Harvard Business Review recently published a blog post written by professor and author Bill Fischer titled “China Needs A New Generation of Dreamers (And New Dreams)”.  In the post, Fischer argues that while a very small handful of Chinese entrepreneurs at the absolute top of their industries are attempting to dream relatively big, the “dreaming big” mentality still hasn’t become common currency among Chinese entrepreneurs…large or small.

The post begins with a simple statement, and then a couple of simple questions:

China leads the world in population, and probably in sheer numbers of entrepreneurs as well, but does it lead the world in innovative dreams? Dreams power innovation, and innovation is key to all of our futures, but who’s dreaming on China’s behalf?”

These are excellent questions, and certainly questions that China’s current and future business and political leaders should be asking themselves.  But it’s not that the Chinese aren’t thinking actively about new ideas.  In a 2011 article written by Alex Zhang, an attorney at the Chinese law firm King & Wood, it’s observed that in 2010, there were over 1.2 million domestic patent filings in China.  Further, China expects there to be 2 million domestic patent filings by 2015.  Even their overseas patent applications will double by 2015.  Clearly, there are a LOT of folks in China with new ideas (note: there is massive debate over the quality of these patent filings, how many filings are actually granted, and the Chinese government’s directive to file as many patents as possible).

But these are just patents, and patents do NOT show evidence of dreams…which is where this post began.  So, back to the original question: who’s dreaming on behalf of China?


Answer:  China’s international students.

No, China’s international students are not yet filing patents and, no, they’ve not yet changed the world like Gates, Musk, Jobs, Zuckerberg, or Bezos.  But they are taking enormous personal risks and investing vast sums of financial, emotional and social capital in their futures.

And that’s where the dreaming comes in…their futures.  These student dreamers know that getting ahead, innovating, collaborating and changing the world requires more than it used to.  Gone are the days when simple memorization and regurgitation of raw facts were accurate measures of intelligence; gone are the days when doing as you’re told (or doing what your parents did) put you in the best position to succeed; gone are the days when thinking small and safe was, well, safe.

So these students and their families have taken matters into their own hands, gone to the other side of the earth, and enrolled in schools that will provide them with the skills, perspectives, and connections that will allow them change the world someday.

So when writers ask “Who’s dreaming on behalf of China?”, tell them to visit  a U.S. high school or university with an international students program and talk to some of China’s new generation of dreamers.  There are 25,000 of them in U.S. high schools and over 200,000 of them in U.S. universities and colleges.  They’re brilliant, ambitious, and worldly…and they’re doing a lot of dreaming.  And, having met hundreds of these Chinese student dreamers myself, I would NOT bet against them.


The international student experience is both challenging and exciting. Whether you are a student considering studying in America, their parent, the host family, the Head of School, an international coordinator, or even a potential classmate, there are as many opportunities for confusion as there are to learn. The ISPA is here to help bridge that gap, to ensure that this opportunity and adventure is met with the highest level of success.