Sir John Seeley once claimed that the British had “… conquered and peopled half the world in a fit of absence of mind.” This would have bemused the many adventurers, mercenaries, and administrators who dedicated their lives to displacing indigenous power across India. More pragmatic than perfidious, Albion accommodated hundreds of princely states ruled by sundry begums, nawabs, nizams, and maharajas.

Sometimes one ends up reviewing the book one read rather than the one that was written. Lin Zhang’s The Labor of Reinvention: Entrepreneurship in the New Chinese Digital Economy is more sociology than tech, more labor theory than business. But it is also a granular, grass-roots, bottom-up view of the past couple of decades of the development of China’s digital landscape. As such, she provides color and detail to the developments that have been covered in a far more generalized and ad hoc way as business stories.

The Labor of Reinvention: Entrepreneurship in the New Chinese Digital Economy, Lin Zhang (Columbia University Press, March 2023)
The Labor of Reinvention: Entrepreneurship in the New Chinese Digital Economy, Lin Zhang (Columbia University Press, March 2023)

From start-up founders in the Chinese equivalent of Silicon Valley to rural villages experiencing an e-commerce boom to middle-class women reselling luxury goods, the rise of internet-based entrepreneurship has affected every part of China. Problematizing worldwide euphoria about digital entrepreneurship while complicating the dichotomy of “China threat vs. China model”, The Labor of Reinvention attends to the everyday labor of digital-centered entrepreneurial reinvention vis-à-vis China’s national remaking amid global technological transformations and changing geopolitical currents.

In 2010, Ping An took over Shenzhen Development Bank, ending an experiment that had never been tried before, and not been tried since: a foreign company owning and managing a Chinese bank. Newbridge Capital, a private equity firm, shocked the financial world when it agreed to take over the bank five years earlier—and successfully made it a pioneer.

On 6 July 6 1998, the last flight took off from Kai Tak International Airport, marking the end of an era for Hong Kong aviation. For decades, international flights flew over the roofs of Kowloon apartments, before landing on Kai Tak’s runway, extending out into the harbor. Kai Tak—frankly, a terrible place for one of the world’s busiest international airports—is a good symbol of the story of Hong Kong’s aviation, as told in Hong Kong Takes Flight: Commercial Aviation and the Making of a Global Hub, 1930s–1998 by John D Wong.