Reading Assignment — The Economist in China

In January, the 170-year old magazine The Economist launched a special section devoted to covering China. Every edition will have at least one new story.

The new China editor is Rob Gifford, author of China Road: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Power. (My review of this book can be found here.)

They have also launched a China blog called “Analects.” This week’s post,  “Old Hands”, is a historical overview of the magazine’s coverage of China since 1843. It’s a fascinating read for a number of reasons, not the least of which because it reminds us that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Consider this exerpt:

The first extended analysis of China came in the eighth issue, dated October 14th 1843. The subject may ring a bit familiar: the potential of China’s consumer market to buy foreign imports. The Economist’s founding editor, the Scottish businessman James Wilson (who in those days wrote virtually the entire newspaper) was not bullish: “The truth is, it requires something more than treaties between governments to make trade.” Mr Wilson observed trenchantly that Chinese consumers have their own peculiar needs that are not met by foreign products, and that their incomes will need to rise as well. “We must not forget” of the Chinese, he wrote (without a byline, same as today), “… the mere liberty or opportunity of buying our goods, does not confer on them at once the ability to do so.” By 2012, it can now be noted, the consumer market for foreign luxury goods developed rather nicely.

In December 1843, The Economist relayed its first reported anecdotes about China: tales of foreigners being deceived by fake Chinese products. These included, according to one written account, “counterfeit hams” made of wood, coated in dirt and wrapped with an outer layer of hog’s skin: “The whole is so curiously painted and prepared, that a knife is necessary to detect the fraud.”

Here is a link to a short interview with Gifford about what they are hoping to accomplish with the new section.

And Gifford recently turned up on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” for an extended interview. The audio and transcript can be found here.

(Image source: The Economist)

Related Post: Book Review: China Road