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Guanxi is the key to doing business in China

That’s what all the books said, and I was intrigued by the idea that guanxi – relationships – is the absolutely fundamental thing, the starting point, for anyone who planned to do business in China. I didn’t really understand how this was different from doing business in the West, and I didn’t have any special advantages in doing business in China. I did not speak the language. I’m female. And I have a small publishing company, not a glamorous clothing brand or a big engineering operation. But my interest in relationships, networking, and community made me more attuned than most to the concept of guanxi. I also thought that relationships might give me an advantage – an advantage I would need, competing with much larger firms.

I did something very simple: I went to China whenever I could, spend time talking to people, asked a lot of questions, and stayed in touch over the years.

Now, as we sign new agreements and start another phase of Berkshire’s China-focused publishing, I am looking forward to learning about the growth in Chinese direct investment in the United States. Tomorrow, May 20th, the National Committee on US-China Relations will be releasing a report on FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) by US congressional district. Chinese investment is a possibility for Berkshire Publishing, just as it is for many other companies, and I plan to be at the forefront, exploring how we can work together and learn from one another – and, naturally, increase our guanxi.

Here’s information about the public program in New York:

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Au revoir to a global point of reference

Temple of Heaven, March 2007Berkshire Publishing’s tagline is about to change, but before we make the switch I’d like to explain why we have been, for ten years, “A global point of reference.”

This was partly a play on two meanings of the word reference. In early days, we were known for our encyclopedias – reference books that lived in the reference section of libraries. And a “point of reference” means a benchmark or landmark or guiding beacon, which we aimed to be. In fact, our Spanish tagline was explicit: Un faro [lighthouse] mundial en la información.

But what about the reality, given that Berkshire Publishing was located in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, a small town known for mountain scenery, picturesque farms, and a few excellent restaurants? How global could such a company really be? Continue reading Au revoir to a global point of reference

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Our global team at work

I woke up in Massachusetts and responded to an email from Mar Kaiser, our Germany-based editor, who said she’d just heard from Kara Lozier, who is currently working from Uzbekistan. I sent a WeChat to Tom in Beijing, and then it was time to pour my first cup of tea. There are emails from our production team in India at all hours of day and night, and with BEA (BookExpo) in New York next week, I’ve been on WeChat with people at four or five Chinese companies. I’ve had plenty of emails from Europe saying “You aren’t really awake now, are you?” and at the moment there are plenty of sign-offs “I’m going to bed now” or “Sleep well” – with the appropriate emoticons, of course!

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Climate Change: Moral Challenge

2015 is a crucial year for progress on global cooperation and Pope Francis knows it, making climate change the focus of his first “encyclical,” a kind of proclamation. He will speak on the subject at the UN General Assembly in September, all this to lend a sense of urgency to the Paris Climate Conference (COP21) in December 2015.

Pope Francis’s clear statement that climate change is the moral issue of our time, with far-ranging consequences for vulnerable people and societies as well as the natural world, has reinforced our idea, at Berkshire Publishing, that thinking about a sustainable future begins with understanding our beliefs and values. We launched the 10-volume Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability in 2012 with a volume called The Spirit of Sustainability, and are about to release a condensed paperback book derived from it, designed for classroom use.

Editor Willis Jenkins writes, “We inhabit many moral worlds; can we learn to inhabit one shared planet? . . . Not only must we know how religious and spiritual traditions think about their environments, or how nature provokes spirituality, but how we can meet the integrative, comprehensive challenges of sustainability with the civic and moral resources available to us.”

The Berkshire Essential Religion and Sustainability can be ordered now and will be available for shipping April 2015. If you are considering classroom adoption, contact us now for a digital review copy.

The Spirit of Sustainability can be ordered as a standalone print or ebook, and the entire set of the Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability is available to libraries, by purchase order, at a 20% discount until the end of May.

More information on the Paris Conference:

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An April Fool’s Day Retrospective


open.php?u=f02106ebaeb66b1fb28bf4adf&id=45aa9654d4&e=4e63ffc35bThe poet T. S. Eliot was a practical joker, and his second wife, the much younger Valerie, liked to loosen the tops of salt shakers and even bottles of Worcestershire sauce at restaurants. I never saw that side of her – she was a grande dame by the time I worked for her in the late 1980s – but I think of her now in a different way after reading about her riotous behavior with her supposedly somber and elderly husband.

I think of her today because it is April 1st, a day for playing tricks of all kinds in the countries where we celebrate – or tolerate, when it comes to salt shakers – an informal holiday known as April Fool’s Day.

5805084d-59ce-475b-ae5f-1488308a32cb.jpgFor the last few years, I’ve written April Fool’s stories about technology or China, two subjects about which many people will believe just about anything. I managed to use T. S. Eliot’s love of cheese in one story. In another, I claimed that Continue reading An April Fool’s Day Retrospective

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“Amazon is the Reader’s Friend” debate tonight

Is book publishing an oligopoly, a dinosaur in need of disruption? Is Amazon, which accounts for 41% of all new book and 67% of all e-book sales, a monopoly? Who is doing right by readers and the future of books? I agreed to post the livestream here so our friends and readers can hear different sides of the debate. Read more about it Intelligence Squared. My articles: “Amazon update: when will the justice department step in?” and “How is hurting readers, authors, and publishers.”

