Book Review: “China Cuckoo” by Mark Kitto

22 October 2012

Englishman Mark Kitto was once a well-known Shanghai entrepreneur, and then became a hermit in rural China. His book, as a vivid biography of his anecdotes, unveils the reason and motivation behind this sharp contrast.

This book started from a single peaceful trip in Moganshan, a one hour drive from Shanghai, where for the first time Mark discovered the traces of foreign settlement in a remote mountain. The unique European architecture, remaining segments of foreign memories of aging locals, and attractive nature made him go back to this unknown isolated area from time to time. Finally, he decided to own a house and a cottage on top of the mountain to escape the overwhelming pressure of his own publishing empire in Shanghai. It was originally a great idea to spend weekends and summertime only in the remote mountain, but later his empire collapsed overnight and his summer house became his last resort to continue to live in China.


Naturally enjoying the simple life, he fell in love with rural life in China. With his accurate insight, he also quickly found another opportunity which actually suited him best. He experienced all the aspects of Chinese society, including corruption, court decisions driven by party directives, contract issues with Chinese officials, Chinese no-rule philosophy, all-fit mindset and disasters such as a house-fire and typhoon. At the end, the dream eventually came true that he was finally accepted by local officials of Moganshan and lived as a real Chinese person. From a “mini-media mogul” to an owner of unique business on top of the mountain, his life developed significantly and turned another page.
By being married to a Chinese woman, he adapted himself quickly in both private life and professional career. Equipped with Chinese knowledge, he observed and summarized all subtle feelings and reactions from a foreign eye and displayed the culture gap from a completely different angle. As many people become lost in standard literal translations provided by dictionaries or travel guide books, he made the comparisons between the actual meaning and the translated version. He especially made excellent descriptions of Chinese philosophy which was very often being ignored by foreigners but is the foundation of Chinese culture.

As a Chinese, I was deeply touched and inspired by his sense of humor and positive words. I was especially moved by his ups and downs, it was for instance very painful to discover the collapse of his business .This book provides an objective perspective for all the foreigners who would like to explore a new life in China, preventing a culture shock. I highly recommend people who have interest into Chinese culture to read this book.

Author: Mark Kitto
Published by Constable (ISBN 978-1845299408)

Review by Diwei Liu. Diwei once volunteered at the Expatriate Archive Centre and now lives in Luxembourg.