A journalist's top-notch appraisal of why mainland China's commercial appeal (long before the Tiananmen Square massacre) was...

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BEIJING JEEP: The Short, Unhappy Romance of American Business in China

A journalist's top-notch appraisal of why mainland China's commercial appeal (long before the Tiananmen Square massacre) was more apparent than real. Beijing bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times from 1984 to 1987, Mann (who now covers Asian affairs from Washington) draws on a wealth of personal contacts and documentary sources to provide a savvy, up-to-the-minute accounting that rates an edge over Graeme Browning's estimable If Everybody Bought One Shoe (p. 742). The author focuses on the often absurd tribulations of American Motors Corp., which, after four years of tough negotiations, joined forces with a state-owned enterprise to build Jeeps in Beijing, only to find the hard bargaining had just begun. While not wholly typical of the problems faced by offshore companies trying to set up shop in the Middle Kingdom, the trials endured by trailblazing AMC nonetheless afford an object lesson on the high cost of high hopes. ""From the outside, China has always seemed malleable,"" Mann warns; ""from inside, it seems intractable, endlessly capable of frustrating change."" Epitomizing the uneasy, frequently discordant nature of such East/West business relationships as have developed via a Chinese aphorism (""same bed, different dreams""), the author stresses that the People's Republic has its own agenda, which does not extend to converting the populous, hard-to-govern country into one vast consumer market. Consequently, he cautions, waiguoren (foreigners) with mercantile ambitions have been frustrated by, inter alia, xenophobic bureaucrats, a discriminatory pricing system, unskilled labor, a lack of raw materials as well as hard currencies, difficulties in repatriating profits, Communist cadres more concerned with party-line orthodoxy than productivity, a primitive infrastructure, and a host of allied woes, including a culture that takes a decidedly cavalier view of contracts. A vivid, definitive briefing that effectively combines an engaging narrative line with socioeconomic and political perspectives.

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 1989

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1989