America’s Misguided Missionary Obligation

October 12, 2011

Tom Carter, the author of China: Portrait of a People, sent me a link to a New York Times (NYT) piece, In India, Online Retailers Take a New Tack.

Carter did not suggest a subject for this post, but he did ask that I include the promotional video for his next book with whatever I wrote, and it “rather” fits the topic I decided to write about, which is that most of America may learn something from those Americans that “really” want to do business in China and India.

Besides, Carter’s photos of India are as stunning as those he took of China are.

Vikas Bajaj wrote the NYT’s piece, and we learn that Amazon is moving into India and whatever Amazon’s plans are for entering India’s consumer market, Amazon is not talking.

However, “while dozens of electronic commerce firms have recently sprung up to capitalize on India’s growing Internet use” Bajaj wrote, “they have a problem. Indians are not yet comfortable with shopping on the Web. Many of them remain unwilling to use credit cards online. So the Indian retailers have gone to great lengths to gain customers. Customers may pay in cash on delivery, and the company fields delivery squads to ensure shipments get to customers quickly.”

What we learn from this quote is that cultural differences influence how people shop but culture goes deeper than shopping habits, which is a fact that many Americans do not understand.

In addition, a Blog at says, “Approximately half of’s revenue comes from outside the United States, according to the company’s Senior Vice President of International Retail, Diego Piacentini. This makes global strategy a key component to the company’s continued success,” and “Amazon aims to be the ‘most customer-centric company on the planet’.”

Then Matt Harvey, who wrote the post for the Stanford Blog, asked, “But what do you build, and how do you act, to make this mean something?”

The answer may come from Amazon’s Diego Piacentini when he said, “When Amazon began doing business in China in 2004, some of the company’s core values came into conflict with traditional business practice.” Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs was quoted in 2010 saying Amazon has competition in China with, the Chinese equivalent of eBay, generates estimated annual sales of close to $60 billion—about 75% of all online retail sales in China while, according to Goldman Sachs, Amazon had only $750 million in annual sales in China in 2009 with estimates that Amazon sales in China would increase to $1 billion in 2010. Amazon has a long way to go to catch up with Taobao.

The moral of this story is that Western retailers such as Amazon must learn to do business in other cultures such as China and/or India without attempting to change the people.

They must “start with the customer and work backwards”, which isn’t what most of America’s politicians and religious leaders are doing and the best quote that explains why comes from a Henry Kissinger quote  that I have used before. “American exceptionalism is missionary. It holds that the United States has an obligation to spread its values to every part of the world.”

From what I understand, two of the world’s greatest conquerors, Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan, knew the key to hold an empire together was not to change other cultures but to allow those cultures to remain unchanged, so why can’t the rest of the West learn from them?

Discover The Importance of Guanxi to Chinese Civilization


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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The Last Empress Dowager

December 14, 2010

The Last Empress of China ruled the Qing Dynasty as a coregent after her husband, The Xianfeng Emperor died in 1861, and her son, The Tongzhi Emperor (1856 – 1875), was too young to rule China.

Technically, The Empress Dowanger Tzu Hsi (Cixi) wasn’t the last empress.

However, she was the last empress to rule China as a regent for her son then her nephew after her son died at 19.

Sterling Seagrave, the author of Dragon Lady, writes, “absurdly little was known about her life. The New York Times printed a long, error filled obituary calling her Tzu An, the title of her coregent who had died twenty-seven years earlier.”

Many current history texts have slandered the Dowager Empress Tzu Hsi (1835 – 1908) without much evidence as one of history’s most monstrous women—a ruthless Manchu concubine who seduced and murdered her way to the throne in 1861 to rule China through prevision, corruption and intrigue.

This is how many still think of Tzu Hsi.

She has been accused of murdering her son then years later her nephew, who died the day before she did.

Instead, her son may have died of syphilis because it was rumored he preferred prostitutes to his virgin concubines.

Some rumors claim that Tzu Hsi had her nephew poisoned, but Yuan Shikai may also have poisoned him. There is no evidence to support either theory.

How did the Tzu Hsi earn such a bad reputation? It seems that she earned this reputation similar to how today’s China has been smeared in the Western media.

To understand how this came about, I will make a comparison to Jayson Blair, a young reporter for the New York Times that wrote more than 600 articles for the newspaper. During his short career with the New York Times, Blair committed repeated “acts of journalistic fraud”, including stealing material from other papers and inventing quotes.

Blair’s fraud was revealed in 2003 while he still worked for the newspaper. Source: BBC News 

However, Jayson Blair was not the first reporter to commit “acts of journalistic fraud”.

Edmund Backhouse did the same writing about the Tzu Hsi at the beginning of the 20th century, and his lies and deceit wouldn’t be discovered until Sterling Seagrave was researching Dragon Lady decades later.

Backhouse’s journalistic fraud served as the foundation for most history texts that have slandered Tzu Hsi.

To do Tzu Hsi justice and to discover the truth, one should read Seagrave’s Dragon Lady, The Life and Legend of the Last Empress of China

To learn whom the real woman was we may want to consider what Robert Hart had to say about Hzu Hsi in his letters and journals.  Robert Hart arrived in China from Ireland in 1854. He returned to England in 1908.

For most of his stay in China, Hart was Inspector General of Chinese Maritime Customs and worked closely with the Imperial ministers and Manchu princes. Before returning to England, Hart met with the Dowager Empress in a private audience.

Hart referred to Tzu Hsi as “the Buddha” and later “the old Buddha” since she was a devout Buddhist and it is obvious that he thought of her with affection and admiration.

In fact, Hart, who is considered the Godfather of China’s modernization, at no time indicated in anything he wrote that Tzu Hsi was conspiratorial, sinister or manipulative. However, he did indicate that she was strong-willed and hot-tempered but she was clever and had ability.

Tzu Hsi died in 1908 a few weeks after Robert Hart left China. The Qing Dynasty collapsed in 1911.

Discover more of The Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911)


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too.

If you want to subscribe to iLook China, there is a “Subscribe” button at the top of the screen in the menu bar.