Shaun Rein writes the single most irritating article on the Google-China calamity

[UPDATE: Rein has once again outdone himself. Check the comments and the links to the original blog post by Modern Lei Feng. Yikes.]

I’ve been wondering for a couple months now how Shaun Rein got one of the sweetest deals in China – a column in Forbes that lets him link to and plug his own marketing company in nearly every column as he tells readers how great business is in China and how rosy things look there. In one recent column, modestly titled, Yes, China Has Fully Arrived As A Superpower, he takes James Fallows to task for pointing out that while China is rising fast it is still far too poor and wracked with internal challenges to be considered a true superpower along the lines of the US, a not-so-outlandish assertion. These are the lines from the article that jumped out at me:

“China is certainly not altogether as wealthy as the US or Japan, as Fallows correctly observes. But it is emerging confident and relatively unscathed from the financial crisis.

Not altogether as wealthy as the US?? As if it’s almost as wealthy as the US? China’s great. I love China. But hundreds of millions of Chinese are still dirt-poor, and while China is improving and getting wealthier, to compare its society’s wealth with that of the US and Japan, even with all of their problems, is irresponsible. “Not altogether as wealthy as the US”?? But let’s get back to Google.

If Rein’s column on China emerging as a great superpower was awful, his new column on Google with the provocative title Google’s Act Of War Against China is way worse. Like all of Rein’s columns, it echoes the party line and is resoundingly “pro-China,” always playing up the great market potential of China, (where, coincidentally, Rein heads a marketing company). It’s fine to be pro-China. I consider myself to be pro-China. But we expect to read stuff like this on Chinese BBS’s, not in Forbes:

Has Google really thought through the implications of its actions, beyond just giving up the world’s fastest growing digital advertising market and the welfare of its employees and legal representatives in China? Or is this the impulsive move of an arrogant and immature leadership team used to getting its way?

Looking beyond the implications of what is, in effect, a new mode of statecraft, we should ask whether Google isn’t using censorship and cyber terrorism as an excuse to get out of China because of business failings there. If Google were making more money in China, would it necessarily have taken this stand?

Here’s what James Fallows, a real journalist who writes consistently great posts on China, has to say about the argument Rein is embracing (that Google was creating an excuse to leave China because it was trailing in market share).

Sky Canaves of the WSJ in Beijing has saved me a lot of time (and done readers a favor) by producing a catalogue of the biggest “misstatements and misunderstandings” people have promulgated about this situation.She starts with the most preposterous: that Google deliberately picked an extremely public fight with a notoriously thin-skinned government, merely to distract attention from its commercial struggles in a market where it enjoys “only” a 35% share. That Chinese officials and “netizens” would claim this is understandable. The Westerners who took it up reveal their preference for the counter-intuitive and “clever” rather than the believable.

Rein goes on to wag his finger at Google, as if he has a better grasp of their situation – as though Google is stumbling and bumbling and screwing up, with no idea how they’re damaging themselves. He almost makes it sound as if they need a good China marketing company.

Its mistakes may have long-term effects on its bottom line. Beyond giving up search for China’s 380 million netizens, the company may now find handset makers being pushed not to carry its Android operating system. That could mean a serious long-term loss of revenue in a country with 720 million mobile phone users.

Google’s China experience also illustrates that anyone operating in China needs to empower local employees to make decisions early and fast. You also need a head of your business in China who has the credibility and headquarters support to champion such decisions.

I assure you, Shaun, Google has taken the possible loss of potential revenue from its Android phone into account, but I’m sure they appreciate the free advice.

Earlier on in the article, Rein tells us, ominously,

If other foreign firms and activist investors in companies conducting business in China banded with Google, they could launch a serious threat to the stability of China, or of any country.

You see, this is Google “declaring war on China.” There is one bad guy here, the one declaring war, and other companies might follow suit leading to a potential crisis for China (which would be bad for marketing companies in China, no?). But has China no say in this matter? Why is there not a single word about what foreign companies need to go through to enter the China market? Not a word about the actual reasons Google spelled out for its decision? Instead, we are fed pablum like this:

They [China’s leaders] have also seen how 30 years of economic growth brought happiness to the Chinese population. Let’s not forget that the Pew Center has found that 86% of Chinese are happy with the direction the government is taking the country.

Normally I wouldn’t bother writing a post like this about an article that’s so blatantly one-sided and suck-uppish. But this is Forbes, and they have such a great Beijing bureau chief and the quality of most of their articles is so outstanding – I am at a loss as to how self-advertising puff pieces like this are allowed to run. I read it with disbelief.

