Not again! The Shaun Rein Chronicles continue

The geniuses bringing us the Sinica podcasts over at Popup Chinese continue to outdo themselves, with this week’s discussion touching on one of my favorite topics, The Peking Duck and its commenters. More on that in a moment.

The first half of the podcast is an examination of the bizarre story of the fall of the popular Chinese comedian Guo Degang, yet another case study of the excesses of the Chinese media, the group-think of the news manipulators, the effect of the Chinese internet in increasing the decibel level, etc. Listen to the podcast just for that. (And if Guo Degang is the same comedian as the one I referenced in this post from 2.5 years ago, I can confirm that he is truly hilarious; scroll down for the photo.)

It’s in the second half of the podcast, about 16 minutes in, that the issue of China apologists in general and Shaun Rein in particular comes up, with a few references to my post from last week. It appears to have put the estimable Mr. Rein on the defensive, and he delivers an audio “postcard” toward the end of the podcast, explaining, to his satisfaction, why he is no China apologist.

Much of Rein’s defense revolves around the dust-up over this notorious column from seven months ago, published under the Forbes banner and including the usual obligatory plugs for his marketing business. Go back and read it now if you haven’t 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 nerves, an assertion he clarifies in his postcard, explaining he meant there is no longer severe malnutrition and starvation. And I accept his clarification, and I basically agree with him. The only problem is that he didn’t make this clear in his touchy-feely column, which read like a love ballad to China. Had he thrown in the explanation about malnutrition this might have been a non-issue. But this was just one aspect of how Rein tends to whitewash China’s problems and consistently put forward an image of China that must give the CCP multiple orgasms. From the same column:

Like many teenage boys, China still has a few pimples. It needs a few more years in college to fully emerge as an adult. It has new muscles, but it also has much to learn from the U.S. and the rest of the world.

You can’t blame China for its wrongs. Like a teenage boy with raging hormones, it doesn’t have the capacity for good judgment. Let’s give China space. Let China be China.

As for the rest of the postcard: Rein and I actually are more in agreement about China than you’d think. I completely agree with him that the government has done a great deal of good and made huge strides since reform began. I agree that a lot of people in China are happy. I agree that the Chinese people enjoy a high level of personal freedoms (as long as they remember their boundaries). I have posted countless times here that in terms of social freedoms China is up there almost with the US, and in some ways seems even more liberal. (Of course, there are “on the other hands” for each of those claims.)

The problem is when Rein makes gob-smacking and bewildering assertions, as we see in the very first sentence of his column on North Korea:

Perhaps she was spending too much time planning Chelsea’s wedding, but Hillary Clinton’s recent announcement of a strategy to institute more economic sanctions against North Korea was misguided and half-baked.

FAIL. As multiple commenters have pointed out in the comments there, on the comments here and the comments at Modern Lei Feng, this demonstrates shockingly poor judgment for a columnist writing for Forbes. It’s challenging to think of a more sexist opening to an article. Imagine if we were critical of an Obama decision, and started off our critique by saying it was perhaps due to his being too caught up in planning for his daughter’s wedding. Yet this kind of WTF out-of-left-field whopper permeates Rein’s columns – whenever he writes about topics outside his area of expertise.

I have one issue with an assertion made on the podcast by Jeremy Goldkorn. Jeremy is not a good friend of mine, he is a great friend, and for many reasons he is one of those people I would follow off a cliff. But I must take issues with this:

There was a knee jerk reaction on the part of many commentators, and I’m thinking mainly of Richard, who’s a friend of mine at Peking Duck and his followers, who were like, “Obviously this guy is totally insane” – because, for all of those people Kim-Jong Il is the guy who was in Team America, he is a completely ridiculous dictator. North Korea is completely beyond any hope of redemption, and the ony thing to do is put them back in the Stone Age.

For your reference, here is the entire post Jeremy is referring to:

Modern Lei Feng fisks Shaun Rein’s latest creation. (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 now,

I’ve enjoyed several of Shaun’s columns about marketing in China and I respect his obvious intelligence and experience. But he should never, ever be allowed to write about foreign policy or politics or global economics. He’s great when he’s writing about stuff like the 8-story Barbie Doll shop in Shanghai. When he writes about economic sanctions against North Korea, however, he only embarrasses himself.

(And let me add: I embarrass myself every day, and rarely know what I’m talking about. But I’m not writing columns under the Forbes banner. As I make clear in the legend up at the top, this blog is a bastion of “dilettantish punditry and pseudo-philosophy.” I warn everybody about that before they start reading.)

