January 25, 2011
Posted by Joan V. Gallos
Six books recommended for leaders (and anyone) wanting to understand China today. I love good fiction and am a stickler for good writing: the books listed are all good reads. Enjoy!
1. Peter Hessler. Oracle Bones. I’ve written about this in a past post and recommend it as a place to start your studies. Gives a feel for the paradoxes and complexities that at China today.
2. Peter Hessler. Country Driving. OK, I admit it, I am a Hessler fan. He’s a fellow Princetonian and Missourian, but I learned that after becoming a follower of his work. He has the eyes of a good anthropologist and is a compassionate observer who gets to the heart of what’s changing in China. This is his most recent book about his road trip across Northern China following the Great Wall, time in a rural village, and experiences in an up-and-coming new industrial town. Amazon named it book of the month in February 2010, and you’ll see why.
In talking about Country Driving in an email to me, Hessler said:
“It’s more business-oriented than the others. One long section of the book is about a rural family that is making the transition from farming to small business, and another section is about life in a small factory town in the southeast. I suppose I was not particularly business-minded when I went to China, but there’s so much energy there, and I quickly sensed that those were the stories that matter most at this time. It’s remarkable how quickly people respond and adjust to change in China.”
3. Edgar Snow. Red Star Over China Snow was the first Westerner to meet Mao in 1936. This remains the definitive biography of Mao and one of the most important books written about the Long March and the birth of the Communist movement in China. A whole generation of Chinese read this book. Snow was a journalist with Kansas City roots, and people there remember that. Kansas City has a fame in China like few other places. We have an Edgar Snow Archives at the University of Missouri-Kansas City which contains Snows papers, donated at his death by his wife. Great resource.
4. Philip P. Pan. Out of Mao’s Shadow: The Struggle for the Soul of a New China. My students recommended this one to me. It answers the question of how communism and capitalism, growing freedom and persisting authoritarianism, are co-existing in China. Pan is the former Beijing bureau chief for the Washington Post, and he brings a good journalist’s pen and sensibilities. This is the book to understand Communism in post-Mao China.
5. N. Mark Lam and John Graham. China Now: Doing Business in the World’s Most Dynamic Market. I like the easy organization of this book and its how-to nature: how to negotiate, understand East-West differences, handle contracts, appreciate the power of history, know what to say, and so on. China’s changing fast, but the cultural advice here is a good starting place for enhancing cultural intelligence.
6. Harvard Business Review. Doing Business in China Collection. Eight concise, solid articles from the Harvard Business Review that cover topics like multinationals in China, China’s changing consumer base, East-West negotiations, emerging China brands, and more. HBR articles have a no-nonsense, get-to-the-point quality that I like.