The 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China (CCP), held on 16-22 October, was a widely watched event.

Investors, entrepreneurs, corporate decision makers and the rest of us all zoomed in to examine minute details sent from the Great Hall of the People in Beijing – and tried to guess the direction for the next five years for China.

A lot of speculation went into guessing who would be making up the new Politburo Standing Committee of the CCP – the top decision making body in the country. Media tirelessly interviewed scholars, China watchers, and “old China hands”.

A friend who is quite close to the establishment in China told me recently that “much of this speculation is wishful thinking. Many of these scholars do not even understand how the CCP logic works”.

The same friend, at the height of the tech crackdown last year, told me “Why do you think the same way as investment analysts? The CCP leadership has much more to consider than just the market – you have to try to understand their political logic.”

Interestingly, amid so much speculation and noise, those who truly understand how China works might find it hard to make their message stand out; some simply do not have the incentive to share the true stories.

After the revealing of the Standing Committee 7-member lineup on 22 Oct did not give much confidence to the market – Hong Kong’s index suffered their biggest decline in years during the next trading day.

The market surged subsequently this week when rumours were the senior leadership were seriously considering relaxing the zero-covid strategy.

A roller coaster indeed.

But how should we really make sense of China, especially in the next five years? I discussed this subject extensively with my co-hosts of the Low Level Barbarians podcast this week. You can listen to it during your free time.

My general sense is that it takes quite a bit of thinking to understand and appreciate the nuances. I would recommend the following materials:

  1. The Economist’s recent podcast “The Prince” – the storytelling is powerful though the later episodes focused more on anecdotes in contemporary China. However, the first two episodes about Xi Jinping’s early days are very accurate depictions of the man’s ideal for China;
  2. The Wall Street Journal’s coverage on China – in recent years it has been arguably the best amongst all the Western mainstream media. Solid sources, good understanding and no wishful thinking. Their article this week on Li Qian, who is poised to succeed Li Keqiang (no relation) as Premier, is poignant;
  3. A book called “改造我们的历史文化观” or “reforming our views on history and culture” by Zhang Musheng. This book was published in 2011, a year before Xi ascended to the top. Interestingly, in 2011 a friend in Beijing recommended me to read this book because “it is a very accurate depiction of the ideals of Xi and his generation of princelings who still have not lost faith in China”. The preface was written by General Liu Yuan, son of former president Liu Shaoqi (who was persecuted as Xi’s father in the Cultural Revolution). General Liu helped Xi topple the two most powerful corrupt generals when Xi came to power.

I was listening to the ‘All in’ podcast the other day, and really liked what David Sacks said – to understand where things are, we have to go back to how things evolved in the past to get us to this point. Just looking at one year or five years beforehand is not enough – we need to be much deeper.

Same for the entrepreneurs and investors who are trying to make sense not only of China, but also of the current global macro and investment environment.

Hang in there!



Thank you everyone who has given a nice review on Amazon about our book “Seeing the unseen: behind Chinese tech giants’ global venturing”.

In the book, we also covered Chinese-inspired tech giants such as Shopee, which has been through a series of tough events this year.

I will see you at our online sharing “Off the Record: Shopee’s turbulent 2022”, which will take place on 17 November between 3-4pm SGTRegister your spot here!

Thanks for reading The Low Down (TLD), the blog by the team at Momentum Works. Got a different perspective or have a burning opinion to share? Let us know at [email protected].


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Jianggan Li is the Founder & CEO of Momentum Works. Prior to founding Momentum Works, he co-founded Easy Taxi in Asia, and served as Managing Director of Foodpanda. The two years running Rocket Internet companies has given him a lifetime experience on supersonic implementation, and good camaraderie with entrepreneurs across the developing world. He holds a MBA from INSEAD (GMAT 770) and a degree in Computer Engineering from Nanyang Technological University. Unfortunately he never wrote a single line of code professionally - but in his first job he was in media, travelling extensively across Asia & Europe, speaking with Ministers & (occasionally) Prime Ministers. Apart from English and his native Mandarin, he is also fluent in French and conversational in Cantonese & Spanish. He tried to learn Latin (for three years) and Sanskrit (for six months) as well. In his (scarce) free time, he reads, travels, hikes and dives. Pyongyang, Tehran & Chisinau are among the interesting cities he has been to.