I’m going to assume that most of the readers of Lost Laowai are the kind of people who bother to run VPNs and the kind of people who follow the China blogosphere. If so, they may have seen Troy Parfitt’s “Why China Will Never Rule the World” coming up again and again. Peking Duck, Seeing Red in China, China Law Blog, they’ve all written reviews on it and they’ve all covered different but equally valid aspects of why this is or is not the book for you to read.

The job of a book reviewer is to tell you, gentle reader, why you should or should not spend your time or money on a book. I won’t lay down a pronouncement yay or nay so much as give my thoughts and let you make your own decision based on those opinions.

Lots of people are talking about how negatively Troy views China (something sort of to be expected with a title like “Why China Will Never Rule the World”).  Others write why it was a fun travelogue type book or even why Troy really wasn’t consistently ethical in the way he treated some of his unknowing interviewees in the book.  The one thing that it seems no one mentions in any of their reviews is the writing quality. For that reason, I’m going to focus on nothing but the quality of its writing.

You can’t exactly call it purple prose because that would be doing a disservice to 19th century writers of gothic novels. This is purpler than purple. One adjective will never suffice where 27 will do. I’m a wordy person who tends to repeat herself but this goes beyond even the worst excesses of my own somewhat excessive tendency to not realize I should have shut up with the irrelevant details and gotten on with the story 20 minutes ago.

I’m reminded of entries from the Bulwer-Lytton Contest and am considering submitting sections of the text to their “sticks and stones” section on already published bad writing.  Rather than merely saying he flew into Hong Kong at night it instead, “felt as though [he] had been submerged in an ocean of tar,” which I suppose sufficiently indicates the inky blackness of the nightscape if the nightscape is really a thickly clinging substance that spills from tankers and surrounds you until you die from asphyxiation. After “an ocean of tar” we are subjected to the “pitch black void” and “bordered onyx” of the airplane window before fireworks going off below him fall, “into the abyss below.”

The funny thing is his description of fireworks in that very first paragraph is one that, as a writer, makes me itch with delight. I feel the fireworks going off when I read, “a phosphorescent streak shot forth, mutely bursting into a tangle of jubilant purple and glittering green before cascading silently into the abyss below.” Unfortunately, beautiful sentences like this one are dolled up like wannabe beauty queens. Adjectives are used like unnecessary cosmetics hiding what otherwise might be nice to read.

Over the next few pages we get the “mustard coloured glow” of street lamps, “monstrous veneer of moss green tiles” on the outside of a building, a trip on the Peak Tram “up through swaying trees and spastic shadows,” trees “buzzing with insects” and bushes “fidgeting with birds and butterflies.” Never mind the gratuitous use of the word catholicon (which I had to look up in the dictionary) describing the Chinese educational system as a pablum force fed to students, and throwing around nice foreign sounding phrases like raison d’etre.

It isn’t just Chungking Mansions (apparently Hong Kong’s “most notorious building”) that “sticks out like a bad simile when viewed from without,” it’s the whole damn book.

Author Troy Parfitt

No matter where I randomly open the book to I don’t just find China bashing with an educated veneer, I also find the most godawful overuse of adjectives, similes, and purple prose that you can find outside of something written in a high school creative writing class. Were a decent editor to remove two out of every three adjectives and replace every word that requires a person of average intelligence to use the dictionary with a more common one, this book would not only be a lot shorter, it would also be a lot more readable.

There are plenty of writers who are bad writers, and the problem is that Parfitt is not one of these. He just needs an editor. Someone who can clean out not just the worst excesses of his pretty speech, but who can also fact check or insist on a few references before slinging around assertions that country bumpkins with dirty faces wandering about in Tiananmen Square are actually plainclothes police officers who might throw you into an unmarked mobile execution van at the least provocation. Hopefully, his third book will get that editor because unless it does, I don’t see myself wasting time, money, or energy on another book of his.

If you like Jung Chang’s “Unauthorized Biography of Mao” or thought Gavin Menzies’ book “1421” was one hundred percent true, you’d probably enjoy reading Parfitt’s book. Although he didn’t assert that the Great Helmsman’s failure to brush his teeth for twenty years made them green with moss in any of the parts I have read, nor has he yet claimed that Atlantis was real, Parfitt’s book certainly falls into a category with theirs — badly researched and badly edited but a surprisingly fun read nonetheless.  Just don’t get worked up over unproven unprovable assumptions and you’ll be fine.


  1. Great review Marian. Reading the post all I kept thinking about was my college journalism teachers continually drilling into us to not use “flowery language”, and never use two words (or long words) when one (or short ones) would do.

    It’s a strange fact that the more negative reviews I read of this book, the more it makes me want to read it. And I think I’ve yet to read a positive review from anyone who has lived or lives in China.

    Technically you’re not the first to comment on the quality of the writing though, Richard’s post at Peking Duck leads with:

    First let me say that despite all my problems with this book, I recommend you read it, if only for the beautiful writing, attention to detail, the delightful anecdotes and some thought-provoking questions it raises about China’s future.

    Richard mentions the writing style a couple times, but his review is largely summed up with the bit that directly follows the above:

    On the other hand, I was appalled at Parfitt’s attitude toward both China and Taiwan. In spite of his finding some things to praise about each, it is more than clear from the very start that he harbors a good deal of contempt toward both countries.

  2. You’ve seen my fashion sense so it probably doesn’t suprpise you in the least that I like purple prose (in small doses at least). What’s gotten me really bent out of shape is the sweeping brush that Troy labels everyone with after reaching conclusions based on little or no evidence.

