Friday, March 24, 2006

How to Succeed in Business...and still get screwed...

When I've mulled over the idea of moving to China, a number of negatives occur to me. The pollution. The censorship. The tendency to arrest people who speak out or try to report the truth. Of course, given the way things are going in this country, hey, maybe I'll get used to all that.

Another big hurdle for me is figuring out what, exactly, I would do there.

"You should go," my friend A. said to me one day. A. is originally from China, now a US citizen. We've worked on a number of creative projects together. "You know, it really bugs me sometimes," she continued. "Foreigners like you can go there and are treated like experts, make so much money, just because they are foreigners. And most of them don't know anything. You actually know what's going on. In ten years, you could have so much more than you'd have working at (CENSORED)."

(this blog is not about my day job)

Well, maybe. And thanks, A., for that vote of confidence. But it still isn't clear to me what I'd actually do to get on that China gravy-train.

I mean, I'm a researcher by profession. A writer and sometime musician by advocation. I'm pretty good at learning languages, and I'm fairly adaptable to different situations. Oh, and I certified as an EMT once, but I've forgotten most of what I learned...

Which means, I guess, that I could teach English, right? That's what I did 20-odd years ago in Beijing. But I can't say that prospect fills me with wild enthusiasm.

One thing I'm not is an entrepreneur. I've just never found the prospect of going into business to make money at all appealing.

But hey, maybe it's different if you go into business doing something that you love. Maybe there's a way to combine one's passions and make money.

Take the example of Mark Kittko. Mark made a long term commitment to China, spent seven years building up a magazine empire there that by any measure is a noteworthy success. If you've spent any time in China in recent years, you've probably read one of Mark's magazines - the "That's" series of city magazines for expats and tourists.

So is Mark Kittko enjoying his success?

Well, not so much...

Read his story in Prospect Magazine. It's a deeply frustrating account of a man who tried to play by the rules, except the rules kept changing.

I'm only going to quote the last paragraph, because the sentiment expressed by the unnamed Chinese official is all too telling about the state's attitudes towards the press and the free flow of information:
During my trademark dispute, the State Information Council circulated an official letter to the Gongshang bureaus whose help I had requested to protect my rights to the that's name, a valuable piece of intellectual property. In the letter were the words: "…please bring your department in line… this is a case of a foreigner harming the serious work of China's external propaganda."
And you know, I think I'll add the afterword as well...because of what it says about life in a globalized economy...
A big US publisher commissioned a book by Mark Kitto. After the manuscript had been edited, the publisher dropped it for fear of harming its Chinese interests. Those interests fall under the authority of the State Information Council...

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