Western complaints about Chinese-manufactured copies are nothing new. In 1801, a certain Captain John E Swords approached Gilbert Stuart to purchase a copy of the painter’s famous portrait of George Washington. Stuart, who had burned before, extracted a promise from Swords as a condition of the sale that he would have no further copies executed.

Beyond Debt: Islamic Experiments in Global Finance, Daromir Rudnyckyj (NUS Press, November 2018)
Beyond Debt: Islamic Experiments in Global Finance, Daromir Rudnyckyj (NUS Press, November 2018)

Beyond Debt describes efforts to create a transnational economy free of debt. Based on research in Malaysia, Daromir Rudnyckyj illustrates how the state, led by the central bank, seeks to make Kuala Lumpur “the New York of the Muslim world”—the central node of global financial activity conducted in accordance with Islam.

China has risen from developing nation status to second place in the global GDP rankings in just a decade. The resulting improved living standards and greater spending by Chinese consumers has proven a tremendous opportunity for both local Chinese and global brands. These developments were also a shock to China’s system as its own citizens sometimes struggled to keep up with the pace. Just who are Chinese consumers? What are their lives like and what are they looking for? These are the questions China’s Evolving Consumers attempts to answer. It does so, and with some success, by lifting the lid on other aspects of their lives.

The predominant narrative on Sino-African relations is relatively simple. After more than three decades of sustained economic expansion, China is an economic juggernaut, with trade and investment overflowing its borders and into the global market. One the one hand, China, with its overcapacity, seeks new markets and new places from which to secure natural resources to keep the economic machine going. On the other, Western disengagement from Africa since the end of the Cold War has been filled in part by China, and China-Africa relations need to be understood as the logical outcome of the marginalization of Africa in the age of globalization in which Africa is hungry for development, investment, and capital.

Africa is, as far as development is concerned, the next frontier. China is leading the charge in setting up factories and businesses across the continent. McKinsey’s Irene Yuan Sun writes in The Next Factory of the World that this will help Africa become a “global manufacturing powerhouse” as it follows China’s path to industrialization. However optimistic this may sound, Sun argues that not only did China do this itself during the 1990s and 2000s, but that it is already working in Africa.

There is an old saw about advertising that only half of it works, but one never knows which half. And one suspects that despite all the data gathered and statistics generated, the online counterpart remains more art than science. Digital marketing involves navigating, in the words of Donald Rumsfeld, a number of known unknowns: things that at least one knows one does not know. For Westerner marketeers, however, China is largely a haze of unknown unknowns, things one doesn’t even know one doesn’t know.