Shaun Rein wants your help marketing The End of Copycat China

The End of Copycat China is the name of Shaun Rein’s new book that will be available come October 20. I am flattered that Shaun has included me on the mailing list he uses to blast information to his friends and colleagues, and I wanted to draw attention to how he wants his fans to do the marketing for his new book for him. Over the last three months Shaun has sent out two lengthy email blasts and I find their content to be intriguing, and to confirm some of my own thoughts about Mr. Rein.

Perhaps most revealing was this paragraph:

If you or a friend are looking for a keynote speaker, consider me. If organizations buy 1000 copies of my book to give to attendees between October and December, I will waive my standard speaking rates at my speaker’s bureau (my current rates run from $35,000-$55,000 USD for a speech plus expenses in North America). Buying my book in bulk is a huge savings and a great gift idea for clients. I personally am forfeiting a lot of money in order to get word about the book out there.

Okay. Let’s take a step back for a moment. First of all, normal people wouldn’t say “I will waive my standard speaking rates at my speaker’s bureau (my current rates run from $35,000-$55,000 USD…).” Normal people would simply say, “I will waive my standard speaking rates.” Period, full stop. How gauche can you get, boasting to everyone that you charge $35,000 to $55,000 for a speech? This is your typical Shaun Rein insecurity, where he needs to impress. Poor Shaun, “forfeiting a lot of money” to promote his book.

But let’s look even more closely. Does anyone seriously believe that Shaun is paid $55,000 for giving a speech? That’s as much as Al Gore makes. I’m not calling Shaun a liar, of course, but something here doesn’t fit. $55,000 for a single speech by Shaun Rein? Is that possible? Do any of my readers who speak publicly make $55,000 per speech? I can’t help but feel skeptical.

Both email blasts include pleas for his friends and fans to go onto social media and to write blog posts to hype the book.

Please help share news about the release on email lists, social media, and other ways to help get word about the book out. A “like” on Facebook or LinkedIn or a retweet is hugely helpful… Getting word out via social media and word of mouth is hugely helpful and appreciated. Book reviewers are more likely to review books if they see a swell of support in social media so please take the time to post a link.

So why do I find this so interesting? It’s because Shaun follows only one person on Twitter, and, to the best of my knowledge, doesn’t even have a personal Facebook account. In other words, Shaun doesn’t want to hear what you have to say on Twitter. He doesn’t want to interact with you on Facebook. He doesn’t want you to share with him. He only wants to use Twitter to make pronouncements, stepping out of his ivory tower to preach to his choir. He never retweets but wants you to retweet posts about him. Shaun wants nothing to do with social media, but wants you to use it to his benefit. Is it not ironic that Shaun doesn’t want to hear what any of you have to say, and yet he is pleading with you to promote his book on social media?

It’s okay to ask people to help promote your book on social media. But this is “social networking” — social, as in sharing and interacting. It is not a one-way street, where you only use social media to promote yourself without the slightest regard for what others have to say. Shaun is simply not interested in anyone’s voice but his own.

And then there is his book description on Amazon (these are written by the author). Along with his usual self-aggrandizement, there is this:

Drawing from over 50,000 interviews with entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, private equity investors, private Chinese companies, and multinationals, this book describes how Chinese firms are increasingly focused on innovation rather than copying what worked in America and how consumers are evolving with their hopes, dreams and aspirations.

Alright. This dramatic claim cries out for a closer look. Try to imagine this: Shaun’s firm is comprised, I have been told, of five or so employees. And yet Shaun is saying his book draws on “over 50,000 interviews.” That would mean each employee of his company would have to have conducted 10,000 interviews. Let’s say he has ten employees now; each would have had to conduct 5,000 interviews. And how did they track down over 50,000 “entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, private equity investors, private Chinese companies, and multinationals”? Are there really 50,000 of these people in China who have made themselves available for interviews? Wouldn’t poring over 50,000 interviews and extrapolating data from them take years and years? 50,000! As a former journalist and PR guy, I know that scheduling just a handful of interviews takes a lot of time and effort. 50,000? Fifty-thousand? Impossible. Incredible. Inconceivable. Unprecedented.

