China! It's taking over!! Killer bees from Mexico!!! The new China book by Tom Fishman, China Inc, is definitely written with tabloid journalistic principles in mind. But given the ignorance that prevails around the world in spite of all that has been written about China, that is not a bad thing.
Speaking as someone who has made a couple of careers out of China information and explanation, the lack of knowledge and understanding about China in the rest of the world has not been an entirely negative thing. Companies selling business information on China are supported by two things – China's fast growth and its inscrutability.
But ignorance is not bliss, of course, and the sooner the world gets to grips with what China is all about, the better for everyone. In North Carolina, which I visited recently, China means two things – evil commies stealing our jobs, and Yao Ming. There is clearly a way to go in understanding.
Fishman's book gives a breathless account of China's boom and how it is impacting the rest of the world. The message, driven home page after page, is that China is big and growing fast.
The risk is that that this approach could feed prejudices such as those found in North Carolina. But he does lay out both the plusses and the minuses amidst the expose shock-horror prose.
"China is at one moment our greatest threat, the next our friend," he points out. "It is siphoning off American jobs; it is essential to our competitive edge. China is the world's factory floor and it is the world's greatest market opportunity. China's industries might sap opportunities from the developing world, but its hungry economy pulls poorer countries upward. China exports deflation; it stokes soaring prices. China will boom; it will bust."
Much of the book is taken up with examples to prove the basic message which, to repeat, is that China is big and growing fast. It is true. China is big and it is growing fast. For readers of CHINA ECONOMIC REVIEW, this information is not a useful insight. But for others who have been isolated from China information for the past 25 years by the manipulating mavens of the media, particularly the multitudinous masses that make up Middle America, this is big news, and totally unexpected.
How come I got fired? How come there is no cement for sale? How come consumer goods got so cheap? China is the answer, and Fishman is an effective if somewhat repetitious explainer. But then again, given the base level of knowledge of the intended audience, it was probably best to make sure the message gets across.
So the book is good, within its own terms of reference. It is readable, and the simplifications are generally accurate. The main problems are that the book is a bit long given that it has simply one argument to make, and exhausting in its 3,000 miles an hour approach.
Also, it doesn't really attempt to look one step ahead, and ask the question, so what happens next? It is totally focused on this moment, and the fact that Fishman has news for you: China is big and growing fast.
China Inc.: How the Rise of the Next Superpower Challenges America and the World, by Ted Fishman, published by Scribner. Available at Amazon.com for US$17.16.
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