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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A must-read for those involved in China, but will take work to get through
I have been working in China for 1,5 year now and was immediately fascinated by the title and context of this book. In the past 2 years I have been extensively reading about China, its culture and the psyche of its people in an attempt to understand them. Bit by bit I have been putting the complex puzzle of China and the Chinese together only to see that the resulting...
Published on August 16, 2012 by E. Sander

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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't Even Finish It
I bought this book on a whim just to try and keep up with what is going on in China outside specifically what makes it to the news. I couldn't get past page 70 of this book. Although I think the content of the book is interesting, I felt like the writing style was overly complicated for no reason other than to sound overly complicated. I often found myself having to...
Published on August 12, 2012 by Craig Rutkowske


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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't Even Finish It, August 12, 2012
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This review is from: What Chinese Want: Culture, Communism and the Modern Chinese Consumer (Hardcover)
I bought this book on a whim just to try and keep up with what is going on in China outside specifically what makes it to the news. I couldn't get past page 70 of this book. Although I think the content of the book is interesting, I felt like the writing style was overly complicated for no reason other than to sound overly complicated. I often found myself having to re-read the same sentences and paragraphs multiple times to catch the meaning. This frustrated me to the point that I would read one of the two or three page sections per sitting and then put the book down for 2-3 days before I could muster the courage to pick it up again.

Perhaps I am not the target audience for the book, but I would personally not recommend it as a "leisurely read."
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A must-read for those involved in China, but will take work to get through, August 16, 2012
By 
E. Sander (Uden Netherlands) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: What Chinese Want: Culture, Communism and the Modern Chinese Consumer (Hardcover)
I have been working in China for 1,5 year now and was immediately fascinated by the title and context of this book. In the past 2 years I have been extensively reading about China, its culture and the psyche of its people in an attempt to understand them. Bit by bit I have been putting the complex puzzle of China and the Chinese together only to see that the resulting picture still never made complete sense. I expected a lot from books like Kotler's 'Marketing Management in China', but it proved little more than his regular 'Marketing Management' book with some added Chinese case material. After reading an article about Doctoroff's book online I knew I had to get myself a copy immediately (which initially proved a bit challenging since the book itself is banned in China).

After having read the book I have to agree with both the positive and negative comments in other reviews. First of all, this is a must-read for people in the marketing, sales and advertising professions that consider China to be a (potential) market for their products or services. Even for people that are not necessarily working in these areas but are still involved with Chinese people (whether or not professionally) this is a recommended read. Doctoroff's experience, undoubtfully backed by investments in market research at his advertising agency, provides us with an invaluable source of information and understanding about China and the Chinese. And most of what Doctoroff writes seems to be spot on. An interesting aspect is the way Doctoroff 'zooms out'. Starting with the individual consumers, then discussing the society, than China's place in the world, while touching upon many different very relevant subjects along the way. It has given me many new insights, resulting in instant adjustments to my own projects. As Doctoroff writes, the biggest mistake is to think that we 'get' the Chinese and our Western concepts will work. They won't. This book will help you to better understand them and your own misconceptions.

So far so good.

A less positive aspect is the readability of the book. I have found a few problems here. English is not my first language but I have been reading English business literature for 20 years without any problem. In certain sections of this book I found the language style unnecesary pretentious, complicated and unappealing. The subject matter is complex enough to understand without making the text read like business proze.
Also, the book reads like a Powerpoint presentation. It consists of no less than 37 short chapters, each split into several sub-subjects, which are then split into sub-elements on a paragraph level where the text often consists of long lists of examples. The book reads like a constant dissection, which can be quite tiring after a while. At times the book also feels like a collection of short essays or columns, with an overlap in explanations. Sometimes constant explanation of the 'ambition versus anxiety' concept returns so often that the text almost becomes predictable. The structure of the book often gives it the feel of an encyclopedia, although I have found using the index in the back of the book, attempting to find and re-read something specific, rather useless.

The book could definitely have been more enjoyable with more anecdotes, a lighter tone and more sense of humour. I have found that when reading other books like 'When A Billion Chinese Jump' I would have vivid discussions with friends and colleagues about the content matter, mainly because the anecdotes in that book suppported the factual information so well and brought it to life in the reader's mind. People remember stories, not endless lists of facts. For this book the lack of such a balance and they way the text is structured often made me say to others 'I can't quite remember what it said about this subject, but it is a really interesting book.'

