That’s China

Thursday, 25 December 2014

That's ChinaMark Kitto started a what’s on magazine for expatriates in Guangzhou in the late 1990s, expanded it to That’s Shanghai and then That’s Beijing and then had the whole business taken away from him. One day he was locked out of his own office and told that despite all the money he’d spent setting up and growing the business it wasn’t his anymore. Well ‘that’s China’ you might say.

That’s China recounts the often exhausting tale of how he built up the business, waded through endless swamps of Chinese bureaucracy and corruption and finally lost the lot. The tale is often wonderfully confusing and regularly you ponder how on earth he had any time to actually run the business in between the endless battles with government bureaucrats and officials. When he finally is stabbed in the back and locked out it’s no surprise, it could already have happened a dozen times.

His publishing career abruptly terminated in 2004, Mark with his wife Joanna and two children retreated to Moganshan, a hill station (well that’s what it would be in India) 200km north-west of Shanghai. For the next eight years he ran the very successful Moganshan Lodge and played a large part in putting the place on the tourist map, it features in Lonely Planet’s China guidebook. He also wrote a terrific monthly China Diary for Prospect Magazine, it was one of the first things I turned to with each new issue of the magazine.

During his Moganshan years he also wrote a book about his time in China as China Cuckoo (in the UK) or Chasing China: How I Went to China in Search of a Fortune & Found a Life (in the US). Then, in 2012, Mark decided he’d had enough of China, wrote a rather bitter farewell, ‘You’ll Never be Chinese,’ and moved back to Britain. His new book could be viewed as an additional explanation of his departure essay, it’s undoubtedly not going to enhance his popularity in the country! He doesn’t emerge as a particularly sympathetic character either, I much prefer the Mark Kitto of China Diary to the Mark Kitto of That’s China. Perhaps losing the fortune did enable him to find a life.