Okay. My question is, what did I say in this post that corroborates what Jeremy said? I mean, even a little bit? Where is my “knee-jerk reaction” to North Korea or any claims about North Korea at all? I looked for it in the comments as well, and I can’t see anything at all that backs up Jeremy’s description. The most people say is they support or don’t support the sanctions. Nothing about Kim or life in North Korea. Maybe I’m missing something. For the record, the position Jeremy attributes to me on North Korea is simply wrong. Apologies if I wrote something to make him or anyone else think otherwise.

Back to the podcast, I found Gady Epstein’s analysis at the start of the “Apologist” discussion to be the most spot-on:

What am I annoyed by with China apologists? When they talk down to people who make critiques by saying, “It’s much more complex than that, you don’t understand – it’s not black and white.” Well, we know it’s not black and white. It starts there, with this kind of patronizing attitude toward anybody who makes a critique of the system.

He doesn’t name names, and I can’t say for sure to whom he’s referring, but his point is an excellent one, If you’re going to make dramatic claims about China, you don’t knock down your critics by saying they don’t understand China, and blocking them on Twitter and dismissing them. You can read Gady’s blog post on the podcast here.

Let me close by saying I’ve had to deal with being called an apologist for three years now. I always strive to give a balanced picture of what I perceive to be happening in China, explaining in my Tibet posts, for example, that you absolutely must look at it from Chinese eyes and put aside romantic Western stereotypes. To some, any positive words about the Chinese government makes you an apologist. So it’s not a term I toss around lightly. I urge you to read Shaun’s teenage boy column and determine whether it crosses the boundaries of admiration and wades into the waters of unabashed apologism. Your call. I won’t say a word.

The Discussion: 40 Comments


Getting blocked by SR on Twitter should be a mark of pride for people at this point, like getting blacklisted by Nixon in the 70s, but with fewer (none) real world repercussions and far less pride (since the real-world personage and Nixon share little but a neurotic distrust of critics in common).

I don’t quite know what I did to earn a block on the Twitter account apart from a comment I made on an April Fool’s HaoHao Report post mentioning Shaun Rein and #cde in the same sentence, under a post involving a squirrel dressed in battle gear (Google my name with his if you’re bored) but the block definitely stands. Perplexing. Apparently, the same squirrely forum comment was enough to also earn a dress down of my China chops on the businessweek blog, with plenty of backhanded comments interspersed to try and make it seem like he was doing me a favor.

Where does he get the time to track down those who dare critique him anyway? Is there a protocol that he goes through when he comes across criticism? Does he fully appreciate the comedic genius of Edgar Wright’s “Shaun of the Dead” or has he simply blocked Edgar along with Simon Pegg and the rest of the film cast? I guess I won’t find out until I hire his management company and he lets me in on the logic behind his seeming madness. Now if I only remembered the name of that company. What was it again? Richard, any ideas on where I could find the name?

While I’m at it, nobody but Shaun Rein actually identifies themselves as ‘MD’ unless they are an actual Medical Doctor. It will never be seriously construed to mean Managing Director by serious people. That’s both beside the point and wholly illustrative of it – a frivolous but illustrative example of how Shaun seems to be unhealthily obsessed with building an unreal image of himself.

Backing up from the potshot shooting range for just a minute, I do have sympathy for prolific writers and bloggers. Ideas are not going to be expressed exactly right every time by those dedicated enough to post something for the world to read five days a week. In this sense, Shaun Rein is no exception. But the maliciousness with which he has shown himself capable of going after those critics is a sign of less than refined character. I’ve certainly received my share of criticism, as have you, Chris but nothing has gone back between jousting in a blog pieces comment section.

In short, the tactic of blocking oneself off from criticism and then delivering the sort of postcard that both you and I have received (and judging by the frivolity for which I was internet pistol-whipped by Shaun, there have been others that have felt the wrath his all-seeing Mordor eye) is rather cowardly, as far as internet tifts are concerned. Thank you for allowing me a space to deliver my own postcard.


August 14, 2010 @ 6:35 am | Comment

[…] |Alltop RSS| The geniuses bringing us the Sinica podcasts over at Popup Chinese continue to outdo themselves, with this week’s discussion touching on one of my favorite topics, The Peking Duck and its commenters. More on that in a moment. The first half of the podcast is an examination of the bizarre tale of the fall of […] […]

August 14, 2010 @ 6:39 am | Pingback

The issue of apologists was interesting. There was one point that stood out for me though. When Rein was talking about reform in China coming from within. Many China watcher make the mistake of taking the Chinese view a little bit too much. And by this I mean that the China sees itself as the center of the world (this has been historically so) and end up forgetting that sometimes you just have to stand your ground.