    As someone who admits in the prologue to having only recently really gotten into studying Mandarin Chinese (in Taiwan), when he fails to find his desired location after getting directions from somene in primarily Cantonese speaking rural Hong Kong it must be because Asians are bad at giving directions rather than his failure to understand what he was told or mere bad luck in finding someone that doesn’t know how to give directions.

    Try getting my mom to tell you how to find something in Baltimore, then try finding it. Does that mean all 68 year old Jewish grandmothers are bad at directions? By Troy’s logic, yes.

    I’m having fun reading bits and pieces of this out loud to the ‘rents and picking it apart. The more I read, the less I like it.

  3. I read the book and thought it was worth reading. I’ve since loaned it to someone and they haven’t finished it yet but are already raving about it. Definitely worth reading.

  4. You may be interested in how Parfait’s book receives so much attention.

    Parfitt and/or his “one book” publisher, Northern Hemisphere Press (see if Google will find it without including Parfitt’s name leading you to his Blog/Website), was fortunate to have been in the right place at the right time.

    Have you ever known of a publisher without a website and with only one book?

    PR by the Book was contracted (http://www.prbythebook.com/about/) to promote the book, and “An editor at CNBC.com was looking for something very specific. She needed someone to provide an editorial explaining why America is not losing its superpower status to China. This was to run as a counterpoint to a different piece titled “The Race With China Is Ours to Lose — Is America’s Superpower Status At Risk?”

    “Since appearing on CNBC, Troy’s message has gained traction because he’s been able to offer this piece to other outlets. In fact, it was picked up by a news wire in his native Canada and began running as an oped in their papers over the weekend.”

    Source: http://www.prbythebook.com/websighting-troy-parfitt-on-cnbc/

    What resulted was a guest editorial (August 23, 2011) for CNBC and from there the eyes of the world focused on “Why China Will Never Rule the World”.

    If you check the timeline from publication to all the attention Parfitt received for his second book, you will notice it coincides with that editor at CNBC discovering something very specific (probably the only one of its kind).

    Source: http://www.cnbc.com/id/44007044/China_Will_Never_Rule_the_World

    Parfitt’s publication date was September 2011.

    • Mr. Lofthouse,

      I agree with some of the criticisms in the comments above. I think the book needs editing and better organization, and I think the author missed out on an entire layer of Chinese society – intelligent, educated people, of which there are many in China. However, I found his experiences in China to be similar to many of my own, and laughed aloud reading some of the many humorous descriptions of odd situations one frequently finds in China.

      What I disagree with is carping about a book on the basis of who published and when. It’s obviously self-published, and those who publish their own work have to do a tremendous amount of work to get noticed. Bully for the author for doing so!

      I’ve always though that anyone’s work in any field should stand on its own. Critics should base their criticism on the work itself, not by second guessing how it was published or why it’s getting notice. It’s getting notice because some readers are enjoying it. Focus on the flaws of the work itself, not the process by which it was published.

      • Reiffel,

        Was I carping about how his book was published and how it gained attention? I don’t think so. What I did was point out a few facts so readers could decide for themselves. But maybe I didn’t explain enough.

        You said, “It’s getting notice because some readers are enjoying it.”

        I disagree. Without the attention Mr. Parfitt’s book received from CNBC, I suspect his work would have fallen through the cracks and many readers that enjoyed it, such as you, would have never known it existed. There are many great self-published books out there that do not get noticed. In fact, this week, I wrote and posted a review of one that I enjoyed. It’s called “Getting Oriented” by Wally Wood. The title is not that great, but I felt the book was well written and I suspect the book isn’t getting the attention it deserves. By the way, I have never met Mr. Wood, and I don’t know him. I write reviews for Amazon Vine and LL Book Review and the book came my way seeking a review. I’m glad I didn’t pass on this book as the other reviewers did. I only wish I had read it earlier.


        The media is a hungry beast that devours content to fill a 24-hour/365-day time void and often manufactures the news by whatever the focus is at the time. It is obvious that CNBC wanted to focus on something negative about China and Mr. Parfitt’s book was in the right place at the right time.

        I doubt if the attention from CNBC had anything to do with the merit of Mr. Parfitt’s book but more to do with the message in the press release from the PR people he or his publisher hired. Most of these editors such as the one at CNBC do not have the time to read the books behind all the press releases that flow into the newsroom. Instead, the editor probably searched for a press release of a new author/book that fit and supported the topic he or she was looking for.

        I am glad you enjoyed Parfitt’s work and had some laughs. Writing a book and promoting it is time consuming and hard work and Mr. Parfitt deserves all the success and fans he earned. Writing is a subjective art form, some readers will enjoy his work, and others will not.

        In addition, we still do not know if the press that published his book is a company he launched or happens to be the first book of a new company someone else started and they just haven’t put up their Website yet because they may be looking for more books to publish first. Who knows what Northern Hemisphere Press’s business plan is?

        I doubt if the editor at CNBC even read Mr. Parfitt’s book before she invited him to write an opinion piece of China for CNBC’s Blog. Instead, the editor probably read the PR release from the publicist. For example, in 2008, when I was on the book tour for my first book and was a guest on 31 talk-radio shows, only one of the hosts had read my book. The rest were only interested in the focus of the press release and when I was on the air, we didn’t talk about the book (even though each host mentioned the book at the end of the guest spot) — we talked about the focus of the press release, which had nothing to do with the book but was about China because there was a lot of interest focused on China before and during the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

        As for self-published authors working harder to get noticed. There is some truth to that but as a rule it does not matter if an author is self-published or traditionally published, both have to work hard to get noticed. The publisher doesn’t do it for them. The average self-published book sells about 100 copies in its lifespan. The average traditional published book sells 250 copies. No author is going to make a living off that many copies sold. To get noticed, they both have to work hard and there are no guarantees even after an outfit such as CNBC invites an author to write a guest commentary for a Blog read by tens of thousands of people, which is great exposure.

