Safer, Better Business in China

Opinions, knowledge and resources from China Checkup's expert contributors

China Business Books

10 Must Read China Business Books

by Matt Slater 01 June 2014

Business in China is a huge topic that can keep you learning for a lifetime. There’s a wealth of information about it online, but sometimes it’s good to benefit from the level of research and work that goes into producing a book.

We’ve gathered up 10 China business books that we feel provide a lot of depth and understanding that will be useful to anyone involved in business with China.

While compiling the list, we tried to include some unusual choices and avoid some of the more common recommendations. There’s a mix of business, history and political content in the books listed here, all of which can be relevant to successful business in China.

We tried to keep the cliché-ometer happy by avoiding any books with the words “red”, “dragon” or “billion” in the title, but in one case we had to make an exception!

1. China CEO: Voices of Experience from 20 International Business Leaders

China CEO gathers together the knowledge of executives and consultants working in China. The authors of this book shortlisted and interviewed high-level figures from some of the top global businesses currently working in China, including Coca-Cola, Bayer, British Petroleum and others.

This book is the result of those interviews being compiled and arranged by topic, and manages to compact a lot of insight into a standard-length book (around 250 pages).

It’s not without it’s flaws though. The title alone hints at the slightly self-congratulating tone that runs throughout the book, and it often veers into interesting anecdotes and over-extended China analyses.

Overall, though, this is one of the most useful China business books for anyone doing business in China.

Link: China CEO: Voices of Experience from 20 International

2. Operation Yao Ming

You might be wondering what a basketball book is doing on this list, but Operation Yao Ming is actually an account of interaction between the Chinese and American sports industries through the iconic basketball player.

Larmer reveals much about the inner workings of both sides, from America’s multibillion-dollar sports empire to China’s attempts to systematically produce sports stars.

There is a lot to be learned about cross-border business, and the economic and political aspects of doing business in China.

Link: Operation Yao Ming

3. To Change China: Western Advisers in China

This is the first history book on the list. It’s written by one of the most prominent and well-known historians of China, Jonathan Spence, so you’re in good hands.

The book might be taken as something of a warning: it describes the stories of “foreign missionaries, soldiers, doctors, teachers, engineers, and revolutionaries” who came to China over hundreds of years with the same goal in mind: “to change China”.

In the modern world, “the tales in this volume will serve as cautionary histories for businessmen, diplomats, students, or any other foreigners who foolishly believe that they can transform this vast, enigmatic country”.

It’s not uncommon to meet people in China today who appear to have some similar kind of goal. This book is relevant for those people and for everyone that encounters them.

Link: To Change China: Western Advisers in China

4. The Official Success Guide

Back to more practical matters, this is the most narrowly focused book on the list, and unsurprisingly is most relevant to those doing trade via the Alibaba platform.

You may want to skip some of the bumf sections, including the indulgent interview of Jack Ma at the beginning. However, the rest of the book is a good grounding in the fundamentals of trading via the Alibaba platform.

Link: The Official Success Guide

5. Business Leadership in China: How to Blend Best Western Practices with Chinese Wisdom

Despite the unfortunate title (West → “best”, China → “wisdom”), this book covers a lot of ground for those taking on leadership roles in China, particularly in managing Chinese or international staff in China.

Business Leadership in China offers opinions on a wide range of relevant issues, the most insightful of which being its coverage of maintaining employee motivation in China, and common causes for misunderstanding between Chinese staff and those from other countries.

Link: Business Leadership in China: How to Blend Best Western Practices with Chinese Wisdom

6. The China Price: The True Cost of Chinese Competitive

The most negative book on our list, The China Price seeks to expose the methods and situation that allow Chinese suppliers to offer such low prices. The resulting picture is disturbing and at times horrific. The book also demonstrates the widely differing ability of client companies from other countries to detect and care about these issues.

However, The China Price isn’t entirely negative, and moves on to show how change is coming. It’s also important to remember that in the 6 years since the book was published, a lot has changed in the China production sector, mostly for the better.

In any case, this remains a highly relevant and informative book for anyone doing business in China.

Link: The China Price: The True Cost of Chinese Competitive

7. One Billion Customers: Lessons from the Front Lines of Doing Business in China

If you like case studies (and who in business doesn’t?), this book will appeal to you. Like many of the other books on this list, it’s the author’s attempt to condense his own experience into a healthy dose of China knowledge.

From the blurb:

One Billion Customers maximizes the expansive knowledge of a respected journalist, well-known businessman, and ultimate China insider, offering compelling narratives of personalities, business deals, and lessons learned.”

A major attraction of this book is how it codifies the knowledge it presents into concrete strategies (over 100 of them) and actionable advice.