China is part of a global community and it HAS to accept the rules if it wants to be respected. I think many countries are starting to see that “being nice” to China will only make it more assertive and that China won’t necessarily “be nice” in return.

It is unfortunate, but it’s the truth.

August 14, 2010 @ 1:31 pm | Comment

What strikes me about the comment above is that if you replace “China” with the “US” it’s actually 100%… (insert here the word of your choice)

August 14, 2010 @ 2:32 pm | Comment

Rein an apologist? Say it ain’t so bro. The guy cannot even bring himself to say that China is not a democracy, instead sticking to the formula that China is “differently governed”.

But seriously, there’s a serious risk that the cliquishness of sinopunditry has made it blind to the apologists, self-publicists, and common-or-garden shysters in its ranks. Chris Devonshire Ellis was a prime example, for years he threatened people who pointed out that he was not all he had claimed to be with bogus lawsuits and accusations – yet he seemingly got a free hand from more than one of the people on that podcast, people who linked to his stuff for years, but never actually called him on his various statements.

Rein gets props for his work on marketing. Myself, I have no idea if his stuff on marketing is any good or not since I have never worked in marketing. However, I am not unfamiliar with China, and find at least what I have read of Rein’s views on China to be at a definite tangent to reality.

The pussy footing around this clear distortion seems to be mainly, I think, motivated by a desire to avoid burning bridges or creating a situation which might be socially awkward. People who do not belong to the sinopundit clique, like the Megatrends couple, do not get a pass on these kinds of misstatements, even if it is actually hard to see the difference between the views expressed in their writings and those of Shaun Rein.

Simply placing yourself between two points of view does not make you a centrist or a pragmatist, if no coherent or practical view point exists between the two points. In fact it may simply make you incoherent and compromised. Simply avoiding “main stream” viewpoints (although, China policy is such a marginal section on debate in most public forums in the west that it is hard to think what “main stream” exists) for the sake of doing so is not a coherent viewpoint. Simply alternating criticism with praise for the sake of “balance” is not pragmatism.

Yes, not everything about China’s government is bad – and? The same could be said for many dictatorships (although even using this word seems enough to mark people out as “extremist”). Similarly, I am very much aware that there are those whose instinct is simply to criticise everything the Chinese government does. The criticism of Chinese investment in Africa seems to a prime example of this. But there is also the problem of the knee-jerk “centrist”, who tries to find a middle point between opposing sides of an argument in order to be able to bestow upon themselves the lonely nobility of the person who is attacked by both sides.

Oh, and is there anyone who knew China a decade ago out there who thinks that Chinese people enjoy freedoms which were “unimaginable a decade ago”? I first arrived in China in January, 2003, and I sure as hell can’t see what the hell he’s talking about. In fact, the advances in freedom in my own country (gay marriage, the Human Rights Act, devolution etc.) are all more much more far-reaching that the examples cited by Rein, yet none of them, or even all of them together, can be said to constitute an “unimaginable” change compared to the UK in the year 2000.

August 14, 2010 @ 11:42 pm | Comment

Oh! And Jeremy Goldkorn’s characterisation of North Korea as being “just like China” is simply bizarre:

August 14, 2010 @ 11:49 pm | Comment

Your “counter” post is excellent. One really does have to wonder what the hell Rein was even thinking when he made that horrible (and yet utterly banal) China as teenager analogy and his shockingly sexist comment on Hillary Clinton. The guy has absolutely no filter and no sense of how what he says can needlessly offend people. There are sops out there on how he knows business but I find that difficult to believe because rule number one in business is not to offend people by making unnecessary statements that will simply offend.

You are being too kind to give Rein the benefit of the doubt regarding his now infamous nobody in China still lives in poverty quote. The reality (and we all know this to be true) is that is how Rein sees China from the comfort of his French Concession luxury flat in Shanghai and that is how a sycophantic Rein wants to see China, but that is not at all what he said. Now that his statement on poverty in China even to him looks like the equivalent of “let them eat cake,” he seeks to “explain” that real poverty means starvation. That is not what real poverty means and it just isn’t fair for Rein to make up a new definition for that and expect us all to just go along with it.

