Associate Professor of Applied Economics Bas Karreman (41) had already visited China several times when he read a positive review in The Economist about the book Mr. China. “I bought the book and read it in one go. I recognised all the craziness; it was as though I was in the book. I started smelling China.” The start of the book focuses on the businessmen’s confusion about how things work in China, but the longer they stay there, the more awe and respect they have for the country.
Bas Karreman is Associate Professor at the Applied Economic Sciences department. He conducts research into organisation and strategy in the field, focusing on financial services and emerging markets. Most of his work relates to the development of financial centres in mainland China and Hong Kong and the network development of multi-national banks in Central and Eastern Europe. In the Economics and Business Economics bachelor’s degree, Karreman lectures on the Organisation and Strategy course, for which he was selected as lecturer of the year by students in 2009-2010.
Karreman was 21 when he visited China for the first time. He visited Dutch companies in Shanghai for a research project, together with a group of co-students. “I walked around in astonishment for six weeks,” he remembered. “One day we were in a factory hall so huge I couldn’t see the end of it, and there were only women working on the assembly line. All young, between 18 and 25 years. They picked up an object from the conveyor, tightened a few screws and placed it back on the conveyor.” Karreman acts out their movement. “The employees were all women, as women have good fine motor skills, and they were young so there wouldn’t be too many production line employees with household tasks and children, explained the Floor Manager when we asked whether any men worked in the hall.”
“I found it fascinating,” continued Karreman. “And let’s not forget, many people wanted to work for that company. By our standards, the employees earned very little, but wages were high compared with wages paid by the government or local companies.”
The research project in China was part of an ‘Economy and Business in Pacific Asia’ programme that Karreman followed on top of his Economics study at EUR. He’d been interested in China his whole life; Bruce Lee was his hero and he practised Kung Fu. When he returned to the Netherlands after his first stay in China, he needed time to process his experiences, but above all he thought: “This is so awesome, I have to make something of this.” Three years later, he was conducting research for his thesis in Hong Kong.
It was 2003. Karreman had an appointment with the local manager of ING in Hong Kong. “The Two International Finance Centre had just opened with two brand new skyscrapers by the water; a low tower of 210 metres and a high tower of 415 metres.” ING was on the top floor of the lower tower.
Karreman was allowed to wait in the local manager’s office for the meeting. There were two Chesterfield sofas by the window with views across the former Hong Kong port. “Wearing my student suit – I’d dressed neatly but the suit was way too big – I sank back into one of the Chesterfields. At some point, a jovial man of around sixty came and sat next to me. We sat chatting for two-and-a-half hours while looking out over Hong Kong. I felt as though I was on top of the world.”
Number of books per year: fifteen
Most recent book: What is the What? by Dave Eggers https://libris.nl/boek/?authortitle=dave-eggers/wat-is-de-wat–9789048802715
Motivation: “Interest. I’m not a fast reader. My mother, for instance, scans through the pages. Not me. When I read, images appear before me and I make a kind of film in my head. I think that’s great!”
Favourite genre: “I read absolutely everything from novels to Harry Potter, from non-fiction to the Bosatlas and, of course, dozens of children’s books each year with the children. I’d really recommend Trubbel de Trol.”
Karaoke with the Rector
Karreman has now visited China some twenty times. At one time he seriously considered living and working there, but that ambition has faded now that he has children. It’s the familiarity that attracted him to Mr. China. He even experienced some of the scenes from the book himself. For instance, the businessmen in the book were invited to eat at a restaurant with an investor. As soon as the Baijiu – strong drink – was served, the evening got completely out of hand. “That’s something I’ve experienced so often.”
The Rector from the University of Fudan, one of China’s most prestigious universities, invited Karreman for a meal with a delegation from EUR. The aim was to strengthen relationships. A glass-topped round table was laid in a restaurant’s private room with twelve bottles of Baijiu. The group were served turtles and abalone from Australia. “There was a seating arrangement: the more important you were, the closer you sat to the Rector. I sat far away, so I was able to miss a few rounds of drinks unnoticed, unless a Chinese guest came along to raise a glass with me; I couldn’t refuse then. It’s like downing petrol,” laughed Karreman. “As soon as everyone’s cheeks were flushing, they brought a huge karaoke machine into the room. The Rector led the way with three songs. He was a fantastic singer, but everyone who followed just screamed into the microphone. It all sounded simply dreadful.”