Tea Leaf Nation

The Formula for Chinese Web Riches: Ugly but Fast

A 'web designer's nightmare' can mint money if it successfully targets China's middle class.

Chinese online recruiter Zhaopin.com -- zhaopin means "to hire" -- is not a pretty site. Those surfing to the homepage are met with hundreds of logos and brands crammed together like bumper stickers. But looks are deceiving: Zhaopin Ltd is one of many domains on the Chinese Internet that are ruthlessly utilitarian, all about clicks and revenue, and with little care for design. They may be tough to look at but they're lucrative. Case in point: With its May 5 application to list on the New York Stock Exchange, nicely timed to tap the buzz surrounding Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba's IPO, Zhaopin is positioned to rake in an expected nine figures. 

Launched in 1997 by a Brit and a Canadian who went to China to study Mandarin and ended up starting a business, Zhaopin is a dinosaur by Chinese Internet standards. It's since changed hands and today is majority-owned by Melbourne-based SEEK Investment Pty Ltd, but its veteran status remains a leading strength. Good marketing, including clever TV spots like this one showing the toll of a lousy job on an office worker, helped it grow into a solid brand with 74 million users, the most of any Chinese job site.   

Co-founder Steven Chiu told Foreign Policy that when the site got its first venture capital in the late 1990's, the company mainly spent it on marketing. "We spent it on doing the things you're supposed to do as a young Internet company: advertising on billboards, on subways, on buses and on TV," said Chiu, who is now based in Paris and says he has no financial ties to Zhaopin. "It had a big impact, making Zhaopin a household name in China." 

What they didn't splash out on was web design. "The site is ugly," says Chiu, who now works for a startup education website, HSTRY.org. "It really hasn't changed at all in 10 years. We weren't in the business of trying to make the best looking website." Instead, "we knew how we could monetize and we did it." 

Industry analyst David Wolf told FP that China's leading sites tend to be eyesores. Many popular sites, including top portal Sina.com, are a "Web designer's nightmare," Wolf, managing director of public relations firm Allison+Partners' China practice, said. But "function trumps form at the moment on the Chinese Internet."

For Zhaopin, as with many others, the formula works. Recent college graduates hunting for jobs, like 24-year-old Li Xinze, a Beijing interior designer, automatically turn to Zhaopin. It's no surprise: the site has been around since Li was seven. "It's convenient and very fast," said Li, who says she found her last two jobs online. Mark Natkin, managing director of Beijing-based Marbridge Consulting in Beijing, told FP that Zhaopin "draws much of its advantage not from any particular differentiation of services provided but rather from being an early entrant." 

Zhaopin's IPO timing, at least, is impeccable, coming just as Alibaba prepares for a listing that could bring in as much as $15 billion, more than Facebook garnered in its IPO. For its part, Zhaopin has a financing target of $100 million, a ballpark that Wolf says is "midrange to modest." "They're not asking for the world," he said. "They really want to surf this China high." 

It may feel like a high for investors, but young Chinese are facing a murkier picture. Last year, Chinese media dubbed 2013 the "worst job market in history" because it saw a record number of college graduates -- 7 million -- enter the labor force. This year, there will be an additional 4 percent, or more than 7.2 million. Zhaopin may be less aspirational than LinkedIn, which in Feb. 24 launched a Chinese beta site with a name that means "select the elite," but that's part of its appeal as a space for the kind of low-to mid-range white-collar jobs that China's college grads covet. It's not currently geared toward the factory worker looking to assemble iPhones but instead toward the IT grad hoping to land a position at a Genius bar in an Apple store in Beijing or Shanghai. To take one example, positions posted by state broadcaster China Central Television including a Japanese translator and an on-air host for a shopping channel. 

The site's other useful features include a section for job counseling, where members ask questions like: "Is it legal for a company to demote you and cut your pay when you get pregnant?" or "I am 49 with a lot of experience in sales management, why can't I find a job?"  

But Wolf says college graduates aren't the only key demographic on the job market. Chinese of all ages are increasingly using the Internet to manage their careers because more people are moving to the cities and getting online. China now has 731 million long-term urban residents and 618 million people online, figures that grew 1.2 and 9.5 percent respectively from the previous year. They will have to jostle with millions of other Chinese to land a good job, but that's just fine for Zhaopin and companies like it. "The growth numbers," Wolf concludes, are "extraordinarily promising."

Image: Fair Use

Tea Leaf Nation

What Will China's National Security Commission Actually Do?

The four functions of China's top national security body.

On May 6, China published its first national security blue book. The book outlined problems Beijing sees itself facing in internal security -- including Western nations cultural hegemony threatening China's socialist values, terrorism, and the "export" of Western democracy threatening Chinese ideology, among others. Perhaps more importantly, it outlines the role of China's National Security Commission. Announced in November, helmed by China's President Xi Jinping and influenced by the United States' National Security Council, little is known about what it will do or how it will operate.

Here are the Commission's four functions, according to a web article about the blue book in the Communist party mouthpiece newspaper The People's Daily, edited and condensed from clarity.

Planning and carrying out strategies for national security. In the past, since China didn't have an official national security strategy, the military strategy was part of the national security strategy. But as the foreign and domestic security situation becomes more complex, military strategies are becoming increasingly insufficient for China's overall security needs -- which demand macro-level planning and guidance. Thus, the Commission's first and foremost responsibility is to plan and carry out urgently needed national security strategies.

Pushing forward the construction of China's national security legal system. An important task of the NSC is to improve China's national security legal system by introducing laws in the realms of military, politics, foreign policy, economics, culture, technology, information, environment, intelligence, among others.

Planning general and specific national security policies. These include policies that crack down on the "three forces" of terrorism, extremism, and separatism; policies related to sovereignty, territorial disputes, and maritime interests; and policies related to information and cyber security, space security, maritime security, and the security of neighboring regions.

Studying and solving the major issues in national security. Previously, different organs had separate responsibilities when responding to major national security incidents. But in recent years, all major incidents, such as the terror attacks the "three forces" launched in the regions of Xinjiang and Tibet, have been multi-faceted. They all have profound connections to international actors, so relying on only a few powerful domestic organs is not enough. Intelligence and foreign affairs organs should cooperate closely. There will be more incidents like these in the future.

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