Real poverty means watching a relative die either because there are no doctors or hospitals close by enough or because you cannot afford them even though there are. Real poverty is having to have your kids find their meals in garbage dumps because you lack sufficient funds to feed them. Real poverty is having to give up your kid to an orphanage because you simply cannot afford him or her. Real poverty is having to pull your kid from elementary school because you need him or her to work your tiny field. Real poverty is having to take a job so risky you know it will either kill you or take 30 years off your life because you have no choice. We ALL know these things are real poverty and we ALL know these things still exist in abundance in China.

So then the question becomes is Rein so stupid as to be the only person who does not know this? In other words, is he the proverbial useful idiot? Has he really never done anything than just trek between the French Concession and Pudong and avoided all of that? Has he really never read or heard about these things?

I cannot know but the alternative is in many ways an even worse reflection on him (particularly if you believe dishonesty is worse than stupidity because it is more willful). The alternative is that he knows about all of these things but deliberately and very publicly denies their existence simply to advance his own standing with the Party. Does Rein say these things without believing them so as to curry favor with the Party and to thereby advance his business?

Jeremy is just wrong to go after you for favoring carpet bombing North Korea. You never talked about that and I did not see any comment that did either. Your criticisms of Rein had absolutely nothing to do with that. Jeremy misses your point so badly that I am convinced he never even read Rein’s article.

Ellie Wiesel describes “indifference as the epitome of evil” and Rein’s public preaching of indifference must guarantee him an even deeper place in hell.

I put Forbes in the same cesspool as they continue to publish him for reasons that also have to be tied to their efforts to win over the Chinese government for some business venture or another.

August 15, 2010 @ 1:12 am | Comment

Damjan, good to know I’m not alone in being blacklisted by Rein. As I said in the comments to my last post, on North Korea, it’s telling that he has more than 1,000 followers on twitter but only follows 20. That puts him in an ivory tower where he’s the oracle, and he hears no one but his select few. This tells us a lot about how his mind works.

The one thing these posts did was generate a lot of emails and direct messages to me from people who wanted to thank me but didn’t want to go on the record about it for professional purposes, which I understand. I wanted to reference one of these emails, which could hold the key to why Rein is what he is. The writer points out that Rein was definitely in the right place at the right time, in the mid-90s. He was very successful and became something of an oracle on China, and was simply not used to being questioned or criticized. Now that he’s put himself out there on Forbes he’s suddenly vulnerable. He can’t just say what he wants and have it accepted verbatim just because it’s Shaun Rein who is saying it. And thus he is shocked at the reaction he’s getting.

Cheebol, thanks for the comment. I believe he has seen all sides of China, not just Pudong and the French Concession. I think (again, based on emails I’ve received) that he is involved in efforts to make China a better place, that he knows all about the sufferings of the poor and the severe problems China faces – IOW, he is not living in a gilded cave. And I think he’s sincere and in no way “a bad guy.” I just think he got used to being able to say whatever he wanted, even if he hadn’t thought it through, and have it accepted as valuable advice. All of that said, I do believe Rein is an apologist for China, but he sincerely believes that’s not the case. In his thinking, he is just optimistic for China, and he’s kind of bewildered that he’s being labeled with the A word.

FOARP, about being labeled, it works both ways. When I say China’s government has done some good things, I’m an apologist. When I point out some gruesome act of violence perpetrated by a local Chinese official I’m a John Bircher, or someone who “doesn’t understand China.” I admit, I do try to stay toward the center because that’s where the truth usually lies, but I try to do so while sticking to my own morals, denouncing shit that I see as evil and applauding what I see as good. With Rein, it’s always the same script. China good, its critics bad.

August 15, 2010 @ 2:00 am | Comment

Holy moly, well, Rein’s comment about H. Clinton just seals it (and by the way, this was EXACTLY the kind of sexist crap from supposedly “progressive” commentators during the 08 election that had me in a near constant state of apoplexy). I honestly think this kind of thing is a more revealing “tell” than it even seems on first glance. It’s indicative of a lazy mind, guided by stereotypes and prejudice.

Yes, Richard, consider it an honor to be blocked by the guy.

August 15, 2010 @ 3:42 am | Comment

Lisa, I totally agree. I was stunned when the mainstream media actually ran with the “Clinton laugh” story, something they would NEVER do with a male candidate. But being in China at that time, I was much less aware of the sexism toward Clinton, until you pointed it out to me. But was there anything that matched Rein’s opening sentence?

