign friend, and we are in Harbin which is as far North as you can go in China. We were there during winter. It was negative 30 degrees or like you spit on the sidewalk at cracks.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:47] One of the coldest cities in China. Isn’t it one of the coldest cities in the world?

Zak Dychtwald: [00:54:53] One of the coldest habitable places in the world. So we were there for this ice festival.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:58] I heard it’s incredible.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:54:59] It’s incredible. They build this entire city and these massive sculptures like multi-story high just of ice, and they sort of pipe these colored lights into them. It really is incredible. I’m a California, my friend was Costa Rican like the only people who are dumb enough to go to Harbin in the middle of winter are, you know us, but regardless, it’s cold.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:15] Negative 40. That’s just the number to beat.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:55:17] That’s an abstract. I have no concept of what that means. By the way, the first thing that happened is your nose hairs freeze and we took a 31-hour train ride and as soon as we get off the train, everyone local is wearing like loafers. I’m like this looks easy. And the first thing that happened to me is I completely panic.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:31] You start coughing,

Zak Dychtwald: [00:55:32] We start coughing. I feel my nose hairs freeze over. And my first impulse, my friend had to stop me from running back on the train. I blocked it. I had no idea that that’s what I was doing.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:55:41] That’s what it’s like going back to Michigan. You walk out of DTW airport, you start coughing because you go, “Oh, I forgot you got to breathe slower.”

Zak Dychtwald: [00:55:46] Exactly. And so my friend goes in, he wants to buy a face mask because it keeps your face warm and it also blocks off pollution. And he’s asking for, what he should be saying is kǒu zhào, face cover, kǒu is mouth and zhào is cover. And then he’s like motioning to his mouth. He’s like, you know, kǒu zhào, kǒu zhào. Unfortunately, what he was saying was kǒu jiāo which means oral exchange. Oral exchange and that’s the PG version of it. But like this guy behind the counter was like freaking out because it’s not like he immediately, “Oh, he means face cover.” Because it’s not intuitive. He’s like this is my language. You know if someone says oral sex versus face cover, you’re not going to be like, “Oh, when you say oral sex, you really mean face cover.” So this is what this guy’s hearing and he just absolutely freaked out. Tones matter. I’m getting it right matters. And you don’t want to walk into a convenience store thinking you’re asking for a face mask and really be asking for a sexual favor.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:56:41] Well I started learning Mandarin because it was hard. I was like, well, I’m learning Korean and then if it’s going to be a similar amount of effort, I’m just going to start learning Mandarin. And it’s tough, but of course, if you can learn languages, you can learn anything. It’s great for going to a country. If you’re going to be there for a year or even six months, you should try to learn the language of the place where you’re going. Obviously, if you’re going to be there for any amount of time, learn some of the words, but it’s worth getting conversational if you’re going to be there six months to a year. It’s worth getting fluent if you’re going to be anywhere longer than six months or a year. I know that you had a pretty steep learning curve like you really went at it with a vengeance.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:57:17] I was very intense and the reason — I didn’t know that I was going to stay in China for four, five, six, seven, however long. It’s been seven years now since I moved there and nine years since I first went. I didn’t think that this was going to happen, but when I first went, for me, it felt like language was the first difficult thing I was ever taking on my own. And so it had enormous personal meaning for me. And so figuring out how to do it. You know, I said earlier that I spoke French at the time, I didn’t speak a word of French. I took two years of French to learn anything. I’m not a language learner or that’s what I was told. And so I did an enormous amount of research into the fastest ways to go about language acquisition, not language learning as we talk about, but language acquisition. The idea is that you could just acquire it over time if you do the right things. And that was really empowering for me. So there’s a couple of things that you could do. That will allow you to learn language faster than all of your friends and faster than what everyone says that is possible.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:58:06] One of your strategies that I thought was really good was you didn’t do it like a lot of people do. You didn’t go to Shanghai and Beijing and go, I live in China. You’re like, I need to go to a, what was it, second or third-tier city?

