Introduction

[Note: below is the introduction from Great Wall of Numbers]

It has become increasingly difficult to separate hyperbole and exaggeration from the story of China’s development over the past three decades.  This book was written in part to highlight both the opportunities and challenges facing entrepreneurs, companies and businesspeople wanting to do work in China.  I try to be as evenhanded and balanced as I can – this book vilifies neither bulls nor bears.  Rather it serves as a guide to those willing to take risks.

In short, this book is a testament to human ingenuity and entrepreneurship.  For those looking for a particular bias one way or the other, I point to Voltaire’s germane quote, “Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien” or in English, the best is the enemy of the good.

There is no shortage of excuses to invest or not invest in any domicile – irrespective of the political climate, level of debt, who won the World Series or astrological sign – yet it is counterproductive to be a fair weather entrepreneur.  Or rather, it is incredibly easy to complain and do nothing.  Consuming doom, reckoning and gloom, preparing for prophetical collapses that are always around the corner – fear sells and will always be a popular past-times for those wanting a complete reboot, revolution or some Pyrrhic nirvana.

Yet as I try to illustrate in the following pages, you do not have to be born into a family of entrepreneurs to have the desire to start a company and manage it profitably.  You just have to be open to new ways of doing business, even if the conditions are not ideal, perfect or “the best.”

And despite the eye-catching apocaholic analysis from those who have been predicting doomsday and eventual collapse – the Chinese, as I explain throughout, are by and large a hard working lot that have endured nearly every conceivable adjective.  They are constantly looking to improve their living standards, aspiring to the quality of life in the West by learning to uncover the secrets to American and Western innovative prowess.  In short, they are looking to provide a better future for their progeny.  Thus opportunities abound for the entrepreneurial spirited.

The book includes dozens of stories, anecdotes and interviews about experiences, opportunities and challenges on the mainland.  I should point out that because of the dynamic nature of all the industries I delve into, the data and statistics cited will become quickly outdated.  This is not a bad trend itself but rather goes to show you the relative vibrancy and opportunities of the creative destruction process which take place in any open marketplace – even a relatively encumbered one on the mainland.

Throughout the book I mention friends, colleagues, experts, professors, businesspersons, former students and acquaintances.  This is not an explicit endorsement of their opinions or services but rather serves as an on-the-ground reference point.  Nor by providing me with quotes do they endorse this book or my opinions.  Furthermore, in the interest of financial disclosure, I do not currently have any equity positions in the firms or companies discussed throughout.

In addition, as Sagan, Russell and Oppenheimer are all believed to have said, “keep an open mind – but not so open that your brain falls out.”  Or as Dean Stamatis recently reminded me: “figures do not lie, but liars do figure.”  In fact, one alternative working title I had considered was “seek truth from facts” (实事求是) a historical expression that dates back to the original Book of Han some two millennia ago.  Thus even though I cite hundreds of references, be skeptical of any claims, especially when risk and uncertainty is involved.  In short, be sure to do your own due diligence.

And as a close friend once told me when I first moved to the East, for those unfamiliar with Asia and specifically China, it is better to know something than know nothing.  That is what this reference guide is for, look a little before you leap into the unknown.  To those trying to find business opportunities in the likeliest and unlikeliest of places: jiayou, jiayou!

Tim Swanson

Shanghai, March 2013

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