August 15, 2010 @ 5:29 am | Comment

Richard, there were many many instances of casual sexism among both the media and opposing politicians. This is in the middle level of appalling–there were far worse.

August 15, 2010 @ 6:23 am | Comment

I believe it. Strident liberals can be even more annoying than their conservative counterparts, at least sometimes.

August 15, 2010 @ 8:34 am | Comment

@Richard –

“The one thing these posts did was generate a lot of emails and direct messages to me from people who wanted to thank me but didn’t want to go on the record about it for professional purposes, which I understand.”

. . . and I understand too, up to a point. But why exactly did people feel so free to go after the Megatrends people, but not after Rein? Surely if both wrote comparable pieces and one piece was a legitimate target for accusations of apologism, the other should also be? “Professional reasons” seems here to mean refraining from criticising someone who you might run into at The Bookworm, whilst feeling free to go after people Jeremy Goldkorn describes as “a senile old couple”.

The Sinica crew also seemed in a bit of a hurry to defend Da Shan. Let’s get this straight – it wasn’t anyone who writes or comments on this website who invented the “trained monkey” moniker. That would be Peter Hessler (in River Town as I recall) – but then I guess Hessler must simply have been acting out of an urge to attack “race traitors”.

Da Shan is not evil, a traitor, or what have you. He has, however, crossed the line between merely getting along with the CCP, appearing on state television as a talking head, and actively taking part in propaganda – . This was ill-advised.

@Damjan – It also seemed to be my making a comparison between Rein and CDE that got Rein riled at me.

August 15, 2010 @ 10:15 am | Comment

Interesting points, FOARP. Maybe some people are afraid of Rein because he has such a big bullhorn. Not everyone is willing to put his neck on the line and openly question popular columnists writing for Forbes. Not good for guanxi, perhaps.

August 15, 2010 @ 10:52 am | Comment

Wow – below is Shaun’s Twitter feed. Please note, I never once censored an article at GT – in fact, I got several things uncensored. Also, I have not once made a personal attack on Shaun Rein. I’ve basically reposted his own words with my commentary. If he writes sexist, bizarre things under the Forbes banner, he’d better be prepared to deal with the response from his readers.

People who criticize anonymously like you do… not worth responding to. If u believe in what you say, use your name @modernleifeng
about 22 hours ago via Brizzly in reply to modernleifeng

Again u call me out repeatedly but hide behind anonymity. Gutless @modernleifeng: @shaunrein I’m an attorney at one of China’s top law firms
about 22 hours ago via Brizzly

To @modernleifeng Welcome your criticisms of me. I find it gutless you call me out but refuse to tell me your real name or what you do.
10:01 PM Aug 13th via Brizzly

@ChinaGeeks Not at all.I believe reform from w/in. I dont condemn 4 working GT But he calls me apologist for stand buthe worse. he hypocrit
9:05 PM Aug 13th via Brizzly in reply to ChinaGeeks

@shaday1973 Thx I love debate and criticism but must be healthy. Have a nice weekend. I’m off to the lunch table
9:01 PM Aug 13th via Brizzly in reply to shaday1973

Richard Burger fmr ed Global Times, mouthpiece of communist party,daily censored articles calls me China apologist. Master propagandist tool
8:59 PM Aug 13th via Brizzly

Richard Burger criticisms of me way too personal and out of line. Criticism good but only professional ones deserve seat at adult table
8:57 PM Aug 13th via Brizzly

This has gotten way out of hand. I feel bad to see things get this heated. As I’ve said many times, I think Shaun is a decent guy who’s smart and has some valuable insights into marketing in China. It’s the strange columns like the one on North Korea that invite criticism. I’ve been ripped apart on the Internet, as have many of us. It should never get this nasty.

August 15, 2010 @ 1:37 pm | Comment

I will keep it short and simple, Richard this post is brilliant, Shaun, is an ASS!

August 15, 2010 @ 2:25 pm | Comment

Well, I appreciate it, but I don’t want to say Shaun is an ass. I want to say he is careless when he writes about certain topics. We can all be asses, and that’s forgivable. I am just distressed to see this turn into a war. I was ready to call it quits, and then the Sinica podcast brought it back, and I’m sorry I didn’t – pardon the pun – rein it in.

August 15, 2010 @ 2:30 pm | Comment

Richard, although I am bit out of my area of expertise here (an understatement), I have to say that your posting and subsequent discussion appears quite amicable in nature. Yes, you have shared your opinions on Mr. Rein, but I never felt your editorial was pejorative or ill intended. Quite the contrary!

