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Tide Players by Jianying Zha Review

Updated on March 17, 2012

I'm positive about China and have just read a book - Tide Players by Jianying Zha which suggests that China is growing up and will become more democratic in the future. This hub will answer a question on whether we should be scared of China potentially ruling the world.

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about an Author that I saw at the Adelaide Writers Week, Jianying Zha, and her new book on China entitled ‘Tide Players: The Movers and Shakers of a Rising China.

While at the Writers Week I bought her book and just finished it a few days ago. The book is in two parts – the first half covers the movers or the entrepreneurs of modern China, the second half deals with the shakers or the intellectuals that are helping to forge the new China.

The Entrepreneurs

This was my most enjoyable part of the book, dealing with the new business leaders in China and their success stories. The first 90 pages of the book are dedicated to this group and I wish it was longer as it is really interesting to read how people came out of poverty to build businesses and their focus on community. Clearly Zha is more focussed on the intellectual side of the ledger, especially the section which profiles her dissident brother.

There are three profiles of entrepreneurs. The first is the tycoon Zhang Dazhong who built a ‘Best Buy’ type empire in the Beijing area. Dazhong started as a poor child who lost his mother through a Cultural Revolution execution. When he was finally compensated by the state he used this money to develop an electronic business that eventually grew into a large organisation which he controlled. While Dazhong always had vision, he was slow to go national and other players beat him to the larger Chinese market. He eventually sold out to Gome Dianqi prior to the economic slowdown and did good on the deal. Now he invests his money in clearing his mother’s name and helping organisations and businesses grow. The point here that Zha is trying to demonstrate is that not all Chinese tycoons have used guanxi or corruption to get their money and that some will also use their money for the good of the community.

The next people that Zha profiles are Zhang Xin and Pan Shiyi, property developers who have built the SOHO concept buildings in Beijing. Both came from humnle beginnings, Xin’s mother was a radical and she grew up in Hong Kong factories, Shiyi was a poor farmers son who made it rich in the early days of the property boom in the Special Economic Zones of the Deng era. Their buildings polarise the community, some see them as modernising China, others see them as tat. But regardless they have learned to work together to grow this sector of Beijing buildings, to grow their wealth and now contribute back to the community via a foundation. Once again Zha is demonstrating that Chinese entrepreneurs don’t have to be corrupt to be successful and that once they make some money that they are keen to give back to the community through foundations and charities.

The final character is Sun Lizhe that started as a barefoot doctor in regional areas during the Cultural Revolution. Since then he has built a highly successful publishing business for both magazines and books in China. Zha is demonstrating in this story that Lizhe was able to be an insider in the Party, but at the same time to successfully build a business that will put change at the centre of reforms. In effect an act of dissident but within the business community.

The Intellectuals

This was my less favourite section of the book, but it does give insight into the China of today and the change that is occurring.

The first profile is of Liu Dong, a professor at the Peking University and speaks about the Beida Reform (Beida means Peking University) and how the university is increasing study and participation into moral code systems (eg Christianity and Confusianism) to develop a more holistic nation. The other concept is about developing a world class education system that can take China into the future. China is keen to become world class, but can’t allow the freedom yet to truly pursue this, but it remains a goal for the future.

The next section is on Zha’s half-brother, Zha Jianguo, the dissident who served 9 years in the Beijing Second Prison for starting a political party in a one party state. There is only one point in this section, Jianguo believes in revolution now, not in the future. He believes that some people need to sacrifice for the greater good and that a revolution is needed to achieve this. This contrasts with the final chapter where we are introduced to an ex-Cultural Minister Wang Meng who also believes in change and reform, but at a slow evolutionary pace. Meng has been able to remain inside the party as an active force for change rather than Jianguo who has remained outside the system advocating forceful change.

Meng, as does Zha, believe that China needs to reform and change to become a democratic nation, but not today. The mantra remains Democracy Tomorrow when China is ready for it.

Final Words

I found Tide Players a really enjoyable read, but would have liked to have read more profiles of the entrepreneurs as they, to me, are more interesting than the intellectuals.

However, what the book does tell us is that both the entrepreneurs and intellectuals are at the forefront of change in China and that they are helping China to rise. It also shows us that as China grows up that they are getting ready for reform and eventually democracy.

It also means that we don't need to be scared of China.

Cheers Michael.


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