Updated with cosmetic edits, January 17 1PM Mountain time.


Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 71 Comments

Shaun Rein is spot-on that, on the surface, Google’s decision does not look thoughtful to say the least. You do not want to start the negotiation by announcing in a blog, by making a big accusation without presenting evidence. For pete’s sake, why do you need PR department and spokeman/woman in the first place?

Google’s amateurish behavior may be due to its shock on the possibility of inside job as shown below.

Google’s employees are usually top-notch engineers and Google treats its employee very well, as testified by my friend in Google. So in a material world like China, why would anyone risks his future to go against its employer for non-monetary objective, especially against an employer like Google. I suspect that is why Google quickly decides that this insider work is government sponsored.

However, Google failed to understand that the gap between Chinese and the west on Tibet and Xinjiang independence is so vast, that it is very possible that young talented individual Chinese feel patriotic and honored to attack Tibet independence movement, such as its email system.

Last year’s backlash against western media and Tibet independence is a good testament for this sentiment among young Chinese. The west media certainly never bothered to understand this. They will keep feeling puzzled, as they have always felt.

January 19, 2010 @ 5:28 am | Comment

“Many people in China have warped mentality in that instead of blaming the govt for depriving their right to access the uncensored Google”

The Google and the west feels it is championing Chinese right. So why the heck Chinese people does not appreciate it?

I think that is because CCP has found a wedge issue, i.e., Tibet independence. Go check young Chinese and tell them that someone inside Google attacked Dalai’s network.Count how many of them approve or disapprove this job. If approval rate is below 85%, I will be surprised.

January 19, 2010 @ 5:39 am | Comment

What point do you think Rein makes that is spot-on? The link you point to does not seem to have anything to do with Rein’s assertion that Google has declared war on China, that it is an enemy of China, that they are making up an excuse so they can leave a market in which they aren’t doing well, that it’s a stupid business decision, that other companies may follow and hurt China, etc. The most that link tells us is that there may have been a mole inside Google. It doesn’t say Google was shocked by this or that they never considered the possibility of such a thing (I’m sure they had), nor does it make even a hint that they were naive. What exactly do you see in that link that proves Rein is “spot on”?

Your comment seems to rank really high on the Dumb-O-Meter, but I’ll give you a chance to prove me wrong. All that stuff about Google not understanding how Chinese people see Tibet – you seem to be babbling the usual, “The West doesn’t understand China” claptrap. How on earth do you know what Google’s perceptions were about Chinese attitudes toward Tibet? (I ask because I knew some Google employees who were very, very aware of these attitudes, but if you know something different you can share with us….)

January 19, 2010 @ 5:46 am | Comment

“What point do you think Rein makes that is spot-on? ”

The decision by Google is not thought through. That is the key point. Staying or leaving china is a business decision. It is kind of stupid to start negotiation by throwing accusation in public, especially in china. Declare a war is actually a fair description on Google’s idiotic behavior.

“Your comment seems to rank really high on the Dumb-O-Meter”

That is fine. Hopefully by putting sentence like that will increase your intelligence.

January 19, 2010 @ 6:03 am | Comment

Sorry if I offended you but I saw that irritating non-sequitor and thought you were making a dumb assertion. Turns out you were indeed. Still, I wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt, and said it “seemed” dumb, but gave you a chance to explain. Now it’s official – you were being dumb. Rein may indeed be spot-on, but you didn’t back up the assertion nor did you explain the relevance of the CNN link you gave.

Apologies if I was a little harsh.

January 19, 2010 @ 6:44 am | Comment

Crabmeat, funny how your comment can be found, word for word, over here. Word for word. The trolls are out in force today.

HongXing Do you understand what an opinion column is? So it’s ok to give columns to blatant and uncritical China basher, but not to China booster?

No one should be given a column if they use it to shamelessly promote their own service and constantly pump out stories that make highly questionable claims all designed to help line their own pockets. (I’m not saying the columnist in this case is doing this, of course. But looking over his past columns, one does see some pretty clear trends.)

January 19, 2010 @ 7:49 am | Comment

#46 “Sounds like ICM couldn’t even be bothered to paraphrase the party handbook with that post.”

#57 “Crabmeat, funny how your comment can be found, word for word, over here. Word for word. The trolls are out in force today.”

Wow, never knew how close I was with that call. Way to get busted, Crab.