Questioning someone’s area of expertise is a far cry from making personal attacks and Mr. Rein’s obvious sensitivity combined with his defensive tone leads be to believe that your editorial has a fair degree of validity.

August 15, 2010 @ 2:46 pm | Comment

Wow. Uh…


I’m sorry, a columnist for FORBES should have just a tad more self-restraint. This guy appears to be unhinged.

Again, wow.

I’m stunned. Seriously. Wow.

August 15, 2010 @ 3:36 pm | Comment

[…] the show here. See also Gady Epstein’s post and Richard’s response at Peking Duck. Guo Degang: fast talker. Tags: China, Internet, Media, Politics, Sinica | Leave a […]

August 15, 2010 @ 4:45 pm | Pingback

I don’t want to say Shaun is an ass

How about “arse”?

August 15, 2010 @ 7:53 pm | Comment

Or try here:

Some great stuff there.

August 15, 2010 @ 7:54 pm | Comment

Looks like even in the arena of online apologists, the Western fifty-centers are much more efficient and experienced than the CCP fifty centers.

This software uses artificial intelligence sentence recognition, and will notify you whenever any discussion board or blog has anything that’s not in your favor, then you’ll get a popup on your desktop, and you can click a button and it’ll automatically log in, or register a username for you, and submit a response. You don’t even have to open up a browser.

I must criticize the CCP on this point, too backward, too slow, it must learn from the West in this regard, must learn. They are already industrialized in this arena.

August 15, 2010 @ 11:01 pm | Comment

HX, how widespread is this device being used? Also, the description seems to indicate it’s been developed by Israel, not “the West.” It doesn’t even say if it’s ever actually been used. It sounds more like an alert system to let you know when false/negative comments appear, which sounds quite useful. Has the tool ever been abused? Finally, this is completely irrelevant to this thread.

August 16, 2010 @ 2:32 am | Comment


Not only the “Megaphone” tool doesn’t notify person X about whenever someone says something that’s not in person X’s favor… but… it’s just some dumb app about coverage of Israel. If you install it then some dudes send you links to stuff they feel is not right. Sure, the app fills in forms for you, but that’s middle-school level computer science.

Actually I’m kind of disappointed now.

Folks are actually trying to do that, and these people:

do actually try to make a living out of it, but… there is no such thing as “artificial intelligence sentence recognition”. Never been. Not anything that actually works anyway.

August 16, 2010 @ 2:58 am | Comment

I dunno, Poet; Red Star is quite the expert when it comes to advanced technology.

August 16, 2010 @ 3:10 am | Comment


I wanted to reference one of these emails, which could hold the key to why Rein is what he is. … Now that he’s put himself out there on Forbes he’s suddenly vulnerable. He can’t just say what he wants and have it accepted verbatim just because it’s Shaun Rein who is saying it. And thus he is shocked at the reaction he’s getting.

I’m sure that you’ve either made a comment like that in the past about someone else, or someone has made that sort of comment on here before. Certainly it explains why a number of “experts” in a range of fields can throw such hissy-fits when they get criticised.

As for the twitter comments, this saying is on the tip of my tongue. Something about spades and digging – any idea what that might be?

August 16, 2010 @ 4:16 am | Comment

@Richard, I have some comments about Shaun Rein.

I do not know Shaun at all. I don’t follow him. I would not want to be in the same room with him, because it appears that he and his ego would take up the whole room.

Shaun’s actions and words betray his insecurity, passive-aggressiveness and his lack of common sense. Especially, business common sense. He seems to be in way over his head. His panic is palpable. And his professionalism is melting, right before our eyes. BTW, he is not the first to do this and will not be the last.

I don’t know if he is an ass. I will probably never find out because I am not going to waste my time to find out.

From what you have written, it seems to me that he was a somewhat successful consultant when he got the Forbes opportunity. His vision was filled with dollar signs (or maybe RMBs). Visions of power and wealth filled his brain and dreams. He could smell it.

What Shaun didn’t know: the fruition of those dreams comes at a very high price.

So he wrote his marketing column, eagerly letting his readers know what a splendid consultant he was. And the new customers started coming in. What a genius he was to get this opportunity at Forbes. He had found the “goose who laid golden eggs”. And it went to his head and ego.