One other line that popped out at me in his most recent mailing was this:

If you do not read the book, please consider posting a short review on Amazon. My publisher tells me that reviews on Amazon are hugely important.

I doubt this was intentional. It was most likely one of Shaun’s famous typagraphical erorrs or a Freudian slip. In any case, it’s pretty amusing. It brought to mind how, when my commenter Lisa criticized Shaun in a comment he immediately blocked her on Twitter and then went onto Goodreads and gave her wonderful book, Rock Paper Tiger, one out of five stars to pull down her Goodreads rating (he never read the book). At times Shaun shows the maturity of a five-year-old. He wants you to give his book five stars on Amazon, after maliciously abusing the star system and giving one star to the book of someone who dared challenge him.

I admit it, Shaun Rein bugs me. It bugs me that this smug, self-promoting man boasts of marrying into a rich, connected family and of going fishing with high-ranking CCP officials, constantly trying to market himself as the consummate, best-connected China expert. His famous sucking up to the Party is embarrassing; he sees only good, and when they do something really bad he intentionally looks the other way. (Read that post if you have doubts.) I have tried to be fair. I have said more than once that I admire Shaun when he sticks to stories on marketing in China. But his self-appointed role as the Chinese marketing wunderkind and perennial apologist for the Chinese Communist Party puts a red target on his back and makes him fair game for scrutiny and criticism.

Over the years I’ve pointed out many examples of Shaun’s shameless sucking up to the Party (if you are new to this site, you can find all the past posts here). Shaun has referred to me on Twitter as a “hater” and worse, and even called me out in his last book with a nasty swipe. But all I’ve done is take Shaun’s words and thrown them back at him. The truth is inescapable: Shaun is a cheerleader for the Party, a chronic falsifier of fact (50,000 interviews?), a deceiver of his readers and, I suspect, of himself. He can pimppromote his book any way he wants, but he needs to know that people are watching and will not accept his pronouncements verbatim, as he would like.

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Shaun Rein’s revenge

Should I feel proud that Shaun Rein, in his new book The End of Cheap China, devotes two entire paragraphs to me? A two-bit blogger? Maybe I would feel proud if the two paragraphs weren’t a simple act of revenge. Maybe I would feel proud if Rein didn’t misrepresent the truth about me. Truth was never his strong suit. Let’s take a look at what he says.

The [Chinese] government sometimes overreacts to potential threats of instability. To Americans, especially those with limited knowledge of China, these measures can seem brutish. Critics like Richard Burger, a US-based blogger who lived in China for less than three years and who lasted less than a year working for the government mouthpiece newspaper The Global Times, wrote on June 26, 2011 on his blog The Peking Duck, that the government is “a giant squid, tentacles reaching across the nation to restrict all aspects of life in the land it liberated, silencing opposing voices and existing solely for its own perpetuation. Celebrate away, while people who know real freedom snicker…. and once again [it] has made a laughingstock of itself.”

Undercutting Burger’s claim that the government is a “giant squid,” the non-partisan Washington DC-based think tank Pew Research Center found in 2009 that 86 percent of the Chinese population supports the direction in which the Chinese government the country…. Chinese are generally happy with most measures implemented by the government.

Alright. First we have to consider the fact that the self-proclaimed China marketing guru is actually quoting in his book a guy who runs a blog as a hobby and who has never claimed any great knowledge of China. But if he is right, if I am just “a US-based blogger who lived in China for less than three years,” then why on earth is he quoting me in his book? Think about that. What’s going on here? Rein also left out the opening phrase of the passage he quotes from my blog: “Despite some of the good it has brought to China since opening up, the government…” This puts the sentence in a somewhat different perspective.