        Few traditionally published authors, probably less than 1% (and they are usually brand names such as Steven King or J. K. Rowling), are promoted by their traditional publishers and have to do the same work to get noticed that a self-published author has to do, which is build a media platform and this is a job that is time consuming for all authors no matter how they are published. For example, Amanda Hocking, who is self-published, worked hard for eight years before her work took off and started selling several hundred thousand copies a month. The average book promotion tour may cost a thousand or more a day and when a publisher prints hundreds or thousands of new titles a year, the money isn’t there to promote most of the authors. Instead, the publisher focuses that part of the budget on the big name authors.

        The only difference is that a traditionally published author stands a better chance to end up with the spine of his or her book showing on a crowded bookshelf in a brick and mortar bookstore. Last year, about 300,000 new titles came out from traditional publishers. The average brick and mortar bookstore only holds between 20,000 to 50,000 titles and only a few that are shelved in those book stores are new titles. Even then, that does not guarantee sales since many first books that make it into a bookstore have a short shelf life measured in weeks before it vanishes when the next crop of new titles arrives.

        The publishing industry treats most new books from unkonwn authors the same way—throw the book in the ocean to see if it floats or sinks. If the book turns out to be a brick and sinks, then the shelf life is short. Only a few new authors sell enough copies to stay on the shelf competing for the attention of readers.

        However, there were more than 3 million self-published titles the same year, and it doesn’t matter who the publisher was when it comes to where most of those books sell — the internet — most at Amazon.com.

        You said, “Focus on the flaws of the work itself, not the process by which it was published.”

        My answer — no, I don’t have to. Most of the people that have read this book and reviewed it already did that job and did it well such as this review on the Lost Laowai, and I have read most of those reviews.

        In addition, I spent the last few months debating Mr. Parfitt on my Blog where we went into the topic his book focuses on in depth — we argued about China in that debate and wrote enough to probably fill another book. You may want to read that debate to see what Mr. Parfitt has to say of China outside of his book.

        • I don’t have anything to add regarding Parfitt’s book (as I’ve not read it), and I’ve actually disagreed with a few things you’ve written before Lloyd, but this was a fantastic comment. I know a few published (note the lack of “self-“) authors, and they all work there asses off promoting themselves and their books. The biggest difference I see between a published and self-published author (and, both admittedly and thankfully, that line continues to blur — as it also does with signed and independent musicians) is that a self-published author is much less likely to have a qualified editor forced upon them. I’ve had editors, I’ve been an editor and I know how tedious the writer-editor relationship can be. It takes a special kind of self-publishing author to go the extra distance and secure themselves a talented and truthful editor and then embrace the edits suggested.

      • “and I think the author missed out on an entire layer of Chinese society – intelligent, educated people, of which there are many in China. ”

        I must be doing something really wrong, because I live in one of the more “expensive” districts in Shanghai, and I’m surrounded by idiots. How would you have ‘re-routed’ Parfitt’s tour, to meet more smart Chinese? And don’t say Taiwan or Hong Kong. We all know those don’t count. 😉

  5. I agree, Ryan. I also think Parfitt’s book would have benefited significantly from the services of a good editor.

    I have used one, and it was a real eye-opener. I wrote a 40 page business planning workbook for a client organization, and my editor sent back her suggested rewrite with the editing already included, unmarked. I read it and congratulated myself on doing a great job – I didn’t see much difference between my original and the edited version. That was before I finished it and looked at the number of pages. She shrunk it from 40 pages to 23 without my noticing how much had been slashed. It was a great demonstration of skillful editing.

    Parfitt’s book meanders around a lot, like his travels, I suppose, and in my view it never successfully argues the thesis of the title. I would have welcomed some strong conclusions such as “China will never . . . unless . . or until . . ” phrases. When writing about the future, it’s probably wise to “never say never”. That said, I have my own reasons for thinking that China faces many internal obstacles to greatness, and I think Parfitt could have developed a compelling case for change in China. But that would have been a much different book.

    As I mentioned in my response to Mr. Lofthouse, I think Parfitt also missed an entire strata of Chinese society in his travels – one which I have been fortunate enough to find during my stay in China. China’s top 2% (i.e. those classified as “genius” according to IQ ratings) undoubtedly number more than 20 million. Of course, as with any group of “geniuses” there will be effective and ineffective people, but some of them have found their way into positions of influence in China.

    We owe most of human progress to a few brilliant people among us. Take them out of the equation and we’d still be primitives. To miss out on that top 2% (or whatever the percentage is) in China is to miss out on everything.

    • Reiffel,

      There is also something to say about the merit system that exists in China’s education system, which doesn’t exist in America where racial quotas, illegal or not, are often used for college admissions that often have nothing to do with merit leaving some qualified students (often Asian Americans) rejected for admission in place of someone not as qualified.

      The education system in China may appear brutal in its demands of students to most outside of China but that is part of China’s culture.

      • There are many things I admire about China, Lloyd, but the education system is emphatically not one of them.

        I’m aware of the “reverse discrimination” that exists in some US universities and find it appalling. There’s no excuse for it, and it warrants all the criticism that people level at it.

