Coming to China? Read a Lot – And Watch “Deadwood”

In the Hutong
Suspiciously eyeing the poultry
1837 hrs.

I am frequently asked by people planning to move to China and do business here what they should do to prepare themselves for the experience.

I’ve always had a good reading list, but it has leaned heavily on the more realistic tomes, with a little light fiction to prevent people from going into deep depression before boarding the plane to come here. Once you made your way through, you may still think you can make a go of it in China, but at least you would be under no illusions that it would be easy.

My list includes:

James Clavell’s Tai-Pan and Noble House to show how even the smartest gweilohs can be swindled, and to provide some light entertainment.

Sir Reginald Johnston’s Twilight in the Forbidden City to see how the best laid plans in China can be undermined by demagogues and bureaucrats.

Sidney Rittenberg’s The Man Who Stayed Behind to understand that the Chinese may seem to love you today, but they may darn well be spitting on you tomorrow.

Joe Studwell’s The China Dream to show you that just when you think you’re succeeding, you may actually be on the verge of crash-and-burn.

There are plenty of other books, obviously (Mr. China pops into mind), but I’d certainly suggest those.

I’d also suggest the better China blogs, which you will find listed as “Heroes of the People” near the top of this page.

Finally, and perhaps most important, for the executive seeking to truly understand what it takes to succeed in China, among all of the reading I’d intersperse a full, marathon viewing of the HBO Original Series Deadwood Perhaps more than anything else, this single work captures what it’s like to operate in China. (Thanks to Tom Barnett for the suggestion.)


About David Wolf

An adviser to corporations and organizations on strategy, communications, and public affairs, David Wolf has been working and living in Beijing since 1995, and now divides his time between China and California. He also serves as a policy and industry analyst focused on innovative and creative industries, a futurist, and an amateur historian.
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