To be clear, I have said countless times on this blog that I am not a China expert. I lived in Greater China for about eight years, of which over three years were spent in Beijing. “Less than three years” is simply false. He could have written to me and asked. Then, we have the claim that I “lasted less than a year” at the Global Times. This makes it sound as though I was fired or was incompetent. The truth is, as all my friends know, that I left because of personal family issues, and that I left the paper on very good terms. (I always go back and visit them when I travel to Beijing — there are some very cool people who work there.) I also damaged my relationship with the paper when I blogged about their terrible attacks on Ai Weiwei. I felt I had to do it. Rein has also said on Twitter that I censored articles when I worked there. This too is outrageously false. I have never censored an article in my entire life. It is also a rather droll irony that the censors of the government Rein so admires have seen fit to ban his own book in China. Yes, The End of Cheap China has been banned in China, according to Rein’s own tweets. But that’s another story.

Shaun really loves that 2009 Pew Research poll. In the first post I ever wrote about Rein, I remarked on the appalling suckupishness of his writing and cited as evidence this quote from his infamous Forbes article on Google:

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.

Happy happy China. Well, as I’ve often said, many if not most Chinese people do trust their government and the CCP must be given ample credit for lifting all those millions of Chinese from poverty. But Rein, in refuting my comparison to a giant squid, writes, “If government policies were overly harsh surely they would not garner such a high rate of support.” Not true.

I will never state that the Chinese government is like the Nazi Party. It is not. But what I will say is that Nazi Germany is the greatest example of how people can be wildly supportive of their government, even though that government is a giant squid controlling society at all levels. Shaun, just because people say they are happy doesn’t mean their government is not brutal. There are countless episodes throughout history of people who blindly supported their oppressive governments. (My favorite post on this blog is all about this phenomenon.) The Chinese are “happy” with their government to the extent that they can make money and enjoy certain social freedoms. Once the economy sours, as it may well do at some point in the future, those poll numbers will be quite different. Meanwhile, there is no denying that the CCP does indeed operate as a giant squid, controlling all aspects of life in China. Sure, there are more freedoms there than ever before, but it is always on the government’s terms. You can always only go so far; there are red lines you cannot cross or the squid tightens its grip.

I took down a post I wrote about Shaun a couple of months ago because I felt it was too harsh, written in a moment of emotional pique. Now I sort of wish I’d left it up. You see, we all know Shaun Rein didn’t include me in his book because he thinks I am some great influencer with whom he disagrees. I’m just a blogger with a blog that I hardly even update anymore. No, this is revenge, pure and simple, for my having made a fool of him by quoting his own words and revealing his pattern of carrying water for the CCP. If you aren’t familiar with my coverage of Rein you can find the posts here, here and here. I am not alone in calling Rein out as a blatant apologist. China Law Blog, Modern Lei Feng, Fear of a Red Planet, China Geeks and others have all made similar arguments.

So back to the post I took down. It was about Rein’s need for revenge. My friend Lisa had written a comment critical of him in this thread. He immediately blocked her on Twitter, as he blocks anyone who doesn’t kiss his ring, and then he went to Goodreads and gave her highly praised novel, Rock Paper Tiger one star — the lowest rating there is. (The book got stellar reviews in the NY Times, the South China Morning Post, Time Out Beijing and many other media, and James Fallows of the Atlantic wrote a glowing post about it.) But here’s the thing: I will bet you my life savings that Rein never read the book. What a coincidence, that the day after his being offended and blocking Lisa on Twitter he went and tried to pull her book down in the Goodreads rankings. Did he read the entire book right after he read Lisa’s comment? Did he really find it so awful he gave it the lowest rating? No, this action, just like his attack on me in his book, is Rein getting even.

I should feel in good company, as Rein also goes after James Fallows, Paul Krugman and Nouriel Roubini, though not with nearly the same degree of viciousness he reserves for me. Once again, he proves my initial impression of him was correct: that he is deeply insecure and a serial falsifier of fact.

