For two decades, investors in China’s venture capital firms have looked for partners with an instinct for the “new economy.” And for two decades, the firms have posted high-flying returns primarily driven by winners in this fiercely competitive arena—including upstarts in budget appliances (Xiaomi), social media (ByteDance), ride hailing (Didi) and food delivery (Meituan)—that seemed to validate that approach. Not anymore.
China’s capital markets in 2021 will be remembered for their plummeting tech stocks—triggered by sweeping regulatory moves from Beijing, escalated by a cybersecurity investigation into Didi launched mere days after the ride-hailing giant’s U.S. initial public offering, and brought to a head by the complete overhaul of the commercial tutoring sector.
As investors and asset allocators scrambled to make sense of the abrupt changes, even those in China were left in a daze, deliberating over the same questions: Why regulate now? What will happen next? How do we proceed? Lacking clear answers from the general partners at their venture firms, many limited partners are now asking themselves yet another question: What does it mean to really understand China?