You might also find it telling that China’s thriving pirate translation industry has produced several versions of this book (with varying levels of quality) in Chinese for the Chinese business books market.

One thing we could have done without in One Billion Customers were the over-the-top metaphors, which the author seems to have in endless supply. There is also the usual attempt to “understand China” and explain something called “the Chinese mind”, which are dubious ideas at best. Despite that, the book is insightful and well worth reading.

Link: One Billion Customers: Lessons from the Front Lines of Doing Business in China

8. Where East Eats West: The Street-Smarts Guide to Business in China

According to the blurb, Where East Eats West has been incorporated into the MBA programs of Boston College, Rutgers and Colorado State University. In any case, it’s a great book with a nice approach: it aims to be “an airplane book”, which is a concept we like.

Inevitably with such an approach, Where East Eats West is somewhat superficial and focuses far more on personal experience and anecdote than some other titles on this list. We did appreciate it’s frankness and focus on the author’s own mistakes and misconceptions (rather than trying to imply that problems stem from something inherent about China, as many writers do).

Link: Where East Eats West: The Street-Smarts Guide to Business in China

9. Mao’s China and After

Another history book. These are worth reading for business people as they provide the general framework to which more focused business knowledge can be attached.

Mao’s China and After is a road into China’s modern history and the experiences of current generations up the millennium. That may seem like ancient history in the business world, but almost all the influencers and wielders of power in China today emerged from this recent history.

Many in the business world may feel it’s not essential to understand this background knowledge about China’s recent history, and it certainly won’t offer immediate insight into day-to-day operations and interactions. However, when viewing the bigger picture, this kind of knowledge can be the key to understanding.

Link: Mao’s China and After

10. China: The Art of Law

Finally, for anyone looking to set up a business in China, this book comes highly recommended. Whilst setting up my business in 2011 this book made for fantastic reading and really helped me understand what I was signing up to and how to avoid the numerous pitfalls.

This China business book features countless real life stories and anecdotes from an author who has been there and seen it all.

Link: China: The Art of Law

Links to Other Articles on China Business Books:

Matt Slater
Matt Slater


Hi there, I'm Matt, the Founder & CEO of China Checkup. Originally from the UK, I am now based in Brisbane, Australia.

Frustrated by the scarcity of concise, high-quality and timely information about Chinese companies, I setup China Checkup whilst living in Shanghai in 2013.

My team are proud that China Checkup's company verification reports have now helped thousands of clients from all corners of the world to do business in China more safely.


View These Related Articles

Chinese Company Registration Status Terms Glossary
Chinese Company Registration Status Terms Glossary
This glossary identifies the different Chinese company registration status terms that appear on official Mainland China company records. If you are trying to find out if a Chinese company's registration has been revoked,
Continue Reading
Make These 4 Checks Before Sending a China T/T Payment
Make These 4 Checks Before Sending a China T/T Payment
One of the most common ways to pay a Chinese supplier is to make a China T/T Payment, but it is not a method that comes without risk. We regularly see cases where Chinese suppliers request payments to individual accounts
Continue Reading
List of Countries with Freight Trains from China
List of Countries with Freight Trains from China
In recent years freight trains from China have been capturing newspaper headlines by arriving in more and more countries. Perhaps there is no more striking example of this then when the first China to Spain cargo train r
Continue Reading

Also in Safer, Better Business in China

China Business Podcasts
The Top 10 China Business Podcasts

by Matt Slater 09 January 2020

Listening to China business podcasts can be a great way to get insights on the Chinese market, pick up new knowledge and get fresh perspectives.

The great news is that there is actually a lot of great podcasts out there on this topic - and in this article I have chosen my current top ten.

These podcasts cover business in China from a range of angles - including tech startups, importing/sourcing, economics and more - so if you are interested in learning more about China business you are sure to find quality material here.

Continue Reading

List of 100+ Informative China News Websites
List of 100+ Informative China News Websites

by Matt Slater 31 October 2019

This article identifies over one hundred of the most informative English-language China news websites. 

By regularly sharing news from China on our social media channels we have identified many good sources and thought it would be a good idea to share these with you, our readers.

So if you are looking for websites with news on China, look no further than this long list we have compiled.

Continue Reading

The 100 Largest China City Economies by GDP
The 100 Largest China City Economies by GDP

by Matt Slater 30 August 2019

Do you want to know which China city economies are the driving force behind Mainland China's huge and growing GDP figures?

As China's best-known cities, it came as no surprise that 2019 data popular in Chinese media identified Shanghai and Beijing as the cities with the largest GDP, but few will even have heard of Xinyang, which was ranked 100th.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, China's national GDP reached a new high of CNY 90,031bn (USD 13,608) in 2018, but which other Chinese cities had the largest share of this GDP? Keep reading to find out.

Continue Reading