I spend pretty much all day reading for work and so when I read during my off-hours, I tend to prefer fun and light. And this is especially true of work related books. And let’s get real here and put away the pretension. Most businesspeople want a book that they can both start and finish on their flight to China. Yes, Jonathan Spence’s, The Search for Modern China is a great book, but it is 992 pages, and if you are talking about ROI per page, then something like Jeffrey Wasserstrom’s book, China in the 21st Century, is more realistic. That book is accurately subtitled “What Everyone Needs to Know” and it is 192 pages, which means you can read it on the plane between meals. For my full review of Wasserstrom’s book, check out “China In The 21st Century. The Book You Must Read. At Minimum/For Starters.”

And when it comes to business books on China, I am even more impatient. I am a lawyer and so when I read a business book on China, I am reading it more just “to stay up on things” for the benefit of my clients and this blog than out of any pressing need to know. What that means is that I quit about half the China books I start anywhere from one quarter to half the way through. I typically do not review those books on here as I do not think it fair to simply say, “I found it too boring so I stopped at page 100.” Make it interesting, informative, and fun (yes fun) or I will quit without compunction.

So another book I am always touting is Chocolate Fortunes, by Lawrence Allen. I just flat out enjoyed that book and the fact that my five or so hours spent reading it gave me a great education on what it is involved in selling consumer goods in China.For my full review of that book, check out “Chocolate Fortunes. China’s Consumer Market Writ Large And It Ain’t Easy….”

But let’s suppose your China flight is from the East Coast or you are a particularly fast reader. Then put All Eyes East, by Mary Bergstrom, into your suitcase right now.  I just read Ms. Bergstrom’s book today (much of it while on a StairMaster).  The book is 203 pages but, most importantly, it is interesting, informative and fun (yes fun).

According to her company website, Ms Bergstrom runs the Bergstrom Group, “an insights consultancy:”

The Bergstrom Group is an insights consultancy with a passion for telling the story of new China. Our goal is to uncover perspectives to help you understand who your customers are and forecast trends that will drive change in the market.

Our work (like people, brands, and culture itself) is not static or singular; it is constantly moving and evolving. In every project we undertake, we focus on three critical areas: knowing your business, empathizing with your consumers to help you understand them, and making insights both exciting and action-ready.

Which in layperson’s terms, sounds like a consumer branding/strategy/marketing consultancy.  I do not know Ms. Bergstrom personally, but from this book, I have little doubt that she truly knows her China marketing.

The book is subtitled, “Lessons from the front lines of marketing to China’s youth,” and that is indeed its focus and its result. This book does a great job explaining China’s youth. I hate to have to borrow from someone else to explain a book that I just read, but since Thomas Doctoroff (who will very soon be coming out with his own book, entitled, What Chinese Want: Culture, Communism and China’s Modern Consumer) knows so much more about China’s consumers than I do, I am going to have to defer:

Mary Bergstrom’s All Eyes East is the first work I have seen that identifies the fundamental motivations of China’s “new generation.” Rather than lapse into cliché about spending power or growing individualism, she uncovers the tension between modern values and Chinese tradition that make this age cohort such a fascinating subject of exploration.

My thoughts exactly.

I do have one beef with Eyes East. At the end of each chapter it has what I am going to start calling idiot notes. These notes consist of two paragraphs. The first one is entitled, “Looking Back” and the other one is entitled “Looking Forward.” The Looking Back paragraph reads like a B+ high schooler’s summary of the just-read chapter. It typically consists of little more than cliches like “Lightning-fast social and economic development has created stark generation gaps between decades” or “Each generation sees itself as separate — and superior.” The Looking Forward section is at least as trite, as it always starts out by saying “This chapter is meant to help you think more deeply about connecting to youth.  How could the information be leveraged in these scenarios?” and then follows with three Business 101 type questions.  These idiot notes are such a stark contrast to the rest of Ms. Bergstrom’s book that I am going to give her the benefit of the doubt and ascribe both their existence and their content to the publisher and its own in-house editor. A few weeks back I read the first third of a China book (and skimmed the rest) that did something similar at the end of each chapter. Though that book was wretched throughout (or at least all of the parts I read), I am starting to fear that this adding in idiot notes at the end of each chapter is a trend. If it is, note to publishers, those of us who read China books probably are not going to appreciate your attempting to force us to re-live our freshman year (especially since we are talking about the in-class portion of it).

This one small quibble aside, I highly recommend All Eyes East.