Books

Chaos Monkey-book review

Silicon Valley is where every Mark Zuckerberg wannabe goes to make it big, hoping to land that million dollar-investment or even better, multi-million dollar buyout for their app. But things don’t always go according to script and behind the flashy deals and investments, there is a ton of bluster, bust-ups and bullshit, according to Antonio Garcia Martinez in Chaos Monkey, his tell-all account of his career as an entrepreneur and a Facebook product manager.

Martinez started off working for an online ad company, then left the company to do his own start-up to create an ad app, which earned the attention of Twitter and Facebook. Playing the two against each other, unknowingly to his two start-up partners, Martinez got into Facebook where he helped orchestrate their ad monetization strategy. Things then got a little rocky and complicated, and his Facebook stint didn’t end as promisingly as he had hoped.

As fascinating as this book sounds like, the reality, unfortunately, is that it was disappointing and one of the most boring books I’ve ever read. Maybe my intellect isn’t up to par, especially when it comes to tech and online marketing, which the author really gets into the nitty-gritty of, but a lot of the content just flew over my head. It gets quite complex with tech jargon and industry professionals would probably like it, but not the average layman reader. I honestly think the book could have been trimmed by over one-third and would have been a better book. The author describes a lot of minor events and details, and doesn’t hesitate to drop names including Sheryl Sandberg, who he had meetings with but never actually knew, and industry executives and venture capitalists. It gave the impression that he was trying a little too hard to impress readers. I was also hoping for more dirt on working in Facebook but the author sticks to meetings, technical stuff, and general workplace struggles. The craziest thing that happened in his book at Facebook is a weekend graffiti painting spree by employees after moving into their new headquarters. I might be a little harsh but the book’s subtitle was “Mayhem and Mania inside the Silicon Valley Money Machine” and in the end, it turned out to be a big yawn.

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Books · China

The Horse That Leaps Through Clouds- book review

In the early 20th century, a Swedish-Finnish nobleman by the name of Baron Gustaf Mannerheim undertook a secret mission for the Russian Tsar to spy on China. Starting from Moscow, Mannerheim crossed Russia, traveled through Central Asia and across China to collect information on the country’s reforms and development. 100 years later, in 2006, Canadian writer Eric Enno Tamm decided to undertake the same journey as Mannerheim, going through the Central Asian Stans and into China, from Xinjiang to Beijing.

Even 100 years after the original, Tamm’s voyage is a remarkable journey. Going through Central Asia, the author sheds light on little-known countries like oil-rich quasi-authoritarian Azerbaijan and repressive and secretive states like Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The murkiness and poverty of the cities in those states is balanced by the beauty of the sparsely-populated, desolate wilderness of mountain passes, desert and plains. In China, Xinjiang is already heavily policed and Sinicized as cities like Kashgar are built up while having their historic neighborhoods ripped apart. Tamm visits famous cities like Xian and not-so-famous ones like Taiyuan, capital of Shanxi Province, and the holy sites of Wutaishan, one of China’s holiest mountains, and Dunhuang, site of one of China’s greatest Buddhist grottoes.

At every stage, Tamm describes fascinating accounts of Mannerheim’s trek, which was especially sensitive as he had to deal with rival European explorers and spies, and the Qin Dynasty authorities. Besides the historical and nature aspect, the book also features a lot of interesting descriptions of the diverse cultures and ethnicities that is present across Western China, such as small Mongolian and Tibetan sub-tribes as well as the local Uyghur majority.

Despite the 100 years separating the journeys of Mannerheim and the writer, there is a striking similarity between how China was going through significant change in the form of economic and industrial development during Mannerheim’s journey under the Qing Dynasty, as it was during Tamm’s journey and to the present. Tamm raises a provocative point about the parallels between the present and in Mannerheim’s time, as the Qing embraced Western industrial technology and economic changes, but not values and ideas, in an attempt to make the country prosper while retaining power, which ultimately proved futile. The Qing Dynasty would fall just a few years after Mannerheim’s journey when a successful revolution broke out in 1911. The recent news of China’s supposed banning of VPN by early 2018 and the death of imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiabo is a reminder that China’s impressive economic rise and might has been accompanied by greater censorship and repression. I’ve never read this specific view linking the last years of the Qing with the present time expressed before, despite the abundance of predictions about the fall or decline of the Chinese Communist Party, and I admit it is partially convincing.