So let's leave it at that. A must-read for some people that will however take some energy and perseverence for some to chew through.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent look at China today..., June 1, 2012
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This review is from: What Chinese Want: Culture, Communism and the Modern Chinese Consumer (Hardcover)
A few years ago - must have been in 2004 - I was visiting my son in Shanghai and while traveling to Pudong Airport to leave, I saw a huge road-side billboard touting the newest, glitziest, apartment complex then under construction. Aimed at the new wealthy in Shanghai, as well as foreigners working there, the title of the complex was "Richgate". Now, "Richgate", completed in 2005 is still attracting tenants and I assume still has the same cache it had when it was under construction 8 years ago. Tom Doctoroff, in his new book, "What Chinese Want", attempts to explain the new Chinese "market" to foreigners who want to do business in China. Though he doesn't talk about "Richgate", Doctoroff writes well about the "New China", the very people who might be attracted to such a project.

Tom Doctoroff is currently head of JWT in China and has lived in Shanghai for ten or so years. He lives in the French Concession in a row-house apartment and was evidently not tempted to live (it up) at Richgate. As an advertising and marketing expert, he takes the reader through the intricacies of selling and marketing to the Chinese. Doctoroff's title, "What Chinese Want" is interesting in itself. Notice he leaves out "the" between "What" and "Chinese", therefore bringing his findings down a bit from the macro "the Chinese" to the micro "Chinese". There's a difference in meaning by leaving out "the" in the title, and unless it was a mistake (which I doubt), Doctoroff gives the reader a bit of a look at the individual person in China, rather than the mass of Chinese, as consumers.

But, in truth, Doctoroff also speaks about the mass Chinese consumer. He writes about everything from interpersonal relationships in both business and family lives, the embrace of some international couture brands but not others, and how the different generations value and purchase items. He's also writing mainly about the new China, the people in the embrace of the quasi-capitalistic/quasi-Communist economy. Those people who've moved from the countryside to the major cities to take advantage of better education and better job opportunities. And with those increased opportunities come the increased pressure to buy into the new society by buying the new products offered for sale. Cars, which are generally a hassle to keep in the crowded cities, are seen as objects of success by both the middle and upper-classes. And if you can't afford a whole Prada purse, you can still make do with a Prada key chain.

Tom Doctoroff's book is a fascinating look at China today from a worldly marketing standpoint. While written for the international marketer, the book contains enough interesting points for people like me who are interested in China and its place in the world.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating take on China, September 17, 2012
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The great thing about China is it's so large that all opinions are correct. It depends on your experience from your industry from your corner of the country. Tom Doctoroff offers up good observations and useful examples although quite a few are outdated. I was wondering why he had to use such complicated English to express his views. I lost patience!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars NOT FOR GENERAL READERS, March 29, 2013
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Although the second half of the book is better than the first, I wonder how many readers will make it through what is just a glorified Power Point presentation. The book contains too many generalizations about Chinese culture and is mainly applicable to those individuals most interested in developing a marketing campaign for various products.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and Credible -, June 18, 2012
This review is from: What Chinese Want: Culture, Communism and the Modern Chinese Consumer (Hardcover)
Author Doctoroff has lived his last 14 years working in China as leader of a large advertising agency - that certainly gives him lots of credibility. The book's Introduction was also interesting - telling us that some 800,000 Chinese live in Africa, mostly working on various development projects. Another point - The Hunan China Rich List, with 270 billionaires in China and an estimate that this is only half the number qualifying!

Values: The Chinese see the only absolute evil as chaos and the only good as stability - a platform on which progress is constructed. Family, not the individual, is the basic productive unit of society. China has an anti-individualistic social cohesion liked to the nation and clan. The nation also features top-down patriarchal management - eg a peasant father retains authority over his billionaire son. CEOs bow to Party leaders. The nation also features diplomatic pragmatism coupled with a long-term perspective.

Chinese consumers are now the most avid buyers of luxury products in the world. It has over 800 million mobile phone subscribers, and 250 million 'Twitter-like' followers. Divorce rates were almost nonexistent 20 years ago, and now exceed 40% in first-tier cities.

The nation's legal framework is built on the threat of punishment, not protection of rights.

China's government has identified and pledged funding to several strategic industries in which it plans to become a world leader - IT, energy-saving and environmental protections, bio-science, high-end equipment manufacturing. The Party believes China can maintain its lower cost labor pool for the next 20 years at least, especially in inland locations. That statement is given credibility by Bloomberg News reporting in early 2012 that China still has 657 million living in its rural areas, only slightly less than those in urban areas. Income for city dwellers is more than triple that of rural residents, given those rural residents plenty of incentive to become employed in new factories.