        But I am even more appalled with China’s education system. The emphasis on rote learning, the lack of encouragement of critical thinking, the high levels of cheating, the ubiquity of bribery to get better grades, and the pervasiveness of “grade inflation” are enough to make me skeptical about the value of the entire system.

        My impressions come not only from first hand knowledge with institutions that have partnerships with Chinese universities, but also from the experiences I’ve heard about from relatives who are currently attending Chinese universities and who have recently graduated and are now attending universities overseas. I have also talked extensively with professors at Chinese universities. (I have two in-laws who teach in China.)

        All in all, there’s a far better chance of getting a first-rate education at American universities – if you can get past the unfair quota screen, that is. Prestige is not the only reason Chinese parents scrimp and save to send their children to universities in the west. Quality is a big factor.

        I’ve also worked with North American universities on curriculum design, and have had plenty of discussions with professors about the academic shortcomings of graduate students educated in China. They parallel what I’ve heard from my relatives in China. It’s not a pretty picture.

        Please don’t take this is a comment about the quality of the students themselves. The flaws of the education system are reflected in the products of it, but my heart goes out to anyone who must endure such conditions when it is possible for China to do so much better. This is one of the biggest barriers to China’s greatness, in my opinion. There are many in China who think critically, but they do so because it’s their nature, not because this ability has been encouraged and developed in the education system. I can’t help but think that the lack of critical thinking in the education system comes right from the top, for obvious reasons.

      • The merit system exists to the point that cheating and plagiarism are rampant to the point of being impossible to ignore.

        The merit system also exists to the point that a friend of mine with extremely wealthy parents could barely read at age 16 because the teachers at all of his very expensive top-in-the-city schools were afraid that if they told his parents the gifts would stop happening.

        (I have never been more proud of someone than when he refused to let his mother pay someone to take his ID and sit gaokao for him but instead got tutors and made it into college two years late.)

      • As a person who was educated in two different cultures (US and India) I have a perspective on Chinese College education.. I am afraid that I am not impressed.. I have more than 25 young graduates in my group and their reasoning and thinking abilities are underpar.

      • Bala Holalkere said, “As a person who was educated in two different cultures (US and India) I have a perspective on Chinese College education. I am afraid that I am not impressed. I have more than 25 young graduates in my group and their reasoning and thinking abilities are underpar.”

        True, China has a long way to go to catch up to the public education infrastructure in the United States, but it is moving in that direction. Even China’s leaders would agree that much of China’s education system is very much’ underpar’.

        After all, the elementary schools serve about 150 million students but only about 10 million graduate from senior high school and compete to get into a college.

        No country can wave a magic wand and create a world-class public/private education system overnight. It takes decades to build the brick and mortar infrastructure, train future educators and then educate teachers, etc. Even in the U.S., the education system developed over a period of decades/centuries.

        You may want to read this from the New York Times for a better understanding:


        As the NYT piece points out, “Sheer numbers make the educational push by China, a nation of more than 1.3 billion people, potentially breathtaking. In the last decade, China doubled the number of colleges and universities, to 2,409.

        “As recently as 1996, only one in six Chinese 17-year-olds graduated from high school. That was the same proportion as in the United States in 1919. Now, three in five young Chinese graduate from high school, matching the United States in the mid-1950s.

        “China is on track to match within seven years the United States’ current high school graduation rate for 18-year-olds of 75 percent — although a higher proportion of Americans than Chinese later go back and finish high school.”

      • I should have added that another source to check China’s progress is the results from the international PISA testing. In 2009, PISA tested 15 year old students in Shanghai and those students, selected at random, placed first in every category, and Shanghai is where the improvements in China’s public education system take place first before they spread to other urban centers—and that evolution does not happen all at once. The next city would be Beijing.

        But much of rural China will be the last place the changes in public education take place and we might not see those changes for years or decades.

    • Agreed absolutely. It sounds like Parfitt based his opinions and book off of the people he had access to, not finding access to the people who would make a book.

      Both you and Lloyd are ever increasing my need to read this book. Good or bad, the amount of discussion it’s triggered gives reason alone 🙂

  6. Ryan,

    “I’ve actually disagreed with a few things you’ve written before Lloyd, but this was a fantastic comment.”

    Thank you. We should all agree to disagree–respectfully.

    You may be interested to know that self-published authors are gaining respectability in publishing. The Internet, e-books, and POD has changed the world and those changes are still happening.

    I learned today (about two years after the fact) that Publisher’s Weekly now reviews some worthy self-published books. The details are at the other end of this link.


  7. Agreed, the education system in China is mostly out of date. However, I’ve been reading that in time, this situation may change.

    From what I’ve been reading and due to the results of the 2009 PISA test, Shanghai is where those changes have already started and eventually they will spread to other cities as teachers are retrained. The rural schools will come last.

    I imagine it is a big challenge to retrain that many teachers to new methods of training and of course, China’s education system will not change overnight an dprobaby never be the same as America’s schools.

  8. I have no idea why the last comment was cut off. I probably didn’t copy everything I wrote in Word when I pasted into the e-mail box.

    Here’s what I meant to write.


    Agreed, the education system in China is mostly out of date and that may be because so many of the teachers know only the old way to run a classroom and teach. However, I understand that in time, this situation may change and those changes are already under way and started in Shanghai more than a decade ago where critical thinking and problem solving skills are being encouraged in the better public schools as teachers are trained in the use of these new methods (at last new to China).

    The results of the 2009 PISA test demonstrated that this process is already succeeding since the 15 year olds in Shanghai that took the test beat out Singapore and Finland for first place in every category. I read one of the PISA officials say that the test focuses seriously on indentifying critical thinking and problem solving skills and the Shanghai students that took the test scored higher than any other nation in those areas in every category.