And here is where the rub comes in; you know – the guanxi thing. Some of his clients were perturbed about how China, and by inference, themselves, were perceived by the Western world (the old “diou lian” thing). I can just see a few of them saying, “Geez, Shaun, could you spin away these Western misperceptions with a column on “giving China some space” because things are a’changing in China (the wumao thing – redirect and put a spin on it).” Shaun, who was now getting used to his much-boosted prestige, wealth, ego, and power, said, “Sure!” His clients smiled. Shaun thought, “What could go wrong?” He was really in love with the synergy between his business and writing for Forbes. What a gold mine!!

Shaun, a legend and god in his own mind, writes the article. And the backlash began. “WTF!”, Shaun thought, “Why are they challenging me? This was not supposed to happen.” So, he gets that panicky feeling (fear of “diou lian” thing). What will this do to my business? What will my clients think? Well, once you start down this slippery slope, you rarely reflect; you just reflex and attack! Hello Google, hello Superpower, Hello Teenage boy! Pardon me if I get the order wrong here, it is just a slippery slope to me.

Now we get to the N. Korea – Hilary Clinton thing. Some of his clients are not very happy with Hillary’s remarks on N Korea’s sanctions, and quite possibly with her other remarks in Vietnam. So imperious Shaun looks down his chauvinistic nose at Queen Hillary, and dismissed her comments rather arrogantly. Lo and behold, Modern Lei Feng, Richard and others took some swings at his column. The panic reinforces. His attacks get more aggressive, with a thin veneer of hubris and professionalism. And the veneer is getting ever thinner. Poor boy!

Richard, I like PKD and I like your tweets. I could not care less what insecure Shaun has to say about you. Your comments seem valid to me. Shaun’s comments are sour grapes. Keep up the good work.

Shaun, it is time to man up, boy. Some comments for you, lad.

Shaun, confident people don’t write comments about others as you do. Insecure people do!

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Get some chutzpah, boy!

If you are addicted to your new-found power, prestige and wealth, well, you are screwed. If you have to have something, you are screwed.

My favorite Mark Twain-ism (Samuel Clemens): “It is better to have people think you a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” And my second most favorite: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

Finally, Shaun, be nice to people on the way up. You are going to meet them on the way down!

Richard, keep up the good work. Keep swinging! I may be all wrong about Shaun, but I don’t think so.

August 16, 2010 @ 4:38 am | Comment

Richard Burger criticisms of me way too personal and out of line. Criticism good but only professional ones deserve seat at adult table

I mean, seriously – what is this guy complaining about? Richard has said more unpleasant things about/to other people (including me) as part of general disagreements. They’re not usually so defensive.

I think Rein could do with acting on his own advice and not turn his dinner plate over like an angry toddler.

August 16, 2010 @ 4:45 am | Comment

Thanks Raj. You and I have had our feuds, but you were always adult about it (not so sure about myself). It’s kind of ironic for Rein to accuse me of making this a personal attack. The only personal attacks I’ve see are in his Twitter feed.

Jerry, that’s quite an analysis. You may be onto something.

August 16, 2010 @ 5:18 am | Comment

I lied. I’ve mentioned Shaun Rein twice in my columns. Here are the mentions unedited and in context. Trying to figure out where I was out of line here. Suggestions welcome.

The first time I mentioned Shaun, pre-Twitter account blockage;

“Like every other American living in China I was forwarded the much talked about article in the New York times “American Graduates Finding Jobs in China.”

My reaction to the article, like that of most China watchers living in China is that the article greatly overstates the China monetary opportunity – it makes it sound like this is the place to go to make a fortune. (China Law Blog has a great wrap up of the general China-expat consensus, and Shaun Rein of China Market Research Group gives a thorough response in Forbes Magazine that is pretty much in line with my experiences here.)”

The second mention that must have been the one to trigger my blockage (and I even switched out #cde for #CBD), unless of course he hates compliments like the one above –

“Story: Groundhogs sold to several gullible city council members in the town of Springfield started to behave strangely when asked to come out and see their shadows. One witness says that the alleged groundhogs, which looked much more like squirrels, jumped out of the holes, and started stealing cellphones which they then hacked for personal information. More than one witness reported hearing chatter which sounded “like something Asian.” The FBI agents who promptly arrived on scene cleared things up at a press conference, later in the day, when they said that the squirrels were actually trained Chinese spies looking for the email addresses of Chinese human rights activists.