Tamm also notes the tensions in China’s borderlands, especially the restive northwestern region of Xinjiang, where the Muslim Uyghurs chafe under harsh Chinese rule. Indeed, Xinjiang is China’s most heavily policed region, and there are restrictions on the Uyghur’s practice of their religion and culture. It is obvious that Tamm is not too positive about his observations and experiences during his travel through China.

Tamm also coins a word for China’s pervasive technological censorship – technotarianism. Back then, China had just erected its “Great Firewall” and Google provided a limited version for use in the country, which didn’t prevent it from being banned completely. The censorship has only gotten worse so Tamm’s “technotarianism” is still in place.

Another serious problem Tamm observes is China’s dire environment, especially the heavily polluted air or smog which is as much of a problem in Beijing and much of China now as it was 11 years ago.

Coincidentally, much of Tamm’s journey traces the ancient Silk Road, as he goes through Xinjiang, Gansu, Shaanxi, and Shanxi to get to Beijing. He also visits Henan and Inner Mongolia. Given that the Belt and Road (also known as One Belt, One Road) is meant to recreate the Silk Road and passes through the countries Tamm traveled to, I was thinking it would be fitting if Tamm could go on another journey through Central Asia and China and write a new book.

Incidentally 2017 is the 100th year of Finland’s independence from Russia. After Finland became independent, Mannerheim became its regent and then a national war hero by defending Finland from the Soviet Union during the 1940s as the Commander-in-Chief and Marshal of Finland.

While the book was published 6 years ago, several of the observations are still very relevant. It is a little sad that not only do issues like the severe pollution and the repression in Xinjiang and Tibet still exist in China, but they are perhaps worse now than when Tamm undertook his journey.

Books

From Third World to First- book review

Lee Kuan Yew was one of Asia’s greatest modern leaders and visionaries, having led Singapore from a poor, third-world country to a wealthy, first-world one in a few decades. As Prime Minister from independence in 1965 to 1990 and then Senior Minister from 1990 to 2004, he is closely tied to his country’s rise. So it is no surprise that his autobiography From Third World to First- The Singapore Story: 1965-2000 is basically a story about Singapore. The book lays out how Lee Kuan Yew transformed Singapore, while managing relations with bigger and threatening neighbours as well as the US, the UK and China. In fact, the latter part takes up most of the book.

Having been one of Britain’s major Asian colonies as a vital port, Singapore had a traumatic beginning as an independent nation, as it was initially part of a federation with Malaysia before being kicked out due to political differences and racial fears. In what now seems surprising, Lee Kuan Yew was so distraught by this that he cried, because tiny Singapore was now alone with no resources and hinterland. But with commendable planning, foresight and effort, Lee and his government made Singapore into a shipping and financial hub, with substantial manufacturing services and eventually, one of the world’s richest nations.

The first chapters are a historical timeline of Lee’s early years, the breakup with Malaysia and his attempt to solidify his domestic rule, including his fight against the local Communists. Internationally, he had to fight diplomatic battles with Malaysia and Indonesia, who had a very hostile stance against Singapore in the 1960s. He maintained relationships with a fading Britain, while building up ties with giants like the US, Japan and eventually China. It is fascinating to read his insights into the US, which had taken over from Britain as a global power, and China, which was moving away from its chaotic and tragic period under Mao Zedong and starting its economic rise under Deng Xiaoping in the eighties.

