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April 3, 2006 | by  | in Books |
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China Inc.

In the last few years, there has been an explosion in the market for readable non-fiction books on politics and economics, mostly thanks to Stupid White Men (the Michael Moore book, not the National MPs). This has seen the release of a plethora of knock-offs attacking the American government, which, while fun to read, are not necessarily that useful.

Not so China Inc., a book which, rather than chronicling the failures of the current world superpower, looks to foretell the successes of the next one. The fact that China is to overtake America as the most powerful nation in the world in the next few decades is scarcely debated in the book, and when you look at some of Fishman’s figures you’ll see why.

One fifth of the world’s population lives in China and there are literally too many people in the country to count. China’s last census turned up 1.3 billion residents, but many think this is short by a small matter of 200 million. That’s fifty times the number of people in New Zealand that they can’t even find. China has more people under fourteen than America’s total population. China has more speakers of English as a second language than America has native English speakers. China really does contain a shit-load of people.

The reason this is so important now is that it’s been 26 years since the official introduction of the Household Responsibility System, where capitalism was basically legalized – and all these people are starting to get their shit together. Millions and millions of Chinese are moving into cities, getting jobs in factories, and making stuff to sell overseas. Those people are making more money now than ever before, and are looking for stuff on which to spend it.

Why should Westerners, particularly Americans, know this? Because Westerners need to know something about doing business with the Chinese: you can’t expect perfect business ethics from people whose economy is founded on rule- breaking. As Fishman says: “The country pulled itself into the market economy when its people screwed up their courage and circumvented nearly every rule in the Chinese government’s playbook.
If the country’s system of bribes, networking and back-scratching remains the norm for decades to come, it will have a pervasive influence on the companies that enter the market.”

Fishman can’t hide his background in journalism, and China Inc. ultimately reads less like a book and more like a collection of informative and engagingly written articles. If you’re into economic/political non-fiction, though, you will find this much more interesting than the latest rant on the failures of the US government.
Although they may not realize it, America is already the past. China is the future.

Ted C. Fishman
Scribner Press

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