    I’ve read that there are plans (coming from the top) to retrain teachers in other cities so the new methods in place in Shanghai. However, I suspect the rural schools will see those changes last. Of course, this will take maybe decades to accomplish. Overcoming ingrained cultural habits is not an easy task.

    China’s education system will not change overnight and probably never be the same as schools in America and Europe — specifically Finland, which has one of the best educational systems in the world and Finland is, economically, a socialist state with a democratic Western style republic form of government, which China doesn’t have (yet and maybe will never have).

    In addition, this change, from what I’ve read, is being directed from the top. The biggest impediment will be Party bosses at the provincial and city level that will resist.

    China’s next president (at least the one everyone outside China is guessing will be the next president) has a daughter attending Harvard. From what I’ve read, most of the children of the next crop of China’s leaders after 2012 are already attending or have attended universities in America and Europe. Bo Xilai’s daughter also attended or is still at Harvard. In fact, Chinese students make up the largest segment (several hundred thousand annually) of foreign students attending universities in America and most of them return home, which wasn’t always the case but since the standard of living has improved dramatically in China many do go home.

  9. I hope it is changing, but after what I’ve heard from people inside the education system, I am very skeptical that the Shanghai PISA test results are indicative of real results.

    • Reiffel,

      On the other hand, America, Canada and most of Europe is not doing much better at producing educated people with the skills needed to keep things running. There is a huge shortage of people in the sciences and engineering due to the self-esteem movement, which, for decades, encouraged many of our children to follow their dream and have fun.

      We know this person in the State Department that specialize in recruiting people from other countries such as India and China that have educations in these vital areas to make up for this brain trust shortage. Some high tech American companies have hundreds of position that they cannot fill and this is hurting their ability to be competitive.

      The US even has a quota to recruit people to fill these vital jobs and if a person has the education and skills, they are fast tracked into the US as a citizen with expenses paid. Many of these people come from China and Asia and they work in our labs and for high tech companies earning a higher average with better job security than most American born citizens do. Our friend in the State Department says this shortage is critical and as much as 90% of the people that eventually fill these jobs are highly educated immigrants coming from outside the US. His job is the screen these applicants to make sure they do not turn out to be a terrorist or spies for another country such as China. That is his specialty and he has been doing this job for decades.

      In fact, if a talented and motivated young American born person majored in one of these vital fields while in college, there are enough grants and scholarships available to pay for their college education without the need to take out loans—billions of dollars sitting there because there are not enough applicants applying for them.

      Therefore, the West has a great educational system that is turning out kids that all want to be the next great basketball, football, baseball, super model, rock star, Academy Award winning actor, artist, designer, super-star criminal lawyer, etc. These kids mostly do not want to read books and they do not want to work at hard physical labor. Anything that is boring is avoided at all costs until reality hits them later in life as an adult, which may explain why so many Americans drink too much booze and get into drugs to numb the mind.

      Data collected for decades show that an average 40,000 young people flood into Hollywood/Southern California annually all following their dream to become rich and famous in entertainment. Only a minority of Americans is willing to do the boring work needed to learn the skills that keep this modern civilization machine working and innovating and many of them were not born in the US.

      Have you ever seen news broadcast that shows the lines outside of an “America has Talent” audition as they travel around the country looking for those talented contestants that will make it to the final competition?

      When I was still teaching, I attended a workshop on this subject, which was to teach us ways to encourage kids to go into these vital fields after graduating from high school. We were given a few examples and the one that sticks in my head is the one about the GM bumper factory that once employed 500 people until it automated and the 500 was reduced to two who maintained and repaired those robots that made the bumpers. All the job required was a high school education with certain skills and it paid $90,000 a year. The law required GM to do all it could to find a qualified applicant in the US and GM spent tens of thousands of dollars advertising the job and interviewing candidates and could not’ find anyone after seeing something like 40,000 applicants. They finally ended up hiring a high school graduate from Germany to fill the position in that factory.

      And when a Tiger Mother such as Amy Chua comes out into the open, she gets attacked…

      • Hi Lloyd,

        Tiger Mom is not a particularly good exemplar for parents to follow. First, she and her husband are both university professors. What are the odds that their children would turn out to be high achievers based on genetics alone, no matter how they were brought up? Quite high, I would say.

        Scientific American included that point in an interesting article about the parenting methods she described and what the best available evidence says about these methods. I think you’ll find it interesting. She’s not all wrong, but wrong enough not to hold her up as a paragon of parenting.


        I think you’ll also find that the parenting model she describes is falling by the wayside in the richer areas of China in which precious children are indulged by their parents and two sets of grandparents – so-called “six-pockets” children because they learn to get money from the pockets of all six.

        Finally, if you apply the same focus to her book as you did to “Why China will Never . . . “, you’ll see Parfitt could learn a thing or two from her about promoting one’s book.

        But I think you’ve described a few of the symptoms of a cultural malaise in the west that is very quickly worming itself into Chinese society – unrestrained, valueless materialism and narcissism. The points you make about young people flocking to Hollywood, wanting to be professional athletes or entertainment stars, etc. is a cultural sickness aided and abetted by the marketing culture and popular media. Spend a little time in Shanghai and you’ll see that this same rot has infected that city, too. Although that’s the only mainland city in which I’ve spent enough time to really see beneath the surface, I would expect that it’s just as bad in some of the other large, rich cities.