I had vowed not to post about Shaun Rein anymore, as I thought I had said it all. And then I discover this act of personal character assassination, this smear, and I can’t be silent about that. Rein’s book may become a bestseller but that won’t make him any less of a brat and a hatchet man.

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Anti-CNN Spokesman Shaun Rein

First-off, go see this excellent post over at the excellent blog China Geeks about CNN’s controversial cooperation with actor Christian Bale as he sought to interview blind activist Chen Guangcheng. I happen to agree with Charlie that whether CNN crossed an ethical line or not (and I’m not convinced they did), the ends in this case justified the means: the video was released and the world has learned about this inexcusable crime against humanity. If you want to talk about ethics, talk about the way the CCP has treated this man whose crime was exposing forced abortions in the countryside. And keeping his six-year-old daughter under house arrest, too. How noble.

Two wrongs don’t make a right, and if CNN violated journalistic ethics they deserve to be called on it. But as Charlie says, at the end of the day who cares? The story is Chen Guangcheng and the fact that thugs are holding him, his wife and his daughter under house arrest for his being a whistle-blower. Aside from some indignant Chinese bloggers and microbloggers, CNN hasn’t taken a lot of flak for breaching journalistic ethics, nor should they. (See the China Geeks thread for journalist Adam Minter’s complaints about the story.)

Watch the video and see the “unethical” journalism for yourself. What Bale has to say is pretty spot-on.

Of course, there’s one pundit who is aghast at CNN’s sins, and is getting all Anti-CNN about it. From the Harvard graduate who married into a rich Chinese family and goes fishing with high-ranking CCP officials and runs a marketing company and has written a new book on China, we get the following:

CNN’s China team, in a complete failure of journalistic integrity, decided last week to become the news rather than just report it. The actor Christian Bale called CNN to follow him as he drove for eight hours to confront police to try to see Chen Guangcheng, a blind legal activist being held in his home in the eastern Chinese village of Linyi. Bale was in China to promote his movie about the Rape of Nanking by Japanese troops in 1937.

CNN did Bale one better. It became complicit in Bale’s activism by actually planning the trip and driving him to Linyi. CNN reporter Steven Jiang then translated for Bale as he argued with Chinese police officers and refused to comply with their directives to leave. CNN posted video of the trip on its website, calling it exclusive, showing police forcing Bale to leave while Bale chastised the government, saying its treatment of Chen ”represents the power structure and their attitude towards their own citizens, which is disgusting.”

So they drove him to his destination and translated for him. I understand that this is perhaps (big perhaps) questionable journalism, but only borderline, and like Charlie said, “Who cares?” They didn’t lie or trick anyone, but they followed what sounded like a great story, a celebrity confronting thugs holding a blind man and his family under house arrest. Would it have been okay if they followed him in a taxi and he brought his own translator? Those are very small things. And Bale’s calling the treatment of Chen “disgusting” was, to say the least, justified. An understatement, really.

But Shaun Rein can see only treachery. In Shaun’s eyes, by working with Bale, CNN is facilitating the (false) notion held by many Chinese that the US media works in cahoots with the CIA and the NED and intentionally manipulates the facts they report on.

Shaun gives his cards away pretty early on:

My issue here is not with Bale. In general, I believe one should follow the laws of nations that one visits, and that Bale should do so, but I also generally believe in free speech, no matter how misguided.

Ah. He believes in free speech, no matter how misguided. You see, what Bale was trying to do is misguided. Exposing the inhumane detention of a blind activist is misguided, a publicity stunt. Note the “I generally believe in free speech” as well. That puts him in the clear to decide when to be for it and when not to. A smart thing to do if you’re going to cozy up to the powers that be in China.