Franklin Foer, Former Editor, The New Republic Joe Konrath, Author & Self-Publishing Pioneer
Scott Turow, Attorney & Author Matthew Yglesias, Executive Editor, Vox
John Donvan, Author & Correspondent for ABC News


I just wish there was a female voice in this male line-up!

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Berkshire Author Talks Climate Change and China

NCUSCRLogoThe National Committee on US-China Relations (NCUSCR) often offers its members a chance to hear directly from experts after major world events. Last week’s members-only teleconference about the historic US-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change featured Alex Wang, professor at UCLA School of Law, and Joanna Lewis, professor at Georgetown University and one of Berkshire’s authors. I want to share what I learned with other Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability contributors and Berkshire friends and colleagues.

The US-China Climate Change announcement on 11 November took many people by surprise. It showed the two nations in unexpectedly close alignment. On this issue, the US and China have “far more in common than not,” said Lewis. Moderator Stephen A. Orlins, president of the NCUSCR, focused the discussion on what the agreement told us about the US-China relationship. I realized how important it is, in any complicated relationship, to find things on which we can align ourselves. In this case, China and the US have a common understanding of their impact on the globe. China is not showing anxiety about being held back or kept down, and the US isn’t playing the exceptionalism card. This is something to keep in mind as our nations try to work out other agreements.

Here are a few of the things I learned from the teleconference (audio now available by clicking here):

  • This agreement is not the end of wrangling over cumulative emissions, an issue we’ll hear about at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris from 30 November to 11 December 2015. The emerging nations feel as though they got to the party when the kegs were almost empty but they are still expected to spend the next morning cleaning up with everyone else. Their argument is, simply, that developed nations have grown rich and powerful through unrestricted energy use for decades, and that imposing tough CO2 standards on them isn’t fair. They say, quite reasonably, that rich nations, while more efficient today, have much greater overall responsibility for climate change because of the cumulative amount of CO2 emissions they have produced. On the other hand, we need all nations to take action now.
  • Reducing car ownership is not likely to be a part of what the Chinese government does to combat climate change, and both Wang and Lewis saw car sales continuing to grow. I was sorry to hear this because cars have major social as well as environmental consequences, changing the built environment in ways that diminish civic and community life. Already, Beijing sidewalks are disappearing beneath endless rows of Audis and BMWs. I’d love to see a publicity effort in China that would get young people to jump straight to the kind of thinking about car ownership that young Americans are demonstrating. Americans aged 16 to 34 drove 23 percent fewer miles on average in 2009 than they did in 2001, and far fewer own a car, or want to own one, than in past decades. Such a leap in China would be similar to the leap directly to mobile phones, skipping over landlines.
  • With this new agreement, big changes lie ahead in science and technology policy in China, with prospects for a new orientation in research funding. Chinese progress in several fields, including solar technology, as well as the ongoing process of replacing outdated coal-fired power plants with modern plants are critical in meeting the goals of the agreement.
  • In China, perhaps even more dramatically than in other countries, there is sometimes a conflict between the need to clean up the air and the requirements of climate-change reduction. Both speakers were adamant that “coal-to-gas” – creating liquid fuel from coal as a way to reduce air pollution in Chinese cities – is not the right way forward.

Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability Vol. 1-10With the Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability soon to be published in China, by Shanghai Jiaotong University Press, we’ll be looking for ways to expand our publishing program to support and enrich Chinese research and teaching.

Lewis’s article “Climate Change Mitigation Initiatives in China” from Volume 7 of the Berkshire Encyclopedia of Sustainability, titled China, India, and East and Southeast Asia: Assessing Sustainability is available for free download until 12 December 2014.

By 2012, China had become the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases. At the core of the climate change challenge is China’s energy sector. Despite a reliance on coal-based energy to fuel its rapidly growing economy, China has made major achievements in promoting energy efficiency and low carbon energy technologies. Many new mitigation efforts are underway, including China’s first ever carbon target and carbon emissions trading programs.

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Karen’s Letter: A 97th Birthday Party

Gingerbread chocolate cakeWe celebrated Bill (William H.) McNeill’s 97th birthday a couple of weeks ago, in the Connecticut house where he has lived full-time since retiring from the University of Chicago. This year’s party was a last hurrah, a bon voyage, because the following day he moved to an apartment in a senior living complex. Bill took the change more easily than I did. He told me that he was looking forward to a more convivial life, more community, and that he was hoping to meet other professors whom he could introduce to David Christian’s work on Big History (which was recently featured in the New York Times Magazine; This Fleeting World is available from Berkshire as well as from bookshops, and can be downloaded on your preferred ebook reader).