        In fact, it may be worse for a cultural reason. Western culture emphasizes the individual over the group – quite the opposite of East Asian cultures. That helps to explain why famous brand names in China are so sought after. I currently live in North America. It’s always interesting to visit the big outlet malls, and to walk by the Coach stores to see who is standing in line and how they’re behaving. It’s 80 to 90% Asians, clamouring to get in, and going into a buying frenzy once inside.

        As someone who has worked extensively with companies “building brands” I would say that the Asian markets are a brand marketer’s dream. “They gotta have it” is how it looks to me in wealthy China, Japan, Korea and Hong Kong. Asians appear to be much more “brand susceptible”, and I think it’s partly because of the higher reliance in the culture on the opinion of the group in making decisions, and in one’s self esteem.

        I agree with you about the problems in western society that have reduced the flow of candidates into technical fields, but I don’t think we should blame that on the universities. I think many of them do a great job of educating very good technical resources. The blame for the lack of flow into technical fields lies elsewhere. I note, though, that there’s no shortage of skilled technical people for internet, software, or game producing companies. I recall when I worked as an engineer talking with one of my colleagues who was educated at University of Michigan. He told me that mechanical engineers in the US place highest value on working in aerospace and defence. The auto industry was considered “the bottom of the barrel”.

        In my opinion, too many kids want to “get rich quick” . . . but that is just as common among young people from rich families in China. They have the bug perhaps even worse because business practices in China tend to be much closer to “get rich quick” than even in North America. There are reasons for that, too – it’s not a matter of “worse” values in China. It’s survival and self-protection in a country in which rules change quickly and investing in the growth of a business is not as wise as cashing in and cashing out as soon as there’s an unexpected problem. I would do the same in China for self-protection. But in North America, I focus on building businesses that endure because the business environment is more stable and less subject to sweeping government change over night.

      • Your 40,000s and 500s and other numbers remind me of one of my favorite quotes:

        “Studies have shown that up to 78.3% of statistics are made up on the spot.”

        While what you have to say about the American educational system reminds me of my other favorite:

        “According to recent statistics, over 48.6% of American students have been show to read at lower than average levels.”

        Consider reading “The Marching Morons”. From what you’ve written above, your sky is falling attitude towards Americans, intelligence, education, and motivation fits right in with the ideas in that book.

  10. Reiffel,

    I agree with all of the points you have made and recall writing about this happening in China in a few posts (in one post I wrote about the fat camps where younger urban youth go to lose weight). In another post, I noted that average rural children were less spoiled than urban ones and maybe China’s future was more in the hands of rural youth that come from poorer families than from the spoiled rich kids of urban China. Have you visited the nightclub district in Shanghai or Beijing? If so, you probably saw many of these spoiled children out partying. Now I have nothing against having fun … but every day or night.

    In fact, the one child policy may have slowed population growth but the tragic results are the “six pocket” children you have described. That’s the first I’ve heard that term and it fits. I’ve seen and experienced examples of the “six pocket” children in action. Talk about spoiled and narcissistic.

    Therefore, in China, they have the “six pocket” children and in the US, America has the “self esteem” generation. Both countries are raising armies of narcissist. Maybe it’s a good think we grow old and die so those of us that do not belong to the younger generation are gone by the time they take over.

    Maybe it’s a good idea to have a large, lower middle class with enough money to provide adequate shelter and food so the children grow up with a better work ethic and values. Too much success seems to create problems with the generation that follows the one that worked hard enough to succeed.

    In America, the generation that survived the Great Depression, fought World War II and then worked hard to become part of the affluent Middle Class made America the power it is today. The Baby Boomers benefited from the hard work of their parents and grandparents, which brings up the question: What will this generation bring to America when it comes of age?

    • I’m afraid that in North America and in China, wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of the few. China and the USA are more notorious for this. Wherever you have concentration of power, there will be corruption and concentration of wealth. There’s little difference between the ills of Wall Street and those of the Party. In both cases, people have enriched themselves at the expense of others, no matter what it took, and bereft of even an appearance of morality. Too much power concentrated in too few hands, with predictable results. Without a middle class, things will just get worse.

      But enough sunshine for one day.

      • You dont know what youre talking about. Firstly, China is massively more unequal than the usa. Chinese cabinet members are billionaires not millionaires. In America you can be rich,as many Chinese are,and not be connected to the party. In China you can be poor or be connected to the party.

        In Shanghai,most expats drink beer with Chinese work friends. In America,they probably dont, because Chinese are Chinese. They dont assimilate in foreign countries. That bothers people but its so. In China tgey will mix with you vecause theyre making you Chinese, Chinese beat their enemies through assimlating them, such as the Mongols.

        Youre no China expert. I ve lived their for five years.

      • T,

        There is some truth to the fact that most of the wealthy in China belong to the CCP. However, I seriously doubt that all the wealthy party members are billionaires and many of the super wealthy were invited to join the party after they got rich in the private sector. A decade ago, there were 70 million party members. Today there are more than 80 million. Where do you think the added ten million came from?

        An invitation to join the party usually followed getting wealthy in the private sector, and yes, there are party members that got their wealth while being in the party by hook or crook, which reminds me of an article I read about a crop of US senators that entered the senate not wealthy and all left millionaires within a dozen years.

        Eighty million party members in China is more than 25% of the entire US population. In addition, Richard McGregor, the author of “The Party, The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers” said that just because party members are corrupt—skimming money off the top—doesn’t mean they are incompetent. In fact, according to McGregor, most of these party members are very competent at their jobs.

