The Tao of Global Management: Time for Chinese to Have their Say?

During the early 1990s I recall chairing monthly editorial meetings for a Chinese-language management magazine, Chief Executive China, in Shenzhen. Which white, male, Western face did the staff want on the cover this month?

Been to a bookstore in a major airport in the PRC of late? Business magazines and books are now much more likely to sport a Chinese role model than an American or occasional Japanese CEO. Western management gurus are still given face time, but they are no longer the last word.

The Second Wave of management literature is in full swing, and the spotlight squarely focused on Things Chinese: how to apply ancient Chinese philosophy to corporate management and strategic marketing, glowing bios of the likes of Alibaba’s CEO Jack Ma, and success stories of telecom heavyweights such as lupine-inspired Huawei.

At last hard-nosed Chinese business writers—well-versed in capitalism, no longer propaganda apparatchiks serving the Party—are documenting, analyzing and critiquing the world’s most dynamic economy entrepreneurs in highly readable prose. But the question is: when will businesspeople outside the Middle Kingdom get the story straight from the horse’s mouth?

That depends, of course, on how long it takes publishers in the West to select, translate and re-package Chinese business books in a way that appeals to their readership. For now, in the English-speaking world it’s much easier to find titles like The Chinese Tao of Business written by a Westerner (George Haley) than it is to find, say, a popular book among Chinese managers such as The Analects of Confucius: A Management Diary by Shao Yu (《<论语> 管理日志》,邵雨).

In fact, there may be more Chinese business books entering the global marketplace in foreign languages than is generally recognized. One reason: their first stop is often markets such as Korea and Japan, about which Western publishing executives are relatively uninformed. For example, the rights for a Korean edition of The Analects of Confucius: A Management Diary were purchased in 2010, according to Stacy Cui, Editor-in-chief at Blue Lion Financial and Economic Publishing Center in Hangzhou. The original Chinese text was co-published with Zhejiang University Press.

Blue Lion, which specializes in commissioning and editing a range of business books (corporate histories, macro-economics and even novels set in the business world) before handing them over to a publishing house that possesses the all-important kān hào or publication permit, has been relatively successful in “exporting” its business books to foreign publishers. Cui told China Publishing Industry Newsletter that Korean rights have also been purchased for Robin Li and his Baidu World (see table below), and How Far Away is Tomorrow? (后天有多远), a Chinese take on global challenges such as the inflation crisis, the oil “bubble” and global warming.

But its biggest success has perhaps come with China Emerging: 1978-2008, which seeks to shed light on key factors—personalities like the Gang of Four and events such as China’s entry into the WTO, the Sichuan earthquake and the Beijing Olympics—behind the last three decades of China’s fantastic economic growth. The tome has been published in English, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Italian, Polish, Korean and Vietnamese.

Broadly speaking, most popular Chinese business books fall into four categories: profiles of entrepreneurs and senior managers; corporate histories; macro-economic studies of China and global phenomena; and Chinese-style management. The Power Behind Suning Appliances and The Truth about Foxconn (see table below) belong to the corporate history category, though the latter may come closer to an exposé.

One trend in the Chinese-style management genre is to draw upon ancient Chinese philosophy for insights into 21st-century business strategy. Management Wisdom of the Book of Changes (see table below) is one example, and Blue Lion’s series of Sinology-inspired Management Diaries (国学管理日志) features “diaries” drawing on the writings and behavior of luminaries such as Emperor Taizong of the Tang Dynasty, 7th century B.C. philosopher Guan Zhong, 19th-century businessman Hu Xueyan, and—later this year—the ultimate guerilla strategist, Chairman Mao.

A Selection of Chinese-language Business Books

Title/authorNotesPublisher(s)Business contact
Growing Wild: How Ten Millionaires Made their Fortunes (草莽生长:十大富豪的创富之道) Yu Shenghai (余胜海)Published Dec. 2010. Close-up look at how millionaires like Liu Yonghao (Hope Group), Ding Lei (Netease founder) and Wang Chuanfu (CEO of car maker BYD) made their money.Zhejiang University Press (www.zjupress.com/index.html) and Blue Lion Financial and Economic Publishing Center (www.lanshizi.com/qiyechuban)Ms. Mary Wu, Int’l Rights Manager, Zhejiang University Press. wxfmt@zju.edu.cn
The Power behind Suning Appliance (苏宁背后的力量) Cheng Zhiming (成志明)Published Dec. 2010. Story of the rise of the Nanjing-based, privately owned electrical appliance retailer with hundreds of shops nationwide.CITIC Press (www.publish.citic.com/index.htm)Ms. Yang Yan (杨艳). yangyan@citicpub.com
Management Wisdom of the Book of Changes (易经的管理智慧) Zeng Shiqiang (曾仕强)Insights into applying the ancient wisdom of the Book of Changes (I Ching), a Chinese guide to divination written around the time of Jesus Christ, to 21st century business.Peking University Press (www.pup.cn/main/)Ms. Xie Na (谢娜). rights@pup.cn
Robin Li and his Baidu World (李彦宏的百度世界) Cheng Dongsheng (程东升)Also published in a South Korean edition. Biography of Robin Li, co-founder of China’s leading search engine Baidu.com.CITIC Press (www.publish.citic.com/index.htm) and Blue Lion Financial and Economic Publishing Center (www.lanshizi.com/qiyechuban)Ms. Stacy Cui. stacycui0104@gmail.com
The Truth about Foxconn (富士康真相) Xu Mingtian (徐明天), Xu Xiaomei (徐小妹)The story behind Foxconn, a Fortune 500 firm and a multinational subsidiary of a Taiwanese firm with factories all over the Chinese mainland that supply iPods, iPads and iPhones to Apple, but saw a spate of employee suicides in 2010.Zhejiang University Press (www.zjupress.com/index.html) and Blue Lion Financial and Economic Publishing Center (www.lanshizi.com/qiyechuban)Ms. Stacy Cui. stacycui0104@gmail.com