Sectors with overcapacity, such as autos, will be restructured over the next few years. Corruption is endemic within the procurement function. Consumers see safety as a key product attribute - from cars to baby formula. Chinese brands compete on value, not through brands. Brands publicly consumed (eg. cell phones) command much higher premiums than those used in private or at home. Externalized benefits (eg. beauty products that supposedly help open doors, are most valued.

The average Shanghai resident is exposed to 3X as many ads as one in the U.K. - thus, advertising messages must be simple. Most celebrities should be Chinese - the populace is not familiar with most Caucasian stars. The Chinese are very price conscious. Government is trust more (79%) than business (54%). Bookstores overflow with best-sellers that 'reveal the secrets of the Jews.' (The author is Jewish) Integrity is not to be counted on.

China's education system emphasizes rote memorization. Most elementary pupils work with outside tutors to improve. Per the China Teen Research Center, 75% of children 13-15 spend over 8 hours studying each weekend, and two-thirds take courses during summer and winter holidays. Havle of mothers 'care about nothing but their child's studies.' Chinese mothers are drawn to products promising learning masked as fun - eg. McDonald's website offers Happy Courses for multiplication.

Every housing complex pays 1-2 residents to snoop on neighbors and report suspicious activities to authorities. They also handle complaints about uncivil behavior, overflowing trash, construction dust, etc. Mao is still idolized (70% good, 30% bad) for liberating China from foreign invasions and unifying the nation. Deng imposed a scientific economic model, and average per-capita income has increased 6X from 1978 - 2008. The number living on less than $1.50/day has fallen from 260 million to 16 million. Finally, Doctoroff does not see the Chinese people taking action against their government - economic progress has been quite good, and their values auger against doing so. He also doesn't see China being interested in expanding its territory beyond historic past borders.

Excellent overview.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A bit of overgeneralizing, but a good, informative read., February 4, 2013
By 
Matthew B. Christensen (Provo, UT United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: What Chinese Want: Culture, Communism and the Modern Chinese Consumer (Hardcover)
Tom Doctoroff has opinions and he isn't afraid to express them. There is no beating around the bush here. I appreciated his direct style and getting right to the point, though he has a tendency to oversimplify things. There is nothing worse than dancing around the issue to the point that you're not sure where the author stands. Not so with Doctoroff. He also tends to overgeneralize, saying things such as :

"Chinese fear chaos; they are unable to imagine social order without autocratic control."(p. 26)
"In China, no one invests in status brands unless everyone recognizes them."(p. 76)
". . . the imitation and piracy of brands--has become a national point of pride."(p. 79)
". . . there are few Chinese labels actually preferred by mainland consumers."(p. 86)

This may be true for the emerging middle class, but what about the millions who are happy to have consumer goods, period. For them, the cheapest brand will do.

Of the Chinese education system, he says, "It's primary role is to advance the interests of the nation, as defined by the Communist Party."(p. 126)

I know many faculty members at Chinese universities that would strongly disagree with this, especially those in the humanities. Again, he is overgeneralizing.

"Surgeons will still be bribed by patient's relatives to ensure adequate care. Medical equipment will still be manned by inadequately trained and poorly compensated staff. Local banks, while dependable for low-end transactions, will offer no investment alternatives beyond basic savings and high-risk, opaque mutual funds."(p. 152)

A rather pessimistic viewpoint. China has progressed in practically every area of society in the past 30 years. I see no reason to believe that things won't continue to change and improve.

"On a personal level, the Chinese admire--are even intoxicated by--US-style individualism. At the same time, they regard it as dangerous, both personally and as a national competitive advantage."(p. 195)

Again, this is debatable. I have not met too many Chinese that are enamored by Western individualism. Most find it rather odd.

Despite Doctoroff's tendency to overgeneralize, and his frequent repetition, he is not afraid to challenge the reader; he makes you think, ask questions. Some of what he says may even anger you, especially if you are native Chinese. All of this is okay. I like someone with an opinion even if I don't agree with it. The best books are those that challenge you.

In sum, this book provides a nice look into Chinese consumer culture. The reader comes away with a better understanding of the dramatic changes in society in China today. I recommend it.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How to Leverage the Perennial Essence of China in Marketing to Chinese, June 18, 2012
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This review is from: What Chinese Want: Culture, Communism and the Modern Chinese Consumer (Hardcover)
Tom Doctoroff introduces his readers to the mindset of Chinese (consumers) by leveraging his experience as an expatriate living and working in China. Mr. Doctoroff brings to light the three prisms through which non-Chinese can better understand the psyche of Chinese for better marketing to them:

1. Chinese culture has a fatalistic, cyclical view of time and space characterized by what Mr. Doctoroff calls the meticulous interconnectivity of things big and small. The author notes on this subject that the balance or harmony of yin (feminine) and yang (masculine), elements propelled by the circular flow of qi (a vital life force), underpins everything in China's cosmology. The importance of qi explains why Chinese have a predilection for lucky numbers, amulets, and feng shui. Chinese call it logical superstition.

