Friday, May 06, 2005

Three books on modern China

Reviewed in the Economist. I like Shenkar's book (I linked earlier to a nice interview with him on Tech Nation), and the one by Ms. DeWoskin looks amusing.

"...Oded Shenkar's succinct and thoughtful book, “The Chinese Century”, argues that the rise of China has more in common with the rise of the United States than with that of the other Asian “tigers”. China's huge domestic market quickly gave it global bargaining power. More important, it opened up early to foreign investment and trade. As a result, says Mr Shenkar, a management professor with a long interest in China, the country is rapidly climbing the technological ladder by learning and stealing from foreigners. And its large, cheap labour force means that, unlike Japan or South Korea, it can retain its cost advantage in manufacturing as it moves up the value curve. China's greater tolerance of entrepreneurship, he argues, means that its impact will ultimately be more far-reaching and sustainable than Japan's.

One can debate the technology point. The fact that China's businesses are at the mercy of government whim and political favour, and private entrepreneurs are starved of capital, has discouraged long-term research and promoted unsustainable price wars as a way of grabbing market share. Nor has China benefited as much as it might have done from foreign “technology transfer”, despite the scant legal protection offered to intellectual property. Still, Mr Shenkar makes some powerful points about China's tradition of innovation (gunpowder, paper), its readiness, unlike Japan's, to open up its educational system, and the extent to which it has benefited, again unlike Japan, or even India, from a large, rich, educated and entrepreneurial diaspora.

...Ms DeWoskin is at her best when recounting the contradictions of modern China. Her friends brim with optimism. They switch jobs, start businesses and crave western goods. Yet they also remain suspicious of western values, socially conservative and jingoistic. In the soap opera, the author plays a ruthless “foreign babe” who steals a nice young Chinese man from his wife. Yet by the end, his traditional family has come to accept her, partly because she genuinely loves him, but mostly because she promises to take him to America with her. Ms DeWoskin's portrait of the complexities of urban China is not uncritical. But her book is written with enormous warmth for its people. And it is all the better for avoiding neat conclusions."

No comments:

Blog Archive