Sunday, August 24, 2008

Mr. China, by Tim Clissold

Mr. China: A Memoir, by Tim Clissold

This book brought back a lot of memories for me. Clissold’s first trip to China was in the summer of 1988 and so was mine. Several years later he was unhappy at his job, so he quit and started learning to speak Mandarin; one of my closest friends did the same. Clissold becomes the main investor in the Five Star Brewery and while traveling there I drank a lot of their beer. Reading about his experiences was like talking to an old friend.

Mr. China is the story of one of the first multi-national investment groups to invest in domestic businesses in China. We get a look at how the research was conducted, where the money was invested, how the companies conducted business (surprisingly unethical), and how success didn’t arrive until they stopped trying to force European values on Chinese industries. I found this to be a fascinating read that told two basic tales: one of the government handing more and more control to individual businesses, and another of a foreigner becoming more and more Chinese in his thinking. At the conclusion these intertwine with the lesson that you can’t affect a culture without immersing yourself in it.

One of the things I liked the most was the optimism about China that the author espouses. “Since the Open Door policy in 1979, China has lifted two hundred and fifty million people out of absolute poverty, probably the greatest improvement in the human condition ever achieved. ... The lives of millions of ordinary Chinese have been improved beyond recognition as the effects slowly trickle down to street level. Chinese citizens now have choices that we take completely for granted but that would have been unimaginable two decades ago; choices in clothing, in housing, schooling for their kids, maybe the chance to buy a car or take a vacation abroad.” While this doesn’t excuse the country’s stance on human rights or the fact that they have 16 of the world’s 20 most polluted cities, it does show that progress is being made and China is taking steps towards being a leader on the world stage.

First Sentence:
For anyone whose mood is affected by the weather, Hong Kong in October is heaven.

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