        And many of them have transferred a lot of their ill begotten gains to the US where they have been invited to invest and even take up residence as citizens. The US has a fast track for wealth Chinese wanting to move to the US with the money they stole. That way if they get caught stealing in China, all they need do is give China the slip and move to the US. Many who do doing the CCP only do it to have an opportunity to get rich. That does not mean they are a hard core communist.

        “Meanwhile, Chinese millionaires and billionaires are flocking to the United States in record numbers. More than two thousand Chinese citizens sought to immigrate to the United States in 2011 through the so-called “investor visa.” That’s more than twice the number in 2010. The program allows foreigners and their families to receive permanent U.S. residency for an investment of $500,000 or more (or in some cases $1 million or more) that also creates a minimum number of jobs.”

        Source: http://www.cnbc.com/id/47599766/The_Mass_Migration_of_the_SuperRich

  11. Michael,

    Imagine a Chinese moving to the US. He rides the subway to work every day, socializes with other Chinese, goes to work, does his job, entertains himself on the weekend by watching Chinese movies and TV, and socializing with other Chinese friends. Will he encounter enlightened intellectual Americans? Not likely unless they happen to be connected to his circle of acquaintances. Now change the Chinese moving to the US to an Expat working in Shanghai. He rides the metro to work every day, socializes with other expats, goes to work, does his job, entertains himself on the weekend watching English language movies and TV, and socializes with English-speaking friends. Same result.

    I’ve been lucky because my in-laws in China are among the “2%”, and having the contacts makes all the difference, just as it would in the USA. Otherwise, the USA can appear to the outsider to be all fat people, sports fans and “Bubbas”.

  12. Pingback: Studying Troy Parfitt using his own words and the opinion of others « iLook China

  13. Troy, is all you care about the money someone pays buying and spreadingthe news about your book? Great for you,and you even come out looking like a nice guy! Even bad press is good press hey Troy!

    A better response,rather than this ” Im such a good natured guy” vomit, designedto sell, is respond to someones opinions about it. This is afterall what they want, not a pack on the back haha!

    Dont u think?

    Nice try though

  14. Or is it All Relative? No such thing as truth, literary style and standards, flowery circumlocution, propagandizing onage old yellow peril archetypes?

    Its just an experience, reading a book. Theres no good or bad, its just

    “Sorry you didnt like it sir, nave a nice day!”

    Ill try that one next time i serve my customers a underboiled pasta.

    “Sorry, you reviewed in a way that was to your distaste. Have a better one!”

  15. Lloyd, do you still keep that unloaded gun under your pillow? I love you man!

    To the point, you skewed my comments a little; i believe i meant there are a high percentage of billionaires in the inner circles, even a very high percentage in the cabinet itself. Chine has billiknaires in politics cabinets,not millilnaires. Wen Jia Bao, and yes, i dobelieve the NYT because he failed to refute the claim,is himself a billionaire.

    ‘Where do you think the other ten million came from?’

    That questions doesnt make sense at all. Every student is advised to join the party as you know, and this helps in the connections getting wealthy process. So we must presume that the best students are all wanting to join the party and thats where the ten million comes from.

    Few are invited. This is obvious no?

    The main distinction is this; politics is necessary for accumulating wealth because land,real estate and stock is mainly partycontrolled. Corruption and naked civil servants moving funds to usa or Hong Kong is another. You just cant put them in Chinese banks. And politicians are hypocrites, they prevent thepeople from owning property but want to own a house forever,like w can in America,not in China.

    So there are three links from party to personal wealth accumulation; one is student elites and connections, the second is the party control and the third is party corruption.

    • “Unloaded!” Of course not. It’s loaded. After all, America is a very violent country. You just hit on a topic that I am interested in so I will stray a bit and then bring this back to the conversation at hand.

      I think it pays to lean toward safety of family over popular-political correctness in the US. Not only did I serve in Vietnam but I taught for thirty years in Southern California in public schools surrounded by a community dominated by violent youth street gangs and witnessed drive by shootings from the doorway of one of my classrooms. A week didn’t go by that someone wasn’t gunned down in that area. The first school I taught at in 1976-77 had coils of razor wire to keep these dangerous kids off the roofs of the school. They liked to chop through the roofs so they could break in and loot the school of videos and TV, etc besides doing damage to the classrooms. In the city of Los Angeles, alone, there are about 100,000 members in similar violent youth gangs.

      However, during the day, that weapon I keep under my pillow is stored safely away in one of those fast response gun safes that may be opened in an instant. I plan to be ready if danger threatens my family.

      Sources: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2012/12/14/chart-the-u-s-has-far-more-gun-related-killings-than-any-other-developed-country/

      National Master.com ranks countries by total crimes: The US is number one. The UK is #2. Germany is #3. France is #4. It seems that democracy and freedom comes with a price. In the US, we may have protection from our government thanks to the Bill of Rights but that same document doesn’t protect us from fellow citizens.

      Source: http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/cri_tot_cri-crime-total-crimes

      For a comparison, here is some info on Crime in China (remember, I’m not talking about white collar crime):

      “China has a low crime rate. Private gun ownership is banned and violent crime is relatively rare.”

      Source: http://factsanddetails.com/china.php?itemid=302

      Anyway, back on topic: When you say “billions” are you referring to yuan or dollars?

      As for what members of the party are doing to accumulate wealth, is this different from any other time in China’s history? And in other countries, such as the US, how many people in leadership positions that were middle class or even poor before they entered politics stayed poor or even middle class?

