CHAPTER 30Isolationist Past

In the early twentieth century, Qing officials encouraged foreign nations to invest in railroad projects in order to help build up the national economy. Westerners of the era were made to believe that they were operating in a free market and that their rights would be protected. But they soon came to find that the Chinese had different ideas. James Whitford Bashford, an American missionary, noted a changing attitude starting in the 1910s. Chinese were beginning to grumble about the land rights granted along rail lines, which were seen as “limiting the sovereignty of the Chinese nation.”

Walking around a large mainland city such as Shanghai today, it is hard to believe that Chinese are not bothered by so significant a foreign presence. Step into any high‐end shopping mall and you find nothing but imported brands—Louis Vuitton, Michael Kors, Tory Burch. Foreign retail outlets are ubiquitous and the signage is usually in English only. It makes you wonder where Chinese chauvinism has gone.

Wall Street business analysts mistakenly presume that certain US companies are successful simply because they have a strong presence in China. In many instances, associated brands have entered the market by way of a joint venture in which the local partner retains a high percentage of profits. Chinese officials did a slick job of encouraging growth through this model, which not only enriched many local operators but also lent the appearance that China was now up‐to‐date. ...

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