Zak Dychtwald: [00:58:16] Second or third. So I was in Suzhou at the time and Suzhou has become a suburb of Shanghai even after I realized that I left. The hardest part of being in China is like, “Oh, you like you’re going to China.” You learn by immersion is that most people don’t immerse themselves in China. In Shanghai, most of the people, and I’m not knocking this, by the way, I’ve been an expert before. It’s fun. I did it when I was studying abroad. It’s a good time, but most people only have foreign friends and Chinese friends, they do have all speak perfect English. And so even if you’re spending 30 minutes a day or three hours a day in your Chinese class if at the end of the day you’re going to hang out with your ex-pat friends. I have never met anyone who has learned Chinese that way ever. I met some people who get it pretty good and can order beers and have like some stilted conversation. But my definition of fluency is if my friend, and by the way, I have to have a Chinese friend for this even to be possible, but ideally a lot of them. I’m thinking of a friend, Xiao Ye who ran a hostel on the fourth ring road or just outside of the third ring road.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:09] His name is leaf.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:59:10] Her name is leaf, Xiao Ye, a little leaf. By the way, ye is also weed for anyone trying to pick up in China, don’t. But regardless, she had a breakup and so she called me crying and, you mean, with like the emotional pain. Can you comfort somebody when they’re breaking up with you in their language? At first, why are they calling you? Second, can you comfort them? And third, can you be empathetic? On the next day, things kicked off in North Korea. Could I have a conversation about nuclear deterrence? This is what I had in my head. I’m like, all right, if I can get there, which is a bit lofty, but it was like, you know, this is where I want to be because these are the things that matter. Like the politics matters, but also the personal relationships really matter. So the first thing that you want to do is avoid ex-pat communities.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:59:52] Yeah, don’t go to the Irish pub with your British friends every day.

Zak Dychtwald: [00:59:55] Do it every now and then, but like if you make a life of that, you just won’t learn the language. So the overarching theme, and this is from a guy named Khatzumoto, who runs a language blog called AJATT, All Japanese All The Time. He’s a bit of a nut. He writes like a nut. But the language principles he described is pretty much what everyone describes. He’s just more intense about it. So his big overriding quote is that you don’t learn a language, you get used to it. And the way I interpreted that, and the way I use that was I thought about shifting my mental diet into Chinese. So if we are what we eat, we know intuitively that if we eat good food, we’ll become a fitter person. If we eat bad food, we start to look that way a little bit. Our brain composition and this isn’t obviously particularly scientific, but in terms of the way that we think we are, what we eat. So my mental diet means the conversations I had are obvious. The podcast I listened to, sorry, Jordan, you might lose a couple of listeners because of this. I apologize. The movies, I watch the TV, I watch. The friends I surrounded myself, the roommates I had, the very bad, awkward dates I went on, all should be in Chinese, top to bottom. A lot of people say, “Well, I don’t understand the TV.” Good. Yeah. You want to feel like you need it. The amount of subconscious churn, especially at the beginning that’s necessary to make your brain kick it into gear and be like, I need to figure this out. Otherwise, I’m not going to be able to live in this world that I’m inhabiting right now.

[01:01:15] This is how kids learn it. This is how kids learn it. Their parents are talking to TV is on people and they’re just trying to decode the world around them. So if your entire world is in a code that you don’t understand, your brain is going to do a lot of the work for you to decode that and allow you to understand that language far faster than what most people do, which is at 8:30 in the morning, you go to your language immersion class. You’re there for five hours, next to you as a Korean student behind you as an Irish student, to the left of you is a South African student. You’re hearing them speak crap Chinese all day. At three o’clock you get out of class and you go get beers with them and you start speaking English again. The highest concentration of bad Chinese speakers in a Chinese city isn’t a Chinese language class.

Jordan Harbinger: [01:01:53] Yeah, good point. And yet that’s our first stop. When the want to learn the language.

Zak Dychtwald: [01:01:57] You need a foundation and so this is where class matters. I think of it as a filing system, a mental filing system. You have to understand the basic grammatical rules. You have to kind of understand the way a sentence works in order for you to start to label and sort the information that you’ll be acquiring over the next couple of years of language acquisition. So either take one of these classes for two months or do one on one classes, take that same money, have fewer hours, but take some one-on-one classes.

Jordan Harbinger: [01:02:19] Yeah, that’s what I do. I’d take Skype lessons. People have heard this. I’m happy to refer anyone. My teachers are 24/7. They’re in China. I’m the only one in the class. I think it rounds out to about 17 bucks an hour. Super flexible, obviously, and they go, what do you want to learn? And I go, here’s what I’m going to be doing. I don’t want to learn how to write, cause I don’t even write things by hand in English. If I can read, I can type in pinion and the character will pop up and I can read it. So I can push that one. Like I saved myself, you know, 50 percent of time learning, that kind of thing. And you end up with all of these different techniques. I use SRS, which is I think called a spaced —

Zak Dychtwald: [01:02:52] Spaced Repetition System. So this is what you’re skipping ahead, Jordan. Yeah, but that’s a really good point about the Skype thing because you don’t have to be in the room anymore and it’s inexpensive. And you’re also funding the people who don’t have the opportunity to study abroad themselves or to go abroad themselves. So that to me is like a perfect example of, okay, these are people who are interested in the outside world who don’t get to travel there. They’re looking for some money and they’re professionals by the way. They’re really good teachers. It’s a massive system. Like the amount of young people who go to college for teaching foreigners Chinese is massive. So they’re qualified and become a really beautiful interaction and friendship.

[01:03:27] So number one is to build a filing cabinet. Filing cabinet is your basic organization system that you’re going to be putting these Chinese words into, Chinese words and Chinese phrases. The second part is hours in the pool, and this is sort of what I said before. I’m writing this down as I go because I have not codified this as well as I’d like to, but hours in the pool. We study Chinese or we study anything for 30 minutes at a time. We put our pencil down, we wipe our forehead. We feel good about ourselves. Again, you don’t learn a language, you get used to it. So you have to think about how do I get more hours in the pool? The best way to do it. In fact, if I recommend one thing to any aspiring language learner, particularly Chinese is to watch hours and hours and hours and hours and hours of TV.

Jordan Harbinger: [01:04:08] Which is a good permission slip. Usually, you’re not supposed to be watching TV.

Zak Dychtwald: [01:04:11] And what Katz talks about from All Japanese All The Time is take whatever your hobby is and do it in that source language, whether it’s Mangia, whether it’s video games, whatever. T V is so good because it’s the closest you can get to immersion.

Jordan Harbinger: [01:04:23] Is it Mangia? It’s not Manga?

Zak Dychtwald: [01:04:25] I don’t know, man. I’m exposing myself.

Jordan Harbinger: [01:04:27] Yeah. I don’t know what it is.

Zak Dychtwald: [01:04:28] I think it is Manga. I’m sorry. I actually, if you get —

Jordan Harbinger: [01:04:31] Mangia, I thought that was like eating an Italian.

Zak Dychtwald: [01:04:33] Well, I’m clearly not as worldly as I’m like, I’ve been stuck in Asia for a while although I should definitely know Manga.

Jordan Harbinger: [01:04:39] Then I like the idea of doing a hobby in that language.

Zak Dychtwald: [01:04:41] So hours in the pool is number two.

Jordan Harbinger: [01:04:43] What’s the third? There’s got to be a third.

Zak Dychtwald: [01:04:46] The third one is SRS, and this is where it gets a little bit structured, so an SRS system is how you could learn anything, Spaced Repetition System. Everyone knows that it’s important to do flashcards when you’re learning a language, but what happens when you have more than a hundred?

Jordan Harbinger: [01:04:59] Yeah. You just see one every month.

Zak Dychtwald: [01:05:01] You’re right. Exactly. It’s like it’s on this stack on your desk, and you don’t have a system for showing you the right information at the right time. So an SRS system is the system on your phone or your computer where you input the cards. You basically build the cards the exact same way and it does the thinking for you in terms of when you need it.

Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:17] I have this. Skitter for Chinese. There’s also Anki, which will link, A-N-K-I.

Zak Dychtwald: [01:05:22] Anki is for anything. Anki is an open-source. If I was taking any tests in the world from a driving test to a cooking test, to some technical tests, I would use Anki, SRS system to learn it. It’s so much more.

Jordan Harbinger: [01:05:33] It shows you either the picture or the symbol or the word. You say it in your head or out loud. If you know it, you give it a plus or whatever. If you don’t know it, you give it a minus and it shows you the ones that you’ve said you don’t know more often than the ones you’ve said you do, which is just logical. But if you’re trying to do that manually, it’s a humongous freaking pain.

Zak Dychtwald: [01:05:52] Enormous so it does all the thinking for you. This does all the scheduling for you. So basically you have to make a rule for yourself that every day I’m doing 20 minutes of flashcards or 15 minutes of flashcards or 30 minutes of flashcards, and you sit down and your SRS system does the thinking for you in terms of which flashcards you need to see. You just sit there and do it. And I’ve been doing it almost every day. I’ve had lapses, but almost every day for seven years now. And the goal is 10,000 flashcards. By the way, one of the major tenants of flashcard building sentences. Don’t input the individual words. It’s super important. And the reason is, you know, Americans, we don’t learn grammar. We internalize it because we read enough. When you see enough sentence, you see enough examples where you kind of, it’s called yǔ gǎn. It’s called language feel. That language feel you develop through sentences. You’re reading a book or you’re watching TV and someone says a sentence that you like or you might want for later.

Jordan Harbinger: [01:06:38] Yeah, I store it in my head.

Zak Dychtwald: [01:06:39] You put it in your SRS. It comes up later and for like, I now know what funny book I was reading or what show I was watching the last seven years. Based on which sentences I put into my SRS system. I’ve got about 5,000 now. I’m not stopping until I get the 10.

Jordan Harbinger: [01:06:52] There were points in my German learning, for example, where I would say an entire sentence or entire paragraph that was just individual sentences that I’d memorized and people were like, “Wow, you’re so good at this.” And I’m like, “Actually, I just memorized four sentences.” But after a while, then you can obviously create your own. You just follow the structure that’s in these other sentences. And it sounds like a native person would’ve put that sentence together. But if you’re just memorizing words, you’re just trying to plug them in and it’s kind of like you’re trying to fit the Lego on the Duplo and it’s not working.

Zak Dychtwald: [01:07:19] Super stiff. And so all of this is really trying to, you know, from the filing cabinet, which is just your basic structure. To the hours in the pool, which is just getting a feeling for the way the language works. So the RSRs system, which is just prodding your brain, reminding your brain, and it’s the most efficient way to feed your brain new information and then retain it. If you combine those three and you create a daily practice and you create these habits that allow you to. They’re faster and better than thinking you have to be in a classroom or you have to be at your desk 30 minutes a day in order for it to work.

Jordan Harbinger: [01:07:50] This has been awesome. We are way over time, so I want to make sure that we wrap it. But if you go to our YouTube channel, I’m going to ask Zak what the weirdest thing he did in China if we can even narrow it down to one or two of those things and some resources for people who want to go to China, but maybe have no idea where to begin. Maybe you’re in your 20s and you go, “What am I want to do with my life?” And my suggestion is to go to China if you don’t have any other ideas and we’re going to get into how you can actually make that happen. That’s Zak, thanks man for coming in.

Zak Dychtwald: [01:08:19] Thanks so much for having me. This is super fun.

Jordan Harbinger: [01:08:23] Big thank you to Zak. The book title is Young China: How The Restless Generation Will Change Their Country and the World. Interesting show! There was so much we couldn’t even get to gay dating culture in China, which is a fascinating subchapter I never thought I would be interested in and the kids are just under so much pressure. A friend of mine, his wife teaches young Chinese kids English via Skype, just like I learned Chinese via Skype and they don’t want to miss a minute of lessons. So, if they have to go to the bathroom, they pee in bottles and my friend’s wife is always just so amazed about this. And she finally asked like, “Why don’t you just let them go to the bathroom?” And they say, “No way. We paid for this. He’s got to take the whole lesson.” I mean, the pressure is enormous. I would not want to be a Chinese millennial in this market, this economy of these, a little princess, just absolutely crazy amount of pressure, but it’s going to take the country far, but at what cost. Link to the book will be in the show notes.

[01:09:16] There’s also a worksheet for each episode, so you can review what you’ve learned here from Zak Dychtwald. That’s at in the show notes. We also have transcripts for each episode and those can be found in the show notes as well.

[01:09:28] I’m teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships using systems and tiny habits. That’s over at our Six-Minute Networking course, which is free. That’s over at Don’t do it later. Dig the well before you get thirsty. You’ve got to start now. Procrastination leads to stagnation when it comes to your personal and your business relationships. And the drills take a few minutes a day, hence the name. I wish I knew this stuff 20 years ago. It’s not fluff. It’s crucial. And you do it before you do everything else, not after you’re done and quote-unquote ready to network now. You can find that all for free at And most of the guests on the show, they subscribe to the course and the newsletter. So come join us, you’ll be in smart company. In fact, why not reach out to Zak and tell him you enjoyed this episode of the show? Show guests love hearing from you, and you never know what might shake out of that. Speaking of building relationships, you can always reach out and follow me on social. I’m at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram.

[01:10:22] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. This episode was produced by Jen Harbinger, Jason DeFillippo, and Jase Sanderson. Show notes and worksheets by Robert Fogarty, music by Evan Viola, and I’m your host, Jordan Harbinger. Our advice and opinions and those of our guests are their own. And yeah, I’m a lawyer, but I’m not your lawyer, so do your research before implementing anything you hear on the show. And remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting that should be in every episode. So please share the show with those you love and even those you don’t. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we’ll see you next time.

[01:11:02] For those of you who are interested in going to prison with me on February 26, 2020. I’m going to bring a bunch of you to an educational program for prisoners at their graduation, so it’s a big deal for them. This is such a life-changing and fascinating event. I have a little bit of additional details. I’m going to be emailing the interest list about this. You can get on the interest list by emailing me at It’s going to be on February 26 near Lake Tahoe, so kind of near Nevada, kind of near California. This is a unique event that Hustle 2.0 has never done in the past, but I’ve done the prison thing before. We’re not winging that. Registration is open right now to a limited number of people. It’s going to be around a thousand we’re trying to get it below that. That provides a 12-month scholarship to one incarcerated student enrolled in Hustle 2.0 at High Desert Prison. We don’t get any kickbacks. Don’t worry. And you’re going to have to, of course, travel out there and stuff, but I’m going to make this affordable. You get details by emailing at and I can’t wait to meet all of you behind bars.

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