ASEAN relationships were also vital to Singapore, especially those with neighbors Malaysia and Indonesia, which improved immensely after the tense early days of Singapore’s independence. However, he had a very hostile attitude towards Vietnam, due to their Communist regime, but even opposed their invading Cambodia and driving out Pol Pot from power, which I think was a little unreasonable. Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong also feature. With Hong Kong, he had a very interesting insight in that the British rule of Hong Kong, which lasted until 1997, meant Hong Kongers did not need to act cohesively as a community, thus they became “great individualists and daring entrepreneurs.” It is an attitude that still prevails today, though perhaps not the “daring entrepreneurs.” Lee’s view also helps explain why Hong Kongers seem to lack leadership skills in governance as under the British, they were never decision-makers but managers.

Lee was firm in what he did and had a pragmatic and ruthless streak. This also means he is blamed for Singapore’s authoritarianism which was exemplified in media restrictions and heavyhanded libel rules which saw him often successfully sue media outlets and political opponents. But he also genuinely cared for his country as signified by the public housing policy, which allows most Singaporeans to enjoy affordable quality public housing, and diversification of the economy into areas such as high-tech manufacturing and gas processing. There are a few policies that might raise your eyebrows such as a racial ratio quota with housing developments, meaning the proportion of Chinese, Indian and Malay residents had to be kept at a certain level, as well as a dating service for civil servants.

Singaporeans may be getting tired of their country’s one-party rule and rethinking Lee’s legacy, but they should consider themselves lucky to have had a leader like Lee who was pragmatic, intelligent about domestic and international politics, and was upfront about his policies and actions. At the least Singaporeans should be glad that Lee was not like other regional strongmen who either enriched themselves obscenely, like the Philippines’ Ferdinand Marcos, or ruthlessly held on to power, such as Mao, while letting their countries stay poor.

Books · Travel

Indonesia Etc- book review

For such a diverse, fascinating and lofty country, Indonesia is somewhat obscure. Completely made up of islands, and thus the world’s largest archipelago nation, Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim nation and fourth most populous, and it is Southeast Asia’s largest economy. But other than Bali (and maybe the Komodo dragon), is there anything famous about it? Elisabeth Pisani decided to do something about this pitiful situation by setting out to travel across the length and width of the nation. The result was Indonesia Etc- Exploring the Improbable Nation, part travelogue, part history and political primer.
As a former journalist and epidemiologist who had lived and worked in Indonesia for many years and spoke the language, Pisani certainly had the knowledge and experience to pull this off. But more importantly, she had the traveler’s knack of always being curious, never shunning an adventure, and being able to befriend strangers, even stay with them for months as she did with a family in a headhunting tribe.
Eschewing the main island of Java, where the capital Jakarta is located and home to two-thirds of Indonesians, at least until the end, Pisani travels from giant Sumatra to tiny islands in the Maluku chain. She also takes on Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo (Malaysia and Brunei occupy the rest).

However, what makes the book compelling is that Pisani goes beyond just travel, but gives some insight into Indonesian habits and quirks, like corruption. It is common to portray third-world countries as naturally beset by corruption with family and ethnic ties playing a huge role. But, Pisani explains that for Indonesia, factors like government decentralization and democracy exacerbate corruption.
There is also some good commentary about Indonesia’s recent history, from colonialism under the Dutch to independence to the present. We also learn about the country’s first two leaders, Sukarno and Suharto, and the complications with forming a nation that was made up of hundreds of peoples, languages, cultures and islands.

Pisani also does not shy away from the hard stuff like the mass killings of Chinese and Communists by the army and militias under the guise of crushing an attempted coup in the late 1960s, as well as East Timor, which eventually separated and is now independent, and Aceh, where fundamentalist Islam is strong. For the latter, which some call “Veranda of Mecca,” a strong separatist movement has given way, after the 2004 tsunami, to but with more autonomy to run their own affairs, which notoriously include sharia law. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, a pair of gay men were publicly caned after being caught engaging in sex. And also recently, the former mayor of Jakarta, a Chinese Christian, was found guilty of blasphemy for criticizing a passage in the Koran. He had also lost the election in May to an Islamist rival.

