Book Review: China Goes West: Everything You Need to Know About Chinese Companies Going Global
by Joel Backaler, pp. 208, Palgrave Macmillan


Review by Peter Kovas

My grandfather visited China with the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1973. He wasn’t a musician, he was a retired businessman who accompanied the Orchestra as president of its board.

As the story goes, he was quickly turned off by a lack of binding contracts. The method of making decisions over dinner and drinks so common in China didn’t sit well with him. Not only was he the sort of man who went to bed early, he seldom drank and preferred not to mix business with pleasure. All American as he was, he had mastered the art of doing business with people he didn’t know.

His wife, my grandmother, loved China for all of the reasons her husband disliked it. A quintessential people person, she immediately recognized that building relationships are at the core of Chinese culture as well as Chinese business.

In China Goes West; Everything You Need to Know About Chinese Companies Going Global, author Joel Backaler brings clarity to the often impenetrable thicket of Chinese business culture.

Unlike many who position themselves as experts on the subject, Joel Backaler studied Chinese business first in Taiwan and later in Beijing at Tsinghua University. After, while working for Atos Consulting Company, he helped restructure ChemChina, a massive Chinese company of mixed private and government parentage.

In other words, Joel Backaler has seen deeply into China’s business culture. His experience and expertise allows him to offer readers interested in learning about Chinese business unique insight into the current globalization of China’s economy. China Goes West is the sort of book MBA students ought to read as they begin their international studies. It is also the sort of book politicians interested in gaining practical knowledge about Chinese investments in American businesses ought to familiarize themselves with. Moreover, despite its effective and narrow focus, China Goes West is accessible to a less specialized audience and therein lies the real excellence of the book.

Anyone interested in learning more about the globalization of China’s economy ought to read China Goes West. Using well known cases studies as well as his own experiences to illuminate trends, organizational principles, as well as what has been learned through China’s economic successes and failures on the world stage. Backaler shows readers that China is opportunistically seeking opportunity. He points out that whether we are ready for it or not China’s economic influence is already felt around the world however, for all of its economic muscle, China is still a relatively new player in international markets. After analyzing both the historical development of contemporary Chinese companies, M & A, and international purchases, Backaler goes one step further and offers suggestions to political and business leaders concerning how they might best approach this new paradigm in global trade.

Personally, what I like most about China Goes West is that Backaler’s excellent research shows readers that the sense of impenetrability with which we outsiders often regard China goes both ways. As much as China can seem mysterious to wàiguórén (外国人 which directly translates to something like “outlander” or “out-of-country-person”), the lands outside the Middle Kingdom are equally mysterious to those who dwell within the country. China Goes West is a tidy examination of what the Chinese have been up to and what they’ve learned as they’ve engaged the outside world.

China Goes West offers readers a more educated and sinocentric perspective than just about any other book you’ll find outside of China. It is well worth the time of anyone interested in learning more about Chinese business.

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This review, written by Peter Kovas for LCB, is part of a current series featuring our take on notable recent books about China and Chinese culture, language, business and related topics.  Follow us on social media (TwitterFacebookLinkedInGoogle Plus) to stay tuned for next time.  You can always find more book recommendations in our LCB Store; for details on our affiliate program please see here.  As always, feel free to leave a comment below and tell us what you think!