Comment 1 (Damjan): This just in: Shaun Rein, columnist at Forbes, and a man who only identified himself as #CBD, both said that the FBI was, in fact, wrong and that the squirrels were, in fact, groundhogs.

Please, Hao Hao reporters, if you hear of anything in the coming hours, help us fill in the blanks.

August 16, 2010 @ 5:39 am | Comment

Richard you are being much too nice. Why do you keep qualifying and saying how smart or how decent Shaun is? His words to you and Modern Lei Feng on twitter were not decent at all, they were the reactions of a small child whose toys were taken away. And you were wrong about something: he doesn’t follow 20 people on twitter, he follows FOUR, though he has well over 1,000 followers. Social media is all about the two-way street. For a journalist to only interact with four people on twitter is strange indeed. Maybe he sees himself like Ashton Kutchner. This says a lot about the guy. Just as the way he blocked Damjan (see previous comment) speaks volumes.

I don’t see anything personal that you’ve said about Shaun. You reported his own words and offered commentary. You owe no one any apologies or qualifiers. If Shaun were a mensch he would have joined in the conversation and engaged in actual dialog instead of sending out decrees from his twitter account. Again the pouting child metaphor seems like it was modeled after Shaun Rein.

August 17, 2010 @ 1:30 am | Comment

And my last comment: Richard I love your blog but you have one annoying tendency. You try to be all things to all people and go way out of your way not to offend. Why the rosy tribute to Goldkorn? He misled listeners and did you an injustice. Your post was not a knee-jerk reaction to North Korea, full stop. Same with your irritating tendency to “balance” everything nutty Rein writes with reminders of how smart and nice he is. Grow a backbone and call a spade a spade. You don’t need to dance around these people.

August 17, 2010 @ 2:17 am | Comment

I think Rein could do with acting on his own advice and not turn his dinner plate over like an angry toddler.

In this regard, Rein is very much in tune with the Chinese government he pretends not to worship.

August 17, 2010 @ 7:47 am | Comment


Nice comment. I checked his twitter and thought the same thing. He is following four people and if you look at who those four are, it becomes clear he is following those people because they are influencers. So even those four he is following simply to get his own words out, not to listen to anyone. The way he talks about his prep school on there is disgusting.

This is a guy who went to an elite prep school and then Harvard and he just thinks he is too good to listen to anyone, much less bloggers, who I have heard from others are a group he loathes.

I also agree with you in wondering why Richard keeps trying to cut Rein a break by talking about how smart he is and what a great businessperson he is. If he is so smart and such a great businessperson, how has it allowed things to reach a point where the elites in the China ex-pat community are laughing at him.

August 17, 2010 @ 7:59 am | Comment

Believe it or not, I try to give everyone a fair shake, especially when I feel offended, the way I’ve felt reading some of Rein’s columns. That’s when our judgment can be at its most clouded, so I keep trying to balance what I know is bad with what’s good – Rein really is a good commentator on marketing and doing business in China, and I’m not going to give him a blanket condemnation. And I’ll speak out when it comes to his nonsense. I am guessing that Rein right now regrets having written his North Korea piece, realizing his clients may not be enamored of the fact that the man they’re paying many thousands of dollars to believes the best response to North Korea’s sinking a ship and killing innocents is to shower money on the offending regime. And I suspect he’s wondering, too, what his female clients and colleagues think about the Hillary Clinton remark. There is little more I have to say; Rein has said it all. I suggest he share his insights and help us understand marketing in China, and leave all the sociopolitical “analysis” to those more qualified.

August 17, 2010 @ 10:17 am | Comment

Look at Rein’s company. It’s him and a handful of people who look about 18 and probably get paid peanuts for doing survey work. I am tired of him trying to convince us he is some big muckity-muck working on the really big deals. Looks to me like he runs a survey company.

August 17, 2010 @ 11:31 pm | Comment

[…] to you. What I will say is that I find articles like this to be irritating in that they follow the Shaun Rein model of treating China like a teenage boy and advocating that we tiptoe around any destruction the […]

October 11, 2010 @ 2:23 am | Pingback

[…] to you. What I will say is that I find articles like this to be irritating in that they follow the Shaun Rein model of treating China like a teenage boy and advocating that we tiptoe around any destruction the […]

October 11, 2010 @ 12:36 pm | Pingback

[…] what they seem to do is condone the cult of the policy of appeasement towards China –  the Shaun Rein model of treating China like a country in a perpetual state of growing pains and advocating that […]

November 15, 2010 @ 8:41 pm | Pingback

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.