About a month ago I did my first book review here on conquer-china.  If you had a chance to read it, then you might still remember that I  talked about the 1-hour China book and how I wish it had been the first book I read about business in China.  While that is true, the 1-hour China Book does not even come close to what you are going to get from today’s featured book.

Mr. China: A Memoir” is much more than a mere account of doing business in China in spite of being a memoir of exactly just that. This book tells the story of a Mandarin-speaking Englishman (Tim Clissold) who joins a Wall Street banker (Jack Perkowski) to found a private equity fund, which would later mature into ASIMCO (One of China’s largest automotive parts supplier).

Tim Clissold, businessman and China-aficionado aiming to strike it big in China, tells his own story of how he planned to help Perkoswski bring China into the modern world and at the same time make a fortune in investments in a rapidly-modernizing Chinese economy. In their quest for potential investments, Clissold and Perkowski embark on an epic journey to more than 100 factories spread around China. As they soon find out it is not all smooth sailing; problems arise from the first day: language issues, corrupt managers, inefficient legal systems, impatient investors, poor planning, and a heart attack all challenge Clissold and yet he remains throughout the memoir indomitably determined to succeed.

Clissold’s love for China is clear throughout and yet he does not overly-romanticize his experiences; on the contrary, he outlines in painful detail every setback and triumph he has. The clarity with which he narrates the almost Wild West days of early foreign investment in China have importance not only for any future business planning on making their fortunes in China, but also for those currently or planning to reside in China for the long-term. The constant intractable bureaucracy and often the difficulty in getting the most simple tasks done are commonplace for any foreigner living in this interesting country. Clissold retells his experiences with humor and creates a sense of solidarity for the readers living in China. 

This is not just a book for those interested in business in China, but also for those interested in China more broadly: the culture clashes Clissold deals with are found in any other environment and his love of the country, people, and culture testify of a deep affection for China and it’s future.

Clissold’s understanding of China is deep and profound, and not only from a business perspective. “Mr. China: A Memoir” is filled with small gems about Chinese culture, mannerisms, and life in general in China during the early 1990s. Clissold’s writing is very lucid and, I suspect, this book can be enjoyed even by people who have a very slim interest in business.

Reading through it, I couldn’t help it but remember my own epic 7000 Km train ride to Central China. During this time, I had the opportunity to come in contact with a China that will soon be lost forever. It is hard to imagine that Clissold was having the same experiences in large centers like Beijing and Shanghai only 20 years ago.

So to summarize it all, Mr. China is a wonderful book that should be read by anyone planning to come to China. It is also a wonderful book to have in your bag if you happen to be travelling around the country. In many ways, it will help you understand some of the unusual things you will certainly experience.