Setting the tableHow many nonagenarians are eager to promote new ways of thinking about the universe? Bill is always asking questions – about China, about the business of publishing, about how Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, is promoting Big History. The rhythm of our visits has been a constant I depend on. I struggle to accept that the tide of life is inexorable and that our time with loved ones is fleeting. Bill is still near enough for weekly visits, but the cozy evenings by his woodstove, and supper around the kitchen table, are no longer possible. I miss them already. I miss the drive through quiet Berkshire hilltowns, down the long stretch of Route 183 where there is no cellphone signal and barely a lighted house. I even miss the snowy nights when Bill has been surprised that we could make it to Colebrook. For over a decade, he has been the person I talk to about big ideas and about village life in the 21st century. His book on physical bonding through rhythmic movement, perhaps his most intellectually adventurous effort, opened my eyes to the role of dance and drill in building community.

Berkshire Encyclopedia of World History, Second EditionTen years ago, on his 87th birthday, I surprised Bill with the first copy of the first edition of the Berkshire Encyclopedia of World History. This year, I organized lunch for sixteen – McNeill family, friends, and neighbors. Everyone helped. My son Tom made a superb coq au vin, and I produced a birthday cake decorated to reflect Bill’s lifelong love of gardening, one of the other shared interests that have drawn us together.   Not everyone feels the pull to plant and harvest, but Bill and I certainly do. Years ago, he returned an author biography to me with the words “amateur gardener” added to his more obvious qualifications. By that he did not mean a breeder of orchids or roses. Bill had long studied and written about how people secured their food supplies against predators and invading armies. He made me alert to the fact that the potato is more nourishing and produces far more calories per acre than the grains Europeans had depended on, and my children and I have become familiar with the story of Frederick the Great of Prussia, whose military success was a result, in part, of his having introduced the potato as a crop. Growing his own potatoes, and other vegetables and fruits, was a reflection of his self-reliance, and a way to connect with the human past.

Until just a year or two ago, Bill was planting and weeding his own vegetable garden, and he has always taken pleasure in being able to put something on the table that he grew himself. Over the years, we have enjoyed his stewed rhubarb (a rosy-colored variety), summertime lettuce and beans (delicious Kentucky Wonder beans were his standard variety, and he always has a row of yellow wax beans), and September raspberries. For Bill’s birthday, there were potatoes on the table: steamed and tossed with butter and parsley, a classic accompaniment to coq au vin and a salute to Bill’s lifelong loyalty to the foodstuff of his forbearers.

This winter, although we won’t be able to sit round the kitchen table, I’ll still be taking Bill books and cookies, and he’ll continue to ask about how Big History is being received, and whether I’m finding time to work on my book about community. As autumn colors fade and chill air rises from the river valleys, I think about shouldering the work that Bill so brilliantly began, helping people see that the world really is round. Just as many renowned world historians are his heirs, I see more clearly what I owe him intellectually as well as personally, and how much of what Berkshire Publishing does today is a result of knowing William H. McNeill. As I look at the challenges of the US-China relationship today, I come back to something he wrote in the preface to the Berkshire Encyclopedia of World History:

“Genuinely inclusive world history is such a helpful, even necessary, guide for survival in the crowded world in which we live.”

Perhaps we should be guided by him when it comes to gardening, too. I plan to show him this quotation from Chairman Mao, sent by one of my China pals: 自己動手, 豐衣足食 (zìjǐ dòngshǒu, fēngyīzúshí): “Do it yourself – grow your own food, make your own clothes, do what you can – and you will have sufficient clothes and food.”

Warm regards,
Karen Christensen

Karen Christensen 沈凯伦, CEO & Publisher

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Starting work on the Encyclopedia of Chinese Cuisines


Berkshire Encyclopedia of Chinese CuisinesWe’re delighted by the response to news that we’ve begun work on the five-volume, 1.5-million-word Berkshire Encyclopedia of Chinese Cuisines, the definitive guide to the world’s most varied culinary terrain. The five-volume encyclopedia will be a “treasure mountain library” (that is a translation of 宝库山, our Chinese name), containing everything about Chinese food and food culture.

Advisory board members include E. N. Anderson, University of California, Riverside; Sidney C. H. Cheung, Chinese University of Hong Kong; Andrew Coe, author, Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States; Robert Delfs, author, The Good Food of Szechwan; John Eng-Wong, Brown University; Darra Goldstein, Williams College; Continue reading Starting work on the Encyclopedia of Chinese Cuisines

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Author David Christian featured in New York Times Magazine with Bill Gates

The cover story in today’s New York Times Magazine is “So Bill Gates Has This Idea for a History Class …” but it wasn’t really Bill Gates who had the idea, but historian David Christian, a friend, advisor, and popular Berkshire Publishing author, whose remarkable story is featured in the article.  Bill Gates did see the potential of Big History as a high-school course, and the other Bill in the story, William H. McNeill, also deserves credit for immediately recognizing the importance of David’s work. Bill McNeill was in his 80s when David first contacted him, the grandfather of the field of world history. He reminded us today, when we showed him the article, that he had then described himself as John the Baptist, and David as the Messiah. This always embarrasses David, but Bill persists because it is what he believes. And how nice it was to see him quoted in the NYT when he is nearly 97 !