It doesn’t look like a red envelope: Bribery in Fujian has switched from red envelopes to Trust-Mart gift certificates.
Rockers Tuning into the Chinese Market: The world’s rock stars have caught onto China’s rock music scene.
The Growing Chinese Love Affair with the Internet: China may yet outpace the US in terms of Internet users, but the Chinese enjoy the Internet more and find it much more useful for voicing opinions.
I’ve just finished two China books that really give two different views about China, but they have something in common: they’re both about foreigners’ time in China.
The first one is an absolute classic. 400 Billion Customers by Carl Crow is the quintessential business book about how to sell your products in to the China market. Written by Crow in 1937, the book’s main principals still stand today and have been repeated by countless successors who — some rightly and some not — consider themselves modern Carl Crows. The unique thing about this book is that Crow has a unique and admiration for the Chinese in all things. Even when he is writing about sneaky business deals and shady characters, you can almost hear the admiration in his voice — the funny cartoons in each chapter help as well. Crow doesn’t let you think business in China is easy, but he definitely let’s you know that it’s fun and an adventure.
Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler on the other hand while it is an adventure — and a superb piece of writing — is much darker. Hessler, who is the Beijing correspondent for the New Yorker, doesn’t cut the corners when talking about modern China, he shows the advancements that his former English students have made (they were originally profiled in his last book, River Town) and a Uigher trader that he befriends when he first moves to Beijing and he also writes about homes being destroyed to modernize Beijing and corruption that occurs in people’s drive “to get rich first”.
Though dark, this book is one that I savoured and really took my time with. I read it over three weeks and enjoyed it like a good meal — a very filling one. I found myself only reading a chapter at a day, maybe two or three on the weekend. I had to stop and let each chapter digest the images were just too vivid to go back for another helping right away. The images were just too ingrained in my mind. And it’s those ingrained images that are going to make me go out and buy Hessler’s next book.
Ken Carroll, the guy who started the language-learning-by-Podcast trend with his ChinesePod venture has a new blog. It seems to have started fairly recently as its only three posts long, but it’s really good reading so far — particularly his piece criticizing a recent Economist article on people worldwide learning Mandarin.
It’s been a busy week so I wasn’t able to put this observation down as fast as I’d like to. I attended a great speech on Thursday morning given by Chris Devonshire-Ellis, Senior partner/founder of Dezan Shira & Associates. Mr. Devonshire-Ellis was giving a talk comparing business environments in China and India where his company has offices and his business is growing in both countries.
He made a very interesting statement about business ethics: one place where India has an advantage over China is knowledge and experience working with in international business norms. China on the other hand while having a system of business ethics on paper doesn’t really enforce them and therefore businessmen (at least those in powerful positions) can get away with growing their business by what ever method they want whether it is ethical or not. This becomes a disadvantage for Chinese businessmen when they go overseas and try to apply their business experience to the international system and realize that their experience doesn’t jive with the international ethical system and actually prevents Chinese businessmen from growing their businesses.
I read a real life demonstration of this right after the speech when I read Paul Midler’s take on Alibaba’s launch of its Alimama blog-advertising venture on his China Game blog:
“There is little about the new business model that suggests it’s legit, and the biggest tip-off is Alimama’s logo – it’s a blatant rip off of Amazon’s. Even if you want to forgive copyright issues in China, this is not what you expect from a global company that is valued in the billions. We don’t expect Burger King ever to come out with a Burger Queen sub-brand, while borrowing a logo from a completely unrelated industry. And any number of consultants can explain to you why Coca-Cola never launched with Shmoka-Cola.”
It looks like Alibaba is trying to compete in the global business environment as a big player (now that its stock price has it valued in the billions) by still using marketing that you see from many small players in China. To be honest, the logo will probably change soon, but this is supposed to be a modern international Chinese company –it should be able to come up with its own logo and a business venture that isn’t copying the model of one of its international partners. I’d expect more from Alibaba especially since it’s always talked about being a global player.
Maybe Jack Ma needs to spend more time in the international business arena to learn how to play by the rules.
I heard an interesting news story yesterday while listening to CBC Radio’s the Sunday Edition (podcasts can be found here). The Canadian Auto Workers Union has signed a deal with Magna International that would allow the CAW to form a union in Magna’s plants, but workers would not have the right to strike. At the same time, Magna would not have the right to lock the workers out. Disputes that could not be settled over the bargaining table would go to binding arbitration.
Now this may be old news to Canadian readers as it received a lot of press coverage (The podcast I was listening to was also from November 11th — iTunes didn’t allow me to download it until yesterday). But what interested me about this case is that one of the reasons that Buzz Hargrove, head of the CAW said he was willing to sacrifice the right to strike was that it was a way to ensure that jobs at Magna didn’t move to China and other outsourcing hot spots.
In the case of Magna this is actually an improvement as it never was a union-shop, but I wonder what this will have on other unionized auto plants. In the latest auto strike with Ford in the US, the United Auto Workers gave up their cost-of-living fund in order to pay for health insurance (something Canadian unions don’t have to worry about due to universal health care). It’s not giving up the right to strike but it is still a major trade off. Hargrove said in the interview on the Sunday Edition that the CAW would never give up the right to strike where they have it (about 70% of the CAW’s membership has the right to strike. The 30% that doesn’t — excluding the Magna workers — are not allowed to because they are mandated as essential workers by provincial governments and therefore are only allowed to go to binding arbitration), but what other concessions will CAW give up to maintain manufacturing in Canada and really compete with China and other outsourcing nations?
In a way, manufacturing in Canada and North America in general is becoming very much like China as wages and benefits are cut to compete with the Middle Kingdom.
P.S. I’ve added a new category “Canada & Other Outer Realms” in which I will discuss in-direct China stories as the above.
Richard Spencer of the Daily Telegraph has a great post on his blog that really sums up why I don’t buy magazines off of the newsstand here anymore:
“The Economist is so important that when it runs something the government doesn’t like the relevant page is ripped out before it is put on the few news stands allowed to sell it. (Tip: last time I found a page missing from a paper I had bought at the Friendship Store in Beijing – the page, obviously, that I had bought it for – I returned it and successfully demanded my money back.)”
I’ve switched to getting everything either by subscription or through the web (I use a proxy to view sites the Chinese government objects to). That way I get the whole magazine and don’t have to look at the spot were the ripped out page should be in frustration. I still buy novels here however at least if the Chinese government objects to books they just don’t allow them into the country. Not that doing that is any better.
RIP Norman Mailer
The great American writer, Norman Mailer, passed away this weekend. I’ve only actually read one of Mailer’s novels (The Gospel According to the Son), but I’ve always been meaning to read The Quick and the Dead. Now it’s something I will definitely have to do (hints to relatives that are looking for Christmas book suggestions). I’ll leave you with Mailer’s Obituary from the International Herald Tribune.