Startups and the entrepreneurs who found them are not born in a vacuum. Their business models, products, and core values constitute an expression of the unique cultural time and place in which they come of age.

Silicon Valley’s and China’s internet ecosystems grew out of very different cultural soil. Entrepreneurs in the valley are often the children of successful professionals, such as computer scientists, dentists, engineers, and academics. Growing up they were constantly told that they—yes, they in particular—could change the world.

Their undergraduate years were spent learning the art of coding from the world’s leading researchers but also basking in the philosophical debates of a liberal arts education. When they arrived in Silicon Valley, their commutes to and from work took them through the gently curving, tree-lined streets of suburban California.

It’s an environment of abundance that lends itself to lofty thinking, to envisioning elegant technical solutions to abstract problems. Throw in the valley’s rich history of computer science breakthroughs, and you’ve set the stage for the geeky-hippie hybrid ideology that has long defined Silicon Valley.

Central to that ideology is a wide-eyed techno-optimism, a belief that every person and company can truly change the world through innovative thinking. Copying ideas or product features is frowned upon as a betrayal of the zeitgeist and an act that is beneath the moral code of a true entrepreneur. It’s all about “pure” innovation, creating a totally original product that generates what Steve Jobs called a “dent in the universe.”

Startups that grow up in this kind of environment tend to be mission-driven. They start with a novel idea or idealistic goal, and they build a company around that. Company mission statements are clean and lofty, detached from earthly concerns or financial motivations.

In stark contrast, China’s startup culture is the yin to Silicon Valley’s yang: instead of being mission-driven, Chinese companies are first and foremost market-driven. Their ultimate goal is to make money, and they’re willing to create any product, adopt any model, or go into any business that will accomplish that objective.

That mentality leads to incredible flexibility in business models and execution, a perfect distillation of the “lean startup” model often praised in Silicon Valley. It doesn’t matter where an idea came from or who came up with it. All that matters is whether you can execute it to make a financial profit. The core motivation for China’s market-driven entrepreneurs is not fame, glory, or changing the world. Those things are all nice side benefits, but the grand prize is getting rich, and it doesn’t matter how you get there.

Jarring as that mercenary attitude is to many Americans, the Chinese approach has deep historical and cultural roots. Rote memorization formed the core of Chinese education for millennia. Entry into the country’s imperial bureaucracy depended on word-for-word memorization of ancient texts and the ability to construct a perfect “eight-legged essay” following rigid stylistic guidelines. While Socrates encouraged his students to seek truth by questioning everything, ancient Chinese philosophers counseled people to follow the rituals of sages from the ancient past. Rigorous copying of perfection was seen as the route to true mastery.

Layered atop this cultural propensity for imitation is the deeply ingrained scarcity mentality of twentieth-century China. Most Chinese tech entrepreneurs are at most one generation away from grinding poverty that stretches back centuries. Many are only children—products of the now defunct “One Child Policy”—carrying on their backs the expectations of two parents and four grandparents who have invested all their hopes for a better life in this child.

Growing up, their parents didn’t talk to them about changing the world. Rather, they talked about survival, about a responsibility to earn money so they can take care of their parents when their parents are too old to work in the fields. A college education was seen as the key to escaping generations of grinding poverty, and that required tens of thousands of hours of rote memorization in preparing for China’s notoriously competitive entrance exam. During these entrepreneurs’ lifetimes, China wrenched itself out of poverty through bold policies and hard work, trading meal tickets for paychecks for equity stakes in startups.