An American expatriate in China explores the country’s culture, citizens, and economy in this open-minded meditation.
Moreau, now retired and living in Beijing, arrived in China in 2007 to run a glass factory for an American corporation and experienced a sink-or-swim immersion in its sometimes-baffling, always intriguing mores. His memoir-cum-reflection covers everything from Chinese etiquette, holidays, and cuisine to the country’s medical system, police force, and geopolitical ambitions. This debut book traces China’s idiosyncrasies to the deep imprint of Confucian and Taoist philosophies. In contrast to the West’s “linear” and “deductive” logic, based on clear cause-and-effect relationships and moral absolutes, Moreau argues, Chinese society is infused with “inductive” and holistic reasoning that takes the world as a given and values social harmony above rigid ideals. The result, he contends, is that the Chinese are pragmatic and flexible but incurious and lacking in innovation. These broad generalizations are sometimes overdrawn and look for philosophical rationales where more prosaic explanations might do. (For example, Chinese business executives’ preference for making informal compromises with government demands, rather than standing on legal principle, probably owes more to the nation’s lack of an independent judiciary than to Confucian precepts.) Moreau’s examinations of day-to-day life and habits include discussions about the difficulty of learning to read and speak Mandarin, the irrepressible anarchy of Chinese driving, the tightknit bonds of Chinese families and folkways and the difficulty foreigners face in coping with them (his advice is to be proudly foreign—the Chinese expect it), and the official crackdown on, um, funeral strippers. Moreau expertly examines Chinese business culture and writes shrewdly about subjects ranging from how to navigate rabidly hard-nosed Chinese business negotiations—the silent treatment is his secret weapon—to the increasing difficulties that Western companies, addicted to set-in-stone “process” and paperwork, face in China’s hypercompetitive domestic marketplace. Moreau’s well-informed but highly readable and entertaining prose strikes a nice balance between revealing anecdotes and thoughtful analyses. Westerners interested in or traveling to China can learn much from his engaging observations.
An insightful, compelling introduction to the intricacies of Chinese business and life.