Five Timeless Lessons for Succeeding in China (William Collins, 2016)

By Tim Clissold

The author of bestseller ‘Mr. China’ returns with another hair-raising business adventure story stuffed full of insights for other intrepid entrepreneurs into how to navigate the combat zone of Chinese investment.

‘Chinese Rules’ is loosely based on Tim Clissold’s return to China to build a climate change business.

The sub-title sounds like a lazy listicle but the book contains detailed anecdotes gleaned from Clissold’s experiences grappling with local big wigs during long banquets fuelled by bai jiu and haggling over bowls of cold jellyfish in vinegar.

Tension builds as we walks us through use of his five rules to oust truculent parties from talks and cut multi-million-dollar deals. 

The same understanding and wonder that comes from living in China for more than 20 years shines through the text. He offers a haunting description of feeling connected to nature while living in the old courtyard home in a hutong in central Beijing – before the bulldozers moved in. 

His description marks quite the contrast for those of us who have only seen a growing concrete jungle when travelling to the country’s capital city over the last decade or so. 

Clissold delicately picks apart the different tactics at the negotiating table taken by Western investors and their Chinese counterparts. He explains that these approaches are rooted deeply in history for the Chinese. 

Indeed, history plays a central role. Clissold draws heavily on such episodes as the Taiping Rebellion 1850 to 1864, where over 20 million people died, to explain the Chinese state’s dread of social unrest. 

The failed British diplomatic mission to Beijing by Lord Macartney in 1792 is used to show how foreigners through the ages have underestimated the bureaucracy that is used to uphold an idea of ‘Chineseness’. This level of red tape cannot simply be cut through to reach a business deal. 

Likewise, Clissold uses Mao Zedong’s annihilation of his enemies during the Cultural Revolution between 1966 and 1976 to illustrate Chinese people’s use of indirect methods of warfare.  

The author contends China has been proactively learning from the West’s culture and using that knowledge to compete more effectively. 

His plea is that western countries need to take China more seriously so that they too can up its game and learn from the smart ways in which it conducts business. Clissold suggests the West consider how Chinese political leaders train over three decades before taking high office. 

Failure to understand China has grave consequences for us all, given that the country’s involvement will prove critical in tackling global issues such as man’s impact on the environment.