In order to get why I bother to write about Shaun Rein’s columns at all, you must think very seriously about his next remark:

I have no idea about Chen’s detention, and if he is being wronged or not, but if there are issues with his case, I am not convinced that calling the entire political class “disgusting,” as Bale does, can help.

He has no idea. Wait. Stop. Fail. Unless you are willfully ignorant there is no way on earth you don’t know about the plight of Chen Guangcheng. Especially if you live in China and write for at least two media organizations. Yes, this speaks volumes. He can banter on about all the good the CCP does and cite example after example of things that prove his point. But here, he knows nothing. Nothing. No idea. And he’s writing a column in Forbes about it.

I made a promise to myself not to go after Shaun Rein any more because I don’t want to hurt his feelings, and I’ve been pretty quiet even though he keeps doling out lots of ammunition. But this is inexcusable. It’s like looking at an MRI of the Anti-CNN mentality. Oh, and note how he plugs his book throughout the column.

More vintage Shaun drivel:

Far too many in the West indict China’s whole governing class and system when a single local official does something stupid or brutish. Yet they criticized only a lone thuggish police officer in New York for pepper-spraying Occupy Wall Street protesters. They didn’t called President Obama evil for what that one officer did, or call for an overthrow of all of America. Yet Bale did that in China’s case, and, worse, CNN helped him.

False. The national outrage over the Oakland pepper-spraying was NOT directed only at one officer. It was directed at the abuse of authority in America. Scroll down a few posts to see my own story about it, where I direct my shame at “my country.” And this wasn’t an isolated incident, we saw just as bad in NYC a few weeks earlier, and the rage has never been solely at the individual sprayer but at the system that allows them to brutalize innocents. Really, this paragraph is among the dumbest yet. As if one lone local official is behind this detention, and the poor little CCP off in Beijing is powerless to take charge, all they can do is watch, knowing it’s atrocious, but, you know, what the hell, it’s just a local official doing it and he’s a few hours away so, like, what can we do? “A single local official.” Think about that. The CCP can be off the hook for anything that doesn’t happen within walking distance of the Great Hall of the People.

And then he puts up another of his signature straw men: “They didn’t called President Obama evil for what that one officer did, or call for an overthrow of all of America. Yet Bale did that in China’s case….” Did Bale call Hu JIntao evil? Did he call anyone evil? Did he call for the overthrow of an evil Chinese government? Did we watch the same video? Shaun, as usual, is simply making things up so he can get on his moral high horse. This is straight out of the Anti-CNN playbook.

He closes sanctimoniously:

The last thing the world needs is increased tension between the world’s two superpowers. CNN should be ashamed for becoming more like a tabloid and inserting itself into the story rather than maintaining journalistic integrity and providing an objective view of its subjects.

So there we have it; calling China to the carpet for its shit threatens fragile global relationships so we should shut the fuck up and keep things status quo so marketing companies can keep making money. Sorry, but I’ll take CNN’s journalism over this any time.

Again, go to China Geeks and see how Charlie replies to the criticisms of CNN one by one. No need for me to repeat them here.

Shaun, do you really have “no idea” they are holding a six-year-old girl under house arrest? Look into your heart and tell us the truth, do you really not know? Really? Whether the answer is yes or no, you are the one who should feel ashamed. Hear no evil, see no evil….

A six-year-old girl.

(Correction. The six-year-old girl is now being allowed to go to school, under police escort, of course. How good of them.)

UPDATE: Please be sure to check out China Geek’s post on the same article. And note the comment below. The commenter dared to ask Shaun if he really had “no idea” about this story — Shaun immediately blocked him on Twitter. The maturity of a five-year-old.

Note: If you are new to this site, you will want to see my other posts about Shaun Rein, most notable this one and this one. Don’t miss those comments. Nothing seems to light up the discussion like this subject.

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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.

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Holy crap. Shaun Rein does it again.

Words totally fail me. And I won’t say another word. Just go and see for yourself.

Am I really reading this?

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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.

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