December 14, 2006
Jack Covert Selects: Jack Covert Selects: China Shakes the World
China Shakes the World: A Titans Rise and Troubled Futureand the Challenge for America By James Kynge, Houghton Mifflin Publisher, 280 Pages, $25.00 Hardcover, October 2006, ISBN 0618705643 Confession time: I really wanted to dislike this book. When I saw China Shakes the World on the short list for the 2006 Financial Times/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year award, I had never heard of it, though I loved the other four titles mentioned. I saw it as the list's ugly stepsister. Was it because there are so many other books about China on the market currently? I'm not sure, but I ordered a copy despite my lesser inclinations (I actually had to BUY the book because the publisher didn't even send me a copy!). I soon learned that the book is utterly brilliant, head and shoulders above any other available on the subject. (Previously I had recommended Tim Clissold's Mr. China.) The author lives in China, was the bureau chief in Beijing for many years, and, as such, he gives us a distinctive look at what is really going on in that country. This particular paragraph shows a new way to look at China as a market. But if foreign businessmen arrive in China transfixed by size and scale, many of them depart haunted by the concept of share. They envisage being able to sell their products to a multitude of Chinese and then watch as the hoped-for multitude is sliced and diced into morsels. Only certain sections of society are willing buyers of most products, and reaching them is made difficult by layers of local protectionism. When a market is finally found, aggressive domestic competitors have usually got there first. The fabled billion-person market is frequently reduced to a fraction in the figment of a dream. Even with the economy growing at 10%+, the China is several million jobs short of the required 25 million new job applicants. That is a significant reason why China needs to grow at such extraordinary rates. The author explains that if the growth rates were to drop dramatically, the convulsions that would happen would intensify. As economists in Beijing are fond of saying, China is like an elephant riding a bicycle. If it slows down, it could fall off, and then the earth might quake. This book tells the real story of the giant that is China. China Shakes the World is my must read for the fall of 2006. And should be that last minute addition to your Christmas list.