The book was published in 2014 and it had been on my reading list for some time. It still holds up even if some of the political and social problems described like Islamic fundamentalism and the decreasing tolerance towards minorities may be even worse now. But nevertheless, they would strengthen Pisani’s assertion that Indonesia is still a country that deserves more attention from the world.

Visit the book’s website where she still writes about Indonesia.

Books · China

Trickle-Down Censorship- book review

Censorship is one of the most well-known and detested attributes of China. Many people are already aware that Facebook, Youtube, Google, and the New York Times are blocked and that newspapers and news shows cannot report freely on many sensitive topics. But censorship goes far deeper and is more complex and widespread than that as shown in Trickle-Down Censorship, author JFK Miller’s account of his time working for That’s Shanghai magazine from 2006-2011.

Despite the long time period between when he last worked in China and the present, his book is not really outdated because the sad truth is that censorship is not just still present but also much more widespread and harsher than before. But while regular citizens can try and ignore it, journalists and editors have it the worst because it is a constant in their work. Even as an editor at That’s Shanghai, an expat mag that mostly covers food and entertainment, censorship was a major threat to each story Miller worked on or approved.
Miller also goes through aspects of modern China through the scope of censorship, which mostly works because of how ubiquitous it is. At the end of it, Miller decides enough is enough and calls time on China, as I did myself.

The main point is censorship and there is plenty of aspects to it. It can be arbitrary as there are no firm rules and the censors do not need to explain specifically what is the issue; it can be applied to everything from serious political pieces to photo-essays on pyjamas; it is futile to resist, at best, one can fight to keep a “objectionable” sentence or passage. The worst is that it becomes so prevalent and expected that not only do you get used to it, but you actively apply it to yourself, as Miller did while editing and even assigning stories. “It is frightening just how quickly you acquire the ability,” says Miller. As a reminder, Miller worked for an English-language expat magazine that mostly features food, hotel, and club reviews, not some newspaper or political magazine specializing in hardhitting exposes.

And Chinese censorship is not just resilient but adaptable and sophisticated, extending even to the online space where censors utilize software to filter keywords and resulting in the blocking of blogs and social media posts to even text chat messages on WeChat. Coincidentally, this week saw news about China’s government announcing a crackdown, yet again, on unauthorized VPN software, which lots of expats and locals in China use to access banned websites.

The only main issue I have with the book is the cover which features an outline of China, that includes Taiwan. It is a somewhat strange and perhaps cowardly decision because it isn’t like the book would be able to be sold in China, given its topic, so one wonders why he had to do that.

Experienced expats won’t be surprised at much of the content, but other readers will likely find a lot to inform themselves.
Otherwise, Trickle-Down Censorship is a fine account of Chinese censorship, a sad reminder of the power of authoritarian regimes, even in this day and age.

Books · China · Travel

The Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of China- book review

China is a large, vast country with an area of 3.7 million square miles and though the majority Han make up 90% of the population, has over 50 ethnic groups. As a result, beyond the teeming megacities and factory zones, and the heavily populated Han-majority provinces, there is a lot of ethnic and societal diversity.

This is what former Sunday Telegraphy China correspondent David Eimer explores in The Emperor Far Away: Travels at the Edge of China as he travels to the edges of modern China. A well-known Chinese proverb goes “The mountains are high and the emperor far away.” What this means is that in the outer reaches of the empire, the emperor is a remote figure and so is his rule. The modern equivalent of that saying is true in areas like Yunnan Province and the fringes of the Northeast. There, the government’s rule is not as firm as everywhere else in the country, and local non-Han minorities and cultures still thrive. In Tibet and Xinjiang, the very opposite is true as the full force of the regime is imposed, ranging from heavy army and police presence to repressive measures limiting or banning local religious practices and languages. Not surprisingly, these areas – Xinjiang, Tibet, Yunnan and the edges of the Northeast – are often considered exotic and fascinating to both foreigners and the Han (the dominant majority in China) Chinese. But there is also a tragic element to several of the peoples in these areas as well, as Eimer examines how these minorities like the Tibetans and Uyghurs fare after decades of Communist rule.

