Losing the New China: A Story of American Commerce, Desire and Betrayal

Ethan Gutmann

I started reading this the other night at the gym, and finished it on a flight a couple of days later. A few pages into you, you stop and say, the guy is certainly an able writer. That’s mostly from the sense of cadence in the early portions. I could already tell early on though, should the title have left any doubt, that substance-wise this book was going to shape up as a heavy handed morality tale; another of those virtuous Westerner in suspect and sinful Asia. The writing grew overblown, too. (Sometimes I felt like I was reading Lou Dobbs channeled through Jack Cafferty.) I’ve seen so many of these kinds of books, in Africa and now in Asia: poor man’s Kiplings, updated for this age, wandering about deploring the decadence, the lack of scruples and the shamelessness of the people he has traveled far to meet and claims to have gotten to know.
There’s a good deal of looking down the nose, a lot of sneering too, about “Chinese jackals” and Dark Lords. A lot of dismissal of the women as mere empty vessels, sex objects that one suspects early on, and he eventually lets on in his highly conflicted way, he lusts after nonetheless.
It’s the lack of forthrightness that galls most: forthrightness with self and with the readers. It comes through in the passages that deal with lust. It comes through in the more strictly business passages, as in this anecdote, hardly made fairer by the fact that it was delivered as a footnote at the bottom of the page:
“Although it may be apocryphal, here is a horror story that made the rounds: A foreign businessman set up a joing venture and built a modern plant to exacting specifications in the Chinese countryside. The foreign businessman checked up on the plant regularly, but one day he took a wrong turn and got lost. Coming over a hill, he saw the plant, though in the wrong location; apparently his Chinese partner had duplicated the entire plant and was already selling the product under a Chinese brand name at a lower price.”
Having said much in criticism, its deserves to be said that Gutmann has delivered a very interesting chapter on the ways major American companies have helped design China’s internet controls and other surveillance technologies. More reporting like this and less of the loose around the bar anecdotes from deep in the bosom of the expat community would have made for a far stronger book.


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