Book Review: The End of Cheap China – Economic and Cultural Trends that Will Disrupt the World by Shaun Rein

CEOs, marketers, production supervisors and even American consumers would be well served by reading Shaun Rein’s first book, the End of Cheap China. The book is filled with action items at the end of each chapter to help display and counter thinking of myths related to China’s rise since the tumultuous Cultural Revolution. Each action item offers solutions for those seeking to do business with China or Chinese consumers. 

Rein is of mixed Chinese and Jewish heritage and after growing up in and attending the best schools that North America has to offer has spent his adult life in China. The book is part history, part anthropology and part business, written from the perspective of an outsider with an intimate knowledge that can only come from his more than ten years on the ground experience of living and traveling in China. Rein’s firm, the China Market Research Group, provides fuel and anecdotes throughout the book to help the reader understand contemporary China. What is unique is that he is able to juxtapose interviews of billionaires and business titans with everyday Chinese and their aspirations for a better future. 

The book appears honest in that it is clear that Rein is a fan of China and wants to help the world better understand its complexities, but does not stop short at criticism (hence why I think the book is banned in China). Censorship is itself a topic throughout the book (as well as corruption) and is explained through the lens of history and the goals of China’s government and Chinese government officials. 

Why Chinese consider KFC healthful (!), who benefits from a low renminbi valuation, and what protections are in place to prevent a collapse of the Chinese real estate market are examples of the breadth of topics covered in the End of Cheap China. The book also seeks to raise debate on the future of China – for example, how will it exercise its new hegemonic power (addressing the how and why of China’s expansion into Africa) – and what aspects of China’s government, from the local level to Beijing, will need to adapt as China’s economic engine continues to grow. Certainly the book is recommended for attorneys who have clients that do business in China, as a means to better understand the landscape in which their clients operate, but should also appeal to anyone looking for answers about today’s China and those curious thinkers who want to look ahead to tomorrow’s China.