Sterling Seagrave (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1995 345pp. including index
With Lords of the Rim, Sterling Seagrave has painted a compelling portrait of the overseas Chinese community and the secret of its economic success, though one unfortunately marred by generalizations which recall the Eurocentric assumptions of nineteenth century anthropology and colored by conclusions which threaten to reignite any lingering remnants of the fear of the "yellow peril" that has struck western society in the past.
Based on the fact that China's economic boom has been fueled by unprecedented development in the southern provinces of Zhejiang, Guangdong and Fujian, the ancestral homes of most of the world's expatriate Chinese population, it is generally accepted that the overseas Chinese have been behind the growth in China and the rest of Asia as well. This book grew out of an effort to fill the gap in scholarship about how the overseas Chinese came to exist and how they became so powerful.
In this effort Seagrave succeeds, through a long, anecdotal history outlining the origins of the Chinese cultural legacy, and by stressing the government's persecution of merchants, which effectively forced a diaspora of China's best business minds and most industrious citizens. Seagrave's analysis continues with case studies of the most common destinations of Chinese emigrants: Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore and the United States. He explores the difficulties Chinese immigrants have faced in their adopted homes which have forged a deep sense of community based on racial ties that transcends national boundaries. He concludes with an analysis of Taiwan and the People's Republic of China and their efforts to win the hearts (and investment dollars) of the overseas Chinese. According to Seagrave, there are two basic elements behind the impressive business acumen of the overseas Chinese. One is cultural, a set of character traits formed by China's military and Confucian tradition and solidified by the state's bias against the merchant class. The other is geographic, an international guangxi network based on the bonds formed by common ancestry and native place.
Seagrave places special emphasis on the thinking of Sun Tzu, the famous military strategist, as a formative influence on the business strategy of today's overseas Chinese communities. Sun Tzu placed a premium on strategic calculation, using espionage and political games to weaken an opponent and...