The situation in Tibet and Xinjiang, the most restive and repressed areas in China, is not surprisingly, rather bleak. Heavy-handed policing and harsh measures enacted against the locals have generated significant anger, the result of which can be seen now and again in the news with “terrorist” attacks in Xinjiang, which raise fears of an insurgency, no doubt played up by the government to justify their taking even harsher measures. Not only are Tibetans and Uyghurs not able to speak their language at schools or freely practice their religion, but their movements are restricted through measures like making it extremely hard to get passports, and they are unable to integrate into mainstream Chinese society.

In Yunnan, the province that has the most minority peoples in China and borders Thailand and Myanmar, a Wild-West atmosphere prevails in much of the borderlands. Here, the government practices a looser form of border control as there are several tribes who peoples live across different countries like the Tais. A thriving cross-border criminal trade exists, especially in narcotics. Eimer manages to travel across to Myanmar where he visits areas populated by minority tribes and controlled by drug armies, descendants of KMT soldiers who fled to Burma and stayed to cultivate opium.  The Northeast is more sedate, though the vast icy landscape belies the economic dominance of China compared to Russia just across the northerneastern-most border. In this area, Small ethnic groups, including the descendants of nomads, cling on while facing the obsolescence of their language and customs due to decreasing numbers, intermarriage with the Han, and modern-day integration. This is already the fate of the Manchus, a Northeast people who ruled all of China as the Qing Dynasty for over 250 years up to 1911. Interestingly, the ethnic Koreans in the Northeast provinces are allowed to have their own schools where classes are taught in their own language. There is also interaction with North Koreans across the border in the form of trade, people smuggling and marriages, but this is starting to get clamped down on by the government.

It is a book rich in travel, historical and ethnographic detail about a China so much different from the one often portrayed in more conventional travel books, whilst not shying away from illustrating the repressive rule of the Communist Party. It is also sad to ponder the fate of all the peoples mentioned in the book, many of whose cultures and languages are under threat in one way or the other. Simply put, The Emperor Far Away is about a China that is rapidly disappearing.

Books

Thinking, Fast and Slow- book review

After over a year of off-and-on reading, I finally finished Thinking, Fast and Slow, one of the most challenging books I’ve ever read. In the time it took me to finish this, I moved countries and places twice, finished over 15 books, traveled to six countries, and got a new job.Written by Nobel Prize-winning economist and academic Daniel Kahneman, the book explains the two modes of thinking and how these affect people’s decisions and actions.

System 1 refers to one’s impulsive or intuitive thinking, whereas System 2 is the more thoughtful and methodical way of thinking. Usually, people use System 1 when they encounter problems, which leads to a lot of unwise reactions or judgements. It’s not surprising because a lot of times, we do things based on how we feel or see things (WYSIATI or what you see is all there is) but things might be different if we take a step back and think about the situation, which we don’t often do. Of course, we can’t help it because it’s normal human nature or a biased nature. The book presents dozens of situations in which Kahneman explains the way how both systems work, how our biases influence our decisions at the expense of rationality, how overconfidence in what we think we know affects us, and how our memories of things we’ve experienced can sometimes outweigh the actual effects of experiences.

For instance, causes trumps statistics (chapter 16) shows that people are often more convinced by causal explanations than by statistics, and that individual cases or examples are more compelling than statistics. The illusion of validity and skill (chapter 20) is a regular occurrence when people take things to be true, such as good fortune in picking stocks as evidence of supposed genuine skill, even if statistical evidence shows the opposite. And keeping score (chapter 32) shows how people often make choices to avoid regret or refuse to cut losses in order to try to gain it back (disposition effect). This latter often results in the sunk-cost fallacy, a situation in which you continue to put effort or resources into something even if it is failing because you’ve already put in a lot of effort and are worried about wasting it completely, such as gamblers who lose but continue to bet big instead of walking away.

