China: A Guide for Prospect Researchers

 

By Beth Bandy of International Fundraising Intelligence (One year’s subscription access US$75, originally published October 2011)

Review by Sabine Schuller, Research Specialist, The Rotary Foundation

Why it caught my eye: I have seen very few comprehensive resources on how to uncover information outside the US much less a guide finding facts about China or in Chinese.  You can view a six minute video about the resource here.  http://www.ifintelligence.com/training/country-guides/

Pros/Cons:  It’s most helpful to read the guide on-line with two screens.  That way you can view the manual on one and access the online resources on the other.  You can click on the hyperlinks to view the original internet source and copy the Chinese characters directly from the guide’s text to your browser.  The guide also assumes that you are able to download Google Chrome onto your computer to take full advantage of its Translate feature.  The manual focuses on free, online sources and does not cover paid subscription sources such as Bureau van Dijk or CSMAR (China Stock Market and Accounting Research Database).  Finally, the handbook assumes the reader has solid experience in finding information online and critical thinking skills.

The author understands the restrictions of a guidebook and doesn’t try to explain every aspect of finding Chinese information in complete detail – that would take several volumes.  Instead, it is a tool that will help overcome a researcher’s initial hurdles.  She highlights those resources she has found most useful and provides helpful links in both English and Chinese.  These connect the searcher who wants to delve deeper with additional information.

Beth Bandy’s guide goes far beyond a simple listing of websites.  The author’s sound philosophy is to highlight the benefits of using Chinese information sources and searching in Chinese.  She takes pains to explain how the non-Chinese speaker can still take advantage of those resources.  She carefully outlines potential language pitfalls and how to not accidentally miss information.  The author also evaluates sources’ reliability.  For example, she rightly points out the importance of reviewing several news sources about an event or person to gain a balanced perspective.  Where there is little or no publically available information for a certain asset class, she provides advice on how to work around that limitation.

I asked a few Chinese speakers to read the Language Tips section.  They agreed that the discussion of simplified/traditional characters, Pinyin’s[1] history, and dialects were all correct.  One tried several of the techniques described in the guide.  She found that using a search engine to “translate” the Pinyin into Chinese characters, using the glossaries on the CSRC and HKEX websites, and the ‘Baidu’ instructions (a Chinese search engine) all worked well.

The testers also made recommendations for additional information.  One reader wished that the guide was clearer about the difference between Mandarin and Cantonese which are spoken, but not written dialects.  Therefore there are no Mandarin or Cantonese written characters, only simplified and traditional.  Another wished for an emphasis that written Chinese is not a phonetic language, something that can be confusing for non-Chