《经济学人》:中国特色互联网
日期:2011-08-02 11:34

(单词翻译:单击)

Chinese internet companies
中国互联网企业

An internet with Chinese characteristics
中国特色互联网

Online business in China is growing even faster than the offline sort. Local tastes and needs, as well as the state, are endowing it with distinctive features
中国网上业务较网下业务发展更为迅猛。本土风味与需求,还有政府,正赋予其鲜明特色。

Jul 30th 2011 | HANGZHOU | from the print edition

WHEN Huang Bing graduated from university in 2005, he promised himself he would make his first 1m yuan (about $155,000) within three years. It took him a bit longer, but no matter: if his business, a collection of online cosmetics stores, maintains its current trajectory, he will soon count his first billion. In a few years he expects annual revenues to reach 10 billion yuan.
黄冰(音译)2005年大学毕业时,决心在三年内赚到首个100万(约15.5万美元)。现下看来,达成目标尚需时日,但不要紧,倘若其化妆品网店生意照现在这种趋势发展下去,首个100万很快就会赚到,且有望在数年后年收入达1000万元。

Mr Huang’s company, United Cosmetics International, is only one of thousands on Taobao Mall, a huge online shopping centre. He spotted a demand from women in China’s hinterland for branded cosmetics—and advice on how to use them. “A lot of women in rural areas don’t have access to quality products,” he explains, guiding visitors through the firm’s headquarters in the outskirts of Hangzhou, two hours’ drive south-west of Shanghai. On several floors, at desk after desk, “beauty consultants” busily type answers for customers.
大型网上交易中心“淘宝商城”入驻企业成千上万,黄冰的“联合化妆品国际公司”(United Cosmetics International)仅是其中之一。他看准了中国内地女性热衷名牌化妆品、渴望了解其使用方法的需求。“许多身处偏僻地区的女性没法接触到优质化妆品”,他一边领着来宾参观公司总部,一边解释道。其总部位于杭州郊区,距上海西南部两小时车程。几层楼上,桌子一张挨着一张,“美容顾问”忙着敲打电脑键盘,在线为顾客解疑答惑。

As goes United Cosmetics, so goes the Chinese internet. It is growing by leaps and bounds (see chart 1), as ever more people log on from phones, homes or offices, or in huge internet cafés (pictured). The China Internet Network Information Centre reckons that the online population, already the world’s biggest, has risen by 6% to 485m this year. And almost two-thirds of people are not yet online.
“联合化妆品公司”所走之路,便是中国互联网成长之途。随着越来越多的人用手机入网,或在家中、办公室及大型网吧(见照片)上网,其发展突飞猛进。“中国互联网络信息中心”估计,已排名世界第一的中国网民数,今年又增加了6%,达4.85亿人。并且还有近三分之二的人尚未上网。

Just as striking, as the country’s internet grows larger it also grows more distinctly Chinese. “The beauty of the internet is that it easily adapts to local conditions,” says Paul Zwillenberg of the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). The Chinese internet is the best example of the argument that, far from creating uniformity, the global network is shaped by local forces.
中国互联网规模日益壮大令人瞩目,而同样突出的,是其发展愈发具有中国特色。“波士顿咨询集团”(BCG)的Paul Zwillenberg称,“互联网妙就妙在能轻易适应当地状况”。有种说法,全球互联网不仅没有使世界千人一面,反而被各种本地力量塑造得丰富多彩,中国互联网就是最佳佐证。

Consumers, firms, economy and state
用户、企业、经济与政府

Those forces can be divided into four: the demands of Chinese consumers; the attitudes of Chinese entrepreneurs; China’s offline economic development; and the role of the state. Start with consumers. China’s internet users are younger than the Westerners who first logged on about 20 years ago. They are hungry for entertainment and mostly poor (but fast becoming richer). Foreign internet companies have struggled to replicate their success in China (though they have done quite well as investors, a current quarrel between Alibaba Group, one of China’s internet giants, and America’s Yahoo! notwithstanding). Chinese firms, most of which began by copying Western models, prospered when they devised clever adaptations.
这些本地力量可分为四种:中国用户的需求、中国企业家的态度、中国网下经济的发展以及政府扮演的角色。先说用户,较之约20年前首次上网的西方用户,中国互联网用户更年轻。他们非常热衷娱乐应用,多数荷包欠奉,但会快速致富。外国互联网企业已努力将其成功复制到中国,作为投资者,他们干得还不赖,尽管中国互联网巨头阿里巴巴集团目前仍与美国雅虎争执不休。中国企业多以仿效西方模式起家,可一旦设想出巧妙的适应方法,生意就兴旺发达了。

Take Tencent, China’s second-biggest internet firm by market capitalisation. It started as a clone of ICQ, a chat service, but quickly outgrew the original by offering China’s youthful masses a cheap way to communicate and have fun. Tencent’s chat service, which boasts 674m user accounts, and most of its other offerings are free. The firm makes most of its money by selling virtual goods (a dress for an avatar, a weapon in an online game) for play money that users buy with real cash.
以腾讯为例,这家中国市值第二的互联网企业,以ICQ翻版聊天服务QQ起步,但靠着为中国年轻大众提供廉价的沟通娱乐方式,迅速青出于蓝而胜于蓝。腾讯聊天服务拥有6.74亿用户账号,其他大部分业务免费。该公司赚的大部分钱都来自虚拟商品销售,如QQ秀、网络游戏武器等,这些物品要用户拿真金白银购买游戏币来置换。

Similarly, Taobao, which is owned by Alibaba, was launched to compete with the Chinese service of eBay, an auction site. It quickly overtook its rival by not charging transaction fees. But its main achievement has been to overcome perhaps the biggest barrier to online shopping in China: lack of trust. Alibaba’s online payment system, Alipay, the world’s largest by value of transactions, has an escrow function that withholds payment until goods have been received (most deals are still cash on delivery). Taobao today boasts 370m registered users. It accounts for three out of four online sales in China and reportedly one out of two packages posted.
同样,阿里巴巴旗下淘宝网上线,目的就是与拍卖网站eBay的中国业务竞争。靠着免收交易费,它迅速超越了对手。但其最重要的成就在于跨越了或许是中国网购最大障碍的“诚信缺失”。阿里巴巴交易额世界第一的网络支付系统“支付宝”,具有第三方支付功能,即消费者收货之前,付款可代为保管,而大部分交易仍是一手交钱一手交货。淘宝现有3.7亿注册用户,占中国网上交易额的四分之三,而据称,中国邮政包裹有一半出自淘宝。

Vancl, a start-up that intends to go public soon, is satisfying both consumers’ desire for instant gratification and their growing brand-consciousness (or dislike of pirated goods). Its well designed but cheap clothes and shoes can only be ordered on its website. In the big coastal cities they are often delivered the same day—a service most big e-commerce sites now offer.
用户热衷瞬时称心,品牌意识或对山寨产品的厌恶感与日俱增,凡客诚品这家新兴企业投其所好,发展迅猛,很快就要上市。它的衣服鞋子设计精良但价格便宜,仅在其网站上才可订购。在沿海大城市,产品常可当日送达,而这项服务多数大型商务网站目前已可提供。

A recent addition to this innovative group is Sina Weibo. Run by Sina, another leading internet firm, it is often billed as the “Twitter of China”, but it allows users to attach comments, pictures and even videos to their messages. Sina has also recruited thousands of celebrities to use the service.
这一创新集团的新起之秀,是另一家互联网领军企业新浪运营的“新浪微博”。这项服务常被贴上“中国推特”的标签,但它允许用户发信息时附上评论、图片甚至视频。新浪也招募了数千名流使用其服务。

China’s internet entrepreneurs are different, too. There are lots of part-timers. Students have taken en masse to selling on Taobao: many university dormitories double as storerooms for goods awaiting orders. Full-time entrepreneurs may have less experience than their Western counterparts, but make up for that with sheer effort. “They do not want to miss their chance to make it big—which is why they work like crazy and practically abandon life,” explains Kai-Fu Lee, who used to run Google China but now heads Innovation Works, a start-up incubator in Beijing.
中国互联网企业家也与众不同。兼职者众多。学生成群结队在淘宝上卖东西,许多大学寝室兼有货仓功能,储存待售货物。专职企业家或许比西方同行欠缺经验,但勤能补拙。“他们不想错过任何发展壮大的机会,这就是他们何以疯狂工作到几乎不要命的原因”,谷歌中国前总裁李开复这样说,他现在是北京一家新兴孵化企业“创新工场”的老板。

This drive to win explains why Chinese online entrepreneurs are often more pragmatic than Western ones and do not mind adapting something invented elsewhere, says Hans Tung of Qiming Ventures, a venture-capital firm. They tend to be less enamoured of technology. At Google in Silicon Valley, maths problems are pinned to some toilet doors, so that brains need never be idle. The headquarters in Beijing of Baidu, which has 75% of China’s search market, feels much less dominated by engineers. “We’re focusing more on products and satisfying our users’ needs,” says Robin Li, Baidu’s boss. He is making a big bet on what he calls “box computing”, which turns Baidu’s search box into a window to all kinds of applications and services.
这种力争胜利的干劲说明了中国互联网企业为何比西方同行更务实,且不介意采用别处的创新发明,风投公司“启明创投”的童士豪称。他们往往很少沉溺于技术。在位于硅谷的谷歌,数学问题钉在一些卫生间门上,工程师大脑一刻不闲。而总部位于北京、拥有中国搜索市场75%份额的百度公司,感觉上工程师主导较少。百度老板李彦宏称,“我们更专注于产品,致力满足用户需求”。他正豪赌其所谓的“框计算”,该技术会让百度搜索框变为一个面向各种应用与服务的窗口。

The will to win and the abundance of venture capital make China’s internet a “ferociously gladiatorial environment”, says Richard Robinson, an American who has founded several start-ups in Beijing. Rivals spring up literally overnight. There are 80 social networks, 200 online-video services and 2,000 online-coupon sites. Questionable business practices, such as kickbacks for online advertisements, add to the competitive frenzy.
曾在北京创立数家新兴企业的美国人Richard Robinson称,这种志在必得及充足的风投资本,让中国互联网沦为“残酷的角斗场”。竞争对手一夜之间冒出,现已有80家社交网站、200家网络视频服务及2000家团购网站。而饱受质疑的商业行为,如网络广告收取回扣,更加剧了这种竞争乱象。

The founders of companies that come out ahead in this battle often prefer to enjoy their new wealth rather than become serial entrepreneurs, as successful Silicon Valley folk are wont to do. Others set out to build sprawling online empires, which is one reason why China’s biggest internet companies, more than their Western counterparts, fight each other directly and on several fronts. Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent are becoming internet conglomerates offering similar sets of services.
在这场混战中脱颖而出的企业创始人,常喜欢享受新到手的财富,而不愿像事业有成的硅谷小伙子那样,习惯继续创业。而别的企业家则设法大肆扩张网络帝国,这便是中国互联网巨头比西方同行更会直接交手并在数条阵线PK的的原因。阿里巴巴、百度与腾讯正成为互联网综合企业,提供成套类似服务。

Filling the void
填补空缺

China’s relatively underdeveloped economy also plays a role. In the West online companies often disrupted existing industries. In China they are more likely to fill a void. “The internet will be a much more robust force in China because offline businesses are much less efficient,” argues Duncan Clark of BDA, a telecoms consultancy in Beijing.
中国相对欠发达的经济也发挥了作用。在西方,互联网企业常给现有产业添乱。而在中国,互联网企业却可能填补现有产业的空缺。北京一家电信咨询公司BDA的Duncan Clark表示,“由于网下业务极为低效,因而中国互联网将成为一股相当强大的力量。”

Except in big cities near the coast, conventional retailing is fragmented and underdeveloped. Yet much of the country has been covered by fast internet pipes. A basic broadband connection costs less than 100 yuan a month. The result will be a “huge leapfrog effect”, says David Michael of BCG. The consulting firm recently predicted that the annual value of China’s e-commerce market would quadruple by 2015, to $305 billion. It may then be the world’s largest (see chart 2).
除了沿海大城市,其他地方的传统零售业分散而欠发达。然而该国大部分地区已覆盖高速互联网通道。基本的宽带上网月费不足100元。BCG的David Michael称,这必将导致“大跃进效应”。这家咨询公司最近预测,2015年,中国电子商务市场年值将会翻两番,达到3050亿美元,届时将成为世界第一。

The size of the market makes it possible to try new business models. Although Taobao and its sister site Taobao Mall, where only professional sellers are allowed, somewhat resemble eBay and Amazon, their executives have a grander ambition. They want to build an “operating system for e-commerce”, as Richard Wong, a Taobao executive, puts it. Taobao sells no goods, but supplies the services that make it easier for others to trade: payment, instant messaging and even logistics. In January Alibaba said it would invest up to 30 billion yuan in new warehouses.
庞大的市场规模令新模式尝试成为可能。尽管淘宝与其仅允许专业卖家进驻的姊妹网站“淘宝商城”,有点类似e Bay和Amazon,但其高层却更雄心勃勃。正如淘宝一位高管王帅所述,他们想打造一种“电子商务操作系统”,即淘宝不卖商品,但提供让其他人轻松交易的服务,如支付、即时信息及后勤保障。今年1月,阿里巴巴称其将投资超过300亿元建设新货仓。

The media industry, with its lumbering state giants and fragmented private sector, has created another opening: for online-video sites, such as Youku. It looks (and sounds) much like YouTube, but Victor Koo, its boss, likens it to Hulu and Netflix, American sites that deliver television programmes and films over the web. Since most Chinese are just discovering digital video, says Mr Koo, users generate only about a quarter of Youku’s content. The rest is made professionally, for instance by television stations or Youku itself.
曾经的中国媒体业,国有巨头臃肿笨拙,私营企业又零星分散,但现在却为优酷之类的在线视频网站创造了另一个空缺。该网站看起来(或听起来)极像YouTube,但其老板古永锵却将其与美国网络影视节目播送网站Hulu和Netflix相比。古先生称,由于多数中国人还在摸索数字视频,因而用户只创建了约四分之一的优酷内容。其余则是专业作品,如由电视台或优酷自己制作。

Youku also illustrates the fourth feature of China’s internet: the role of the state. Until 2007 regulation was rather lax, allowing start-ups to dominate the industry, notes Bill Bishop, a longtime China-watcher. Yet as the internet’s economic and social importance has grown, so has political intervention. In June 2010 the government published a white paper outlining its regulatory plans. In May it said it had created a central agency to oversee the internet.
优酷也说明了中国互联网的第四个特点,即政府的作用。一位长期研究中国问题的专家Bill Bishop注意到,直到2007年,监管还很松懈,尚许新兴企业主导该行业。然而随着互联网经济发展,社会影响力日增,政府干预也增强了。去年6月,政府公布了监管计划概要白皮书。而今年5月,政府称已组建了一个中央机构,监管互联网。

Regulation mostly involves licensing and self-censorship. Youku needs several licences. The rules on censorship are vague, and firms err on the side of caution. “You have to know what is sensitive,” says an executive at a big internet firm. Youku has developed a sophisticated monitoring system: dozens of editors watch new material and classify it, building a video database that can be used to find good content, but also to block undesirable clips.
监管主要牵涉审批与自查。优酷需获几项执照。审查条例含混不清,企业纷纷打“擦边球”。一家大型互联网公司高管称,“你必须知道哪些东西敏感”。优酷开发了一套复杂的监测系统,许多编辑用之观看新素材、分门别类,从而构建一个视频数据库,既可用于找到优良内容,同时又能将那些可能惹麻烦的视频片段拒之门外。

Even though complying with such rules can be costly, hardly anyone complains, even in private. Regulation also makes life harder for would-be competitors, foreign or Chinese. “People take the government as a given,” says Mr Lee of Innovation Works. He adds that he had to think more about censorship at Google.
即使遵守这些规则代价不菲,也几乎无人抱怨,甚至私下里也没人发牢骚。监管也让那些潜在的国内外竞争者日子愈发艰难。“创新工场”老板李开复称,“人们会预先考虑到政府因素”。他还提到在谷歌时,不得不多加考虑审查。

Some big internet firms even seek the government’s input before launching a service, in effect involving it in product development. When designing Weibo, Sina apparently worked closely with regulators. The service is capable of quickly stopping certain users from logging on and blocking posts containing certain terms. When protests broke out in Inner Mongolia in May, the name of the province could no longer be searched for. At the same time the state sees benefits in microblogging and social networks. They allow citizens to vent their grievances and give prompt warning if, say, corruption in a provincial city is getting out of hand. “Beijing has a political interest in keeping China’s internet commercially healthy,” Mr Bishop wrote in his blog, DigiCha, in February.
某些大型互联网企业在推出一项服务前,甚至会寻求政府意见,事实上,在产品开发阶段就已经让其参与了。新浪设计微博时,显然曾与监管者密切合作。该业务能迅速阻止某些用户登录,并屏蔽含有某些敏感字的帖子。今年5月内蒙古爆发抗议时,该自治区名字再也无法搜索。而与此同时,政府也发现了微博跟社交网络带来的好处。老百姓可借此发泄不满,且要是,比方说,一个省会城市腐败失控后,发出预警。今年2月,Bishop先生在其博客DigiCha中写道,“北京在保持中国互联网业务健康发展方面,有其政治利益。”

Will China’s internet continue to have distinctively Chinese characteristics? Some differences from the West’s will fade as the industry and China’s economy mature and the country’s internet population grows older and richer. Other features will probably persist, for example the dominance of three digital conglomerates, Alibaba, Baidu and Tencent.
中国互联网还会继续保有这种鲜明特色吗?随着该行业与中国经济日益成熟,中国网民又逐渐变老变富,一些不同于西方的特色将会慢慢消失。而其他一些特色,如三大数字综合企业——阿里巴巴、百度与腾讯的主导之势,或许会保留下来。

The influence of the state is likely to reinforce these “three mountains”. They are well versed in dealing with state agencies and they can spread the costs of regulation over a broad revenue base. If anything, the three will probably become even more dominant. Rather than buying promising start-ups, they tend to build their own version of a popular new service. Western firms build too, but also buy. If Chinese start-ups are likely to be crushed, finance will be hard to come by. Sina, boosted by the success of its microblogging service, is considered a test case for whether smaller firms can catch up with the big three at all.
政府的影响可能会强化这“三座大山”的垄断局面。它们相当擅长与政府机构打交道,并能在广泛收入基础上分摊监管成本。总之,三者的主导地位大概会变得愈发突出。相比收购那些前途光明的新兴企业,它们更倾向于打造属于自己广受欢迎的新服务。西方企业也会打造自己的服务,但亦会收购。倘若中国新兴企业濒临失败,资金就很难跟上。因微博服务大获成功而蒸蒸日上的新浪,就被视为一个案例,用于验证规模较小的企业究竟能否赶上这三大巨头。

Abroad, China’s internet firms are largely untested. Tencent is the most daring: it owns a stake in Mail.Ru, a Russian portal, for instance. Baidu is planning to offer its services in a dozen other languages. “We are going to expand into many other markets,” Mr Li said recently.
在海外,中国互联网企业尚未经历大风雨。腾讯最大胆,持股俄罗斯门户网站Mail.Ru。而百度正计划用十二种外语提供服务。李彦宏最近表示,“我们正打算进军其他许多市场。”

Expanding abroad will not be easy. Being Chinese, a cultural advantage at home, may be a disadvantage elsewhere. Still, China’s internet will have global influence. In some ways it already has. Tencent has made money from virtual goods and currencies; Silicon Valley is following. Twitter has been looking at what Sina Weibo does. Some European e-commerce sites are said to be interested in Vancl’s model. Expect more of China’s online characteristics to be adopted in the West.
海外拓展并非易事。中国人在国内具备的文化优势,在别处或许会成为劣势。尽管如此,中国互联网仍有全球影响力。某些方面甚至已具备了。腾讯从虚拟商品和虚拟货币上赚了钱,硅谷正加以效仿。推特则一直在关注新浪微博的一举一动。一些欧洲电子商务网站据称对凡客诚品的模式有兴趣。预计更多的中国互联网特色会在西方得到应用。

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