I have to admit it’s a little unfair to deem this book as the most challenging I’ve ever read because I did not read it in the way it should have been read. So don’t be like me and read it in segments over a long time period. Read it daily or regularly over a week or month so you could remember all the different points and explanations. You’ll certainly gain a lot of new insights and perspectives that will open your eyes, or rather your mind.

Books

Finding George Orwell in Burma- book review

It is a good thing I didn’t read this book before I went to Myanmar (Burma) last year. If I did, I probably wouldn’t have had such a carefree mindset. Finding George Orwell in Burma is an American writer’s attempt in 2003 to trace Orwell’s life in the country which had a huge influence on him. Orwell spent five years as a policeman in the country, which his first novel Burmese Days was no doubt based on. Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four, his two most famous books which were about communism and totalitarian dictatorship, had so many prescient similarities with post-independence Burma that Burmese joked these two books and Burmese Days made up a “Burmese Trilogy.”

The news about Myanmar has been stunningly positive in recent years, with the sudden opening-up of the country to the West, the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and the elections in February, which the Nobel Peace Prize laureate’s party won overwhelmingly. Yet it wasn’t so long ago when Myanmar was one of the world’s bleakest places, almost on par with North Korea. Under decades of military authoritarianism, the country became poverty-stricken and repressed with its people under constant surveillance from authorities and information heavily censored.

The people didn’t need to read Nineteen Eighty-Four, they were living it and many were fully aware of it. Even as the author was questioned and followed by government officials, she held many conversations with friends and strangers about the country’s politics. Almost everyone furtively tells the author how terrible the country has been under the military regime. “The British may have sucked our blood, but these Burmese generals are biting us to the bone!” an elderly man tells the author. Things were so bad in the country that the author, a Bangkok-based American who speaks Burmese, uses a pseudonym, Emma Larkin, to write her books.

Larkin travels to each of the places Orwell was posted in – the former royal capital Mandalay, the Delta, Rangoon (now Yangon), Moulmein (now Mawlamyine) and Katha. She tries to imagine how Orwell was influenced and inspired by his experiences to the extent he became more cynical about the British Empire through how it ruled Burma. Having gradually annexed the country and overthrown the monarchy, the British also abolished traditional institutions that helped run the country like the monks and replaced them with colonial officers. Orwell completely changed his view on empire and decided to become a writer after going on leave from his post in Burma. In the end, Larkin didn’t come close to finding out exactly what pushed Orwell’s transformation but it is easy to see how it might have been a gradual process. And this change was for the better because Orwell would write about the underclass and the poor, and eventually his masterpieces about communism and totalitarianism.

It is a profoundly sad book that is thankfully about a time that has passed. But I wonder whether the Burmese people could have so easily forgotten all the terror of the past or if it still lurks in the back of their minds and hearts. When I visited there, many of the people were courteous and restrained and it was almost unimaginable that just years before, they had lived through terrible repression.

Books

Think Like a Freak- book review

Think Like a Freak is the third book from the two guys who wrote Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics, the best-selling popular science books that used economics and statistics to explain problems in society. This book differs by encouraging people to think unconventionally or “like a freak” to figure out problems.

Anyone who enjoyed the first two books by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner will likely enjoy this one. Their breezy writing style and use of clear and interesting stories and data are effective once again as they show how problems can be solved when people approach them from a different standpoint and brush aside normal convention.

There is the scientist who was researching stomach bacteria and injected himself with bacteria to find out if it causes ulcers, something which naturally earned him a lot of derision. But in the end, Barry Marshall won a Nobel Prize. Then there is the former adman who started a successful eyecare charity that earned over $1 billion by being upfront in its fundraising appeals by allowing people to opt out of receiving any further advertising, something that would seem counter-intuitive.
Successful ways of thinking differently can even be extended to less serious fields. For example, Japanese competitive eating legend and hot dog champion Takeru Kobayashi was able to achieve his great success despite not being a big guy and entering his first eating contest as a 20-something-year-old. His secret was due to training techniques that emphasized effective ways to eat hot dogs rather than simply trying to eat more hot dogs.