      I can think of maybe one and I may be wrong there too: President Truman

      Here’s an interesting piece on how one joins the CCP:

      “Many of today’s party members are culled from the top ranks of high schools and colleges: top students are invited to join the party, and it is the sort of invitation that can’t be refused. Others can be nominated by friends who are party members, or apply on their own initiative if they have the support of other party members. During the past two decades, the ranks of the party have been expanded to include businessmen (who were previously not allowed to join) as well as more ethnic minorities, who currently account for 7 per cent of party members.”

      Source: http://blogs.ft.com/beyond-brics/2012/11/21/chinas-communist-party-how-to-join/#axzz2IoWOrTz0

      The piece also points out that the CCP is becoming more Han Chinese too.

      However, I do not agree with the term “dictatorship” used in the final paragraph. China is an authoritarian, one party political system ruled by the consensus of several hundred men and a few women.

      The Wall Street Journal also ran a piece explaining why Chinese are investing overseas:

      “Instead, diversification of risk was a major reason for 86% of respondents, and 76% cited having access to a wider range of investment products. Under no illusions about the relatively dire state of the global economy, only 15% said they were hoping for a higher return overseas than what’s available in China.

      “A lack of investment products has always been a problem in China. That’s started to improve in recent years with the development of trust companies – which have found a niche using private wealth to make loans to customers the banks won’t touch – and private equity, although investors are fast falling out of love with the sector as domestic funds struggle to deliver on advertised returns. Moreover, the major investment outlets of developed economies – the stock market and corporate bonds – remain underdeveloped in China.”

      Source: http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2012/11/14/why-rich-chinese-are-investing-overseas-its-not-what-you-think/

      Then there is this study from the China Quarterly. I think you may find this revealing and interesting as it explains why we find so many of China’s wealthy as members/suporters of the CCP.

      “ABSTRACT: Is privatization in China leading to political change?

      “This article presents original survey data from 1999 and 2005 to evaluate the Communist Party’s strategy towards the private sector. The CCP is increasingly integrating itself with the private sector both by co-opting entrepreneurs into the Party and encouraging current Party members to go into business. It has opened the political system to private entrepreneurs, but still screens which ones are allowed to play political roles. Because of their close personal and professional ties, and because of their shared interests in promoting economic growth, China’s capitalist and communist officials share similar viewpoints on a range of political, economic and social issues. Rather than promote democratic governance, China’s capitalist have a stake in preserving the political system that has allowed them to prosper, and they are among the Party’s most important bases of support.”

      Source: http://myweb.rollins.edu/tlairson/asiabus/chiwealthpower.pdf

      • Just remembered something. I don’t think I’m the only combat vet in the Us that may keep a loaded weapon under a pillow at night. My medical provider is the VA and there is a sign on the clinic door that clearly says no knives of fire arms are allowed inside the clinic. It’s a big sign. :o)

      • Lloyd Lofthouse,Raiffel Range,Loius Lane and Clark Kent all have something in common,they all have the double consonant sound and they all live in the world of fiction. Lloyd is a writer and the other three are characters.

      • Clever. On the other hand, maybe this world needs a real Clark Kent but what could one Super Man actually do with all the challenges he or she would have to face daily.

        Talk about a job with too much pressure. In no time, Clark Kent would have a very bad case of PTSD.

  16. ‘Where do the ten million come from?’

    Surely you know that even average students have to take an exam and based on the quality of their knowledge of their mandatory Marxism classes they have been taking for at least four years in Uni, they will go up to the party or not.

    Hence a lot of frenetic activity in unis and colleges where i taught around party recruitment times.

    Cosplay is another one, where costume parties aim to instill Marxist values.

    The funniest thing is, students are taught that Capitalism is a necessary phase to go through, the ideal is the Marxist state. This is what Marx teaches of course.

    But realistically, China will always be capitalist.

    • “Chinese communist leaders denounce U.S. values but send children to U.S. Colleges”

      A Washington Post piece found at: http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-05-18/world/35454736_1_foreign-studies-communist-party-overseas-studies

      The concluding paragraph:

      “‘This is about haves and have-nots,’ said Hong Huang, the stepdaughter of Mao’s foreign minister Qiao Guanhua and a member of an earlier generation of American-educated princelings. ‘China’s old-boy network . . . is no different from America’s old-boy network,’ said Hong, who went to Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and whose mother served as Mao’s English teacher.”

      Then there is this interesting piece from Foreign Policy magazine:

      The party does not control all aspects of life in China as it did under Mao.

      The conclusion of this piece, “The idea that China would one day become a democracy was always a Western notion, born of our theories about how political systems evolve. Yet all evidence so far suggests these theories are wrong. The party means what it says: It doesn’t want China to be a Western democracy — and it seems to have all the tools it needs to ensure that it doesn’t become one.”

      Source: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/01/02/5_myths_about_the_chinese_communist_party?page=0,1

  17. Thanks, well-researched, but you have to attack it head on. I suggest that there is a contradiction; Marx and China teaches that Capitalism is a phase. This is why Marxism is still being taught in middle schools as the status quo despite a Capitalist economy.

    However, i believe China will always be Capitalist. It teaches Communism or Marxism (lets just say theyre basically identical in meaning)to control and repress.

    Otherewis,why wouldnt it teach Capitalism as the party doctrine?

  18. In other words, the Party plans,after a decade or so, to contruct a planned economy,similar to Ceaucescu or Stalin’s. As I said, it teaches the ‘doctrine of the passing phase’.

  19. Thats according to classic Marx, which it teaches in middle schools and universities in all cities. But thats a lie. China is and always will be a right wing authoritarian capitalist economy based on direct Asian style management protocol.

    It teaches classic Marx to control and supress.

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