January 19, 2010 @ 8:06 am | Comment

I read this blog article in the Times of India and had to chuckle. Here we read about how nasty Google is and how they just don’t understand the Chinese but nary a word of thanks about how Google has increased China’s landmass at the expense of India…
You just can’t please everyone, can you?

January 19, 2010 @ 9:52 am | Comment

One thing can make this alright: full disclosure.

A professional commentator and journalist uses full disclosure; a marketer, salesman or promoter tends to not use full disclosure (though some do).

There is a small disclosure at the bottom of each of his articles, but rarely any mention of ‘I have an interest in…’ in articles. There’s no disclosure on his profile page on Forbes. That’s enough to discredit any journalistic integrity in my book.

I’d conclude Forbes could do a better job at fully disclosing the interests of their writers. I’d also remember the magazine is Forbes, who tend to twist into whatever market tailwind is prevalent at the time, picking commentators that write what their readers want to read. In terms of business magazines it’s a cheap tabloid.

January 19, 2010 @ 1:50 pm | Comment

I didn’t know SR before, but his style and rethoric is just CCP’s home Brew.
I would be surprise if its great firm was in fact founded or financed somewhat by the CCP.

February 5, 2010 @ 7:28 am | Comment

Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi is suspected of delaying the release of donation funds she had garnered for victims of the 2008 Szechuan earthquake during her fundraising activities at the Cannes Film Festival that same year.
  Zhang’s fiance, multi-millionaire Vivi Nevo, had reportedly set up the Zhang Ziyi Foundation on her behalf in the United States to conduct fundraising activities for the earthquake victims.
  Citing information from Nevo’s close friend in Hong Kong, Chinese media reports alleged that the Foundation’s donation funds, earmarked for the Chinese Red Cross Foundation of at least$2 million, were channelled into Zhang’s personal overseas account and remained there for almost 18 months after her fundraising efforts at the film festival.

February 6, 2010 @ 12:51 am | Comment

[…] Either they are incredibly naive or incurious, or they’ve been bought and paid for. Just like our friend Shaun Rein, they point to the exact same poll he does to tell us how happy the Chinese are: What does […]

February 11, 2010 @ 5:04 am | Pingback

Just posted a comment on SR’s USA TODAY editorial about Google.

March 30, 2010 @ 1:04 am | Comment

[…]  The Peking Duck tore apart Rein’s writing on the Google China situation, calling it the single most irritating article on the topic, now Rein’s wrote the single most irritating article about North […]

August 5, 2010 @ 10:18 am | Pingback

[…] Shaun Rein’s latest creations. (For those of you who are new to this site, here’s my first post about Rein from half a year ago.) Go read the new post […]

August 5, 2010 @ 10:42 am | Pingback

[…] We take on one of the great creatures of China punditry, the China Apologist, in this week’s Sinica podcast recorded in Beijing. Actually, this creature has been around for a very long time, sometimes referred to imprecisely as a Panda Hugger, but we chose to tag and analyze — dissect? vivisect? — the present-day animal as we find him walking the Earth. And talking on CNBC, attacking Google, recommending that Nike and General Electric should invest in North Korea because similar engagement with China by Apple, Mattel and other Western companies has helped give the Chinese people “more freedom than they could have imagined even a decade ago.” The alleged apologist I refer to is Shaun Rein, who has staked out strong positions in commentaries here at Forbes and drawn the ire of some other China watchers, notably The Peking Duck. […]

August 13, 2010 @ 6:22 pm | Pingback

[…] already. You can’t really understand why Shaun is an issue without studying this column (or my post about it). In particular, his assertion that real poverty has been nearly eradicated touched a number of […]

August 15, 2010 @ 2:03 am | Pingback

[…] The discussion centered around an article written by Shaun Rein and ‘responses’ on The Peking Duck and A Modern Lei Feng. I’m not going to rehash these articles, but they form the background […]

August 20, 2010 @ 9:40 pm | Pingback

35% was the high water mark of Google market share post 2005, although if you go back to early 2000s it was much higher. It’s probably in the mid teens now.

China was the first market where Android surpassed iOS

And Google China is still profitable, even if China market share drops to zero, due to export oriented Chinese enterprises

May 8, 2011 @ 12:09 am | Comment

Nice. I presume Shaun will now write a column on how he got it wrong about Google in China. Heh.

May 8, 2011 @ 1:45 am | Comment

In resume. Don’t complain while i am fucking you, you hurt my feelings.

May 8, 2011 @ 8:46 am | Comment

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.