Ways to think differently include thinking like a child, focusing on the role of incentives, digging deep to understand problems, and learning how to quit. Not quitting when you’re ahead, but to give up a dream. It is not exactly popular advice but it makes sense in some cases. Sometimes it is necessary to give up on something and consider alternatives into which you could redirect your time and effort. It takes courage to admit failure, the authors stress, and perhaps failure should not carry such a terrible stigma.

At times, the book feels a little too simple and the stories flow too smoothly in illustrating solutions. But the main lesson is clear and useful. Think differently and don’t be afraid to do so, especially when the normal ways don’t work. You can’t always go wrong in that.

Books · China

Chinese Rules- book review

Chinese Rules- Mao’s Dog, Deng’s Cat, and Five Timeless Lessons from the Front Lines in China is one of those business books about China that have been popular in the last few years. The author Tim Clissold might be familiar to a few people since he also wrote Mr. China, a well-known part-memoir about his business dealings in China, which I haven’t read.

Chinese Rules starts off with Clissold being called into action in his native England to help rescue a carbon-trading deal gone wrong in China. Clissold had relocated back to his homeland with his family after 20 years in China, but is eager to go back. The business deal in question involves the selling of carbon credits by a Chinese firm from its two new power plants, not exactly a topic to get anyone’s pulses racing. Nevertheless it is a potentially lucrative business and vital too, given the environmentally conscious time we live in. Not surprisingly, all kinds of nonsensical and frustrating situations occur, but a deal is accomplished despite an embarrassing baijiu (Chinese hard liquor) episode with the English boss of the firm that hired Clissold for this deal.
Spurred by this achievement, Clissold and a female associate decided to go into the carbon trading business in China. They get funding from Bill Gates’ Millenium Foundation, then look for a carbon credit seller in China whom they can trade from. Which is when things get really juicy.

Clissold and his associate soon find a Chinese partner to work on a deal to buy and trade credits from a power company. The Chinese middle-woman is a fine example of the disingenuousless prevalent in society and business in China. She acts and looks like someone at the top of her game, as Clissold himself says, but she turns out to be unreliable, shifty, arrogant and greedy. Eventually, Clissold manages to dump her from the deal and handles negotiations with the Chinese company directly. There is more lack of communication and delays, though the deal takes off and they are able to sell off some credits.

Throughout the book, Clissold introduces his Chinese rules such as the “art of war” is vital to the Chinese way of handling conflict (indirectly rather than direct) and the trying of new things by taking gradual steps. These sound sensible but he also describes rules that are ambiguous and not directly related to business such as that China is a civilization masquerading as a state and how history has made China prize stability. These are not exactly false but the deeper lessons that Clissolds thinks that these rules impart – that China – are a bit whimsical.

To present the rules, Clissold describes several important events in China over the past two hundred years. It seems contrived and makes the book more of a history text than a business book. I am sure some people may benefit, though since I am already a bit familiar with the history mentioned, I did not learn anything new.

As if the main ordeal above wasn’t enough, there is another deal near the end involving a Chinese fruit juice mogul who owes an insurance company money. Clissold is hired to get back the debt which involves no lawyers or court orders, but constant pandering, passive aggressiveness and maneuvering. Going to the courts would never have worked, Clissold says, but getting the provincial governor involved and putting up with a whole year of negotiations did, since it allowed the mogul to save face while coming up with a solution.

According to Clissold, this is the proper way to deal with Chinese. He’s an expert with decades of experience in China and published books, but frankly in my humble opinion, I think that is nonsense. He is a fine writer and describes history and events very well, and he seems to have a strong appreciation of China, but it is dangerous to be suggesting that people need to scrape and bow when doing business with China, which his “Chinese rules” imply.

Inexplicably, Clissold is convinced in the end, despite how this sorry affair turned out, that China is the future.
The only thing I am convinced about is how full of bullcrap the country is in many ways and that it would be appalling if Chinese norms and practices, as the book illustrates quite clearly, were to influence the world.