2. Most Chinese learn from their history to abhor chaos, craving for order and stability, the dual platforms on which incremental, rational progress can strive. As the supreme patriarchal figure in a Confucian society, the Chinese Communist Party considers that it knows best what ordinary Chinese want and need to build a "harmonious" society. The Party sets the strategic priorities at the national level and establishes the framework to mobilize its assets en masse and to "chinesize" foreign influences through its footprint across the country. This top-down approach results into an emphasis on immediate economic or family interests at the expense of individual rights and the development of an advanced civil society. The pragmatism that permeates today's Chinese society also explains why China does not want to rock the boat outside its near-abroad. The country is well aware that it needs the current geopolitical order to continue to thrive in the coming decades.

3. The family is the basic productive unit of society, not the individual as it is in the West. China is a Confucian society in which top-down compliance is expected in both the public and private spheres. Chinese as a whole want to stand out while fitting in. The resolution of this internal contradiction/insecurity tends to favor conformity and therefore to undermine too often bottom-up innovation, product quality, or excellence in services. Creative expression is perceived a threat to established authority. Keeping this contradiction/insecurity in mind, Mr. Doctoroff gives many examples to demonstrate that face is everything. Face lubricates all interactions, personal and financial, and demands constant replenishment. For example in the consumer area, the author clearly demonstrates that many Chinese are ready to pay a premium for products, say a luxury handbag or a cup of coffee at a trendy establishment, that make them look and feel good in public. Concomitantly, the same Chinese are often reluctant to pay a premium for products, say a domestic appliance or furniture, consumed in private. Furthermore, Mr. Doctoroff reminds marketers that despite their craving for status, Chinese consumers do not splurge, particularly on risky big-ticket items such as housing or a car. Therefore, the author invites the West to keep this pragmatism in mind while competing for the business of Chinese.

In summary, Mr. Doctoroff gives his readers a roadmap to avoid many pitfalls that await any uniformed marketer who mistakenly believes that what works in the West can be replicated slavishly in marketing to Chinese.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Keys to the kingdom, June 4, 2012
By 
T Ching (New York, NY) - See all my reviews
This review is from: What Chinese Want: Culture, Communism and the Modern Chinese Consumer (Hardcover)
There are two types of business authors: those who did not follow an inner calling to become apothecaries and instead wound up in management consultancies, who now issue prescriptive formularies of carefully measured processes (no substitutions, please!) in neat, precise, humorless texts--and those, like Tom Doctoroff, who under other circumstances would have become poets or novelists, but instead wound up in places like ad agencies, from whence they issue lyrical prose as well as exquisite insight from their rarified perspectives. Although I have not done business in China in several years and have no plans to start soon, I am enthralled by Doctoroff's "What Chinese Want: Culture, Communism and China's Modern Consumer."

The weakened shoots of Chinese social progress, repeatedly mown to the roots by political upheavals of the past century, have, of late, been darting across the ruts left by the unhindered Chinese diaspora. A new type of class struggle has sprouted in the fertile Chinese tilth: the quest for material ownership that gives expression to the self-image of the blossoming bourgeoisie, the middle class, the consuming town-dweller. It is now all happening at once in a bourgeoning slurry of literacy, gentility, taste, class and wealth (though not usually in this order, unfortunately). This forms the basis of conspicuous mass consumption in a land where value, worth and price do not represent absolutes, but, according to Tom Doctoroff, are means to an end.

No chart or theory can ever be adequate to the particularities of every demographic and every microclimate, but here is a crystal clear snapshot of China's business world and what makes the Chinese tick--replete with insider tips and how-to's. This is the authentic voice of a shrewd social anthropologist, who has given us a true sense of place with his latest work. Anyone who can take such non-riveting subjects such as the Shanghai zoo and Christmas in China (to name a couple) and turn them into elegant, fascinating essays truly deserves a prize.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good insight knowledge, January 9, 2014
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Very interesting, actual book about present China written by somebody who has lived here a number of years and is big in marketing in China- he has to know his clients to be successful!
Some lengthy parts and too much marketing detail in the second third of the book and sometimes unnecessary complicated, longwinding sentences, but a great read overall, I recommend it to anybody living in China and dealing with Chinese
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What Chinese Want: Culture, Communism and the Modern Chinese Consumer
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