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Don’t Quote Me (On Being a China Expert)

A nice quote from Jon Hunstman, the US Ambassador in China via China Hearsay [1]and CBS [2]:

“Don’t mistake me for being an expert, because I’ve been here for three months…I’ve come to the conclusion that ‘China expert’ is kind of an oxymoron. And those who consider themselves to be China experts are kind of morons. So you take what you can, you learn what you can, and you begin to pull all the pieces together, and still it kind of remains sometimes a somewhat confused environment.”

Stan Abrams at China Hearsay [3]concludes that:

“…unless a person says that they are a China expert, at which time we would know that they are not a China expert, there is no way of knowing for sure who is a China expert or not…I think Huntsman may have single-handedly put a lot of China consultants out of business.”

Of course it is challenging for those of us in the business of giving advice on China! So, the “expert” tag is certainly one best avoided in any general sense (e.g. expert about all China, and all business?? Doubtful!!). But those (and Stan and the US Ambassador are, I am sure, included) who are respected practitioners in their specialist areas should be OK…

My guess it that (as a consultant and “China specialist”) it is best to have a bit of old-fashioned, British reserve, focus on doing what you are good at, aspire to be aware of the “known unknowns [4]“, and remember that the “unknown unknowns [5]” are out there, waiting…

As a client, it is best to listen to the pitch, but focus on the track record and, crucially, recommendations from other clients and trusted sources.