Book review: The engine of modern China

“Alibaba: The house that Jack Ma built” by Duncan Clark

I began to read this book after Jack Ma was reported missing, following the controversial cancellation of Ant Group’s massive IPO by the Chinese government just two days before the much-hyped D-day. After reading this book, I can really see why Jack Ma is such a crucial person in the development of modern China, and how the government have the importance to control the very imbedded Alibaba in Chinese society, for better and for worse. And chapter 12 provides a glimpse of why this could happen, with the 2015 disappearance of Guo Guangchang, as also told in the book, may or may not be a precedence.

But this book is of course not only about the Chinese business environment. And as the phrase goes, I came for one thing and stayed for another. So stay I did, as this book has a nice flow of writing on a topic that is so fascinating that makes it hard to put down.

At its core, the book is about the internet evolution in China and the companies that emerge from the new dawn of technology. While the narrative follows the fascinating story of Jack Ma and the eventual rise of Alibaba Group, the book also provide the background stories of Alibaba’s partners and competitors that set up the context and the complicated environment in which Alibaba operates.

Moreover, although the book has the usual rags-to-riches narrative for Jack Ma, it doesn’t focus that much on the “Chinese dreams” but more on the practical tools and tactics that Ma implement to earn the success, in which chapter 11 summarizes it neatly. And just like many excellent business biographies, this book also includes all the struggles, the boardroom wars, the money lost along the way, and the larger than life characters that put the human side of every top notch executives mentioned.

In short, this is an excellent book on one of the hottest and most crucial companies in the world, a book that gives almost like an insider expose on the business environment in China.

PS: Jack Ma eventually re-emerged in the media after “laying low”, and few weeks later Ant Group announce that they will revamp themselves into a financial holding company under the supervision of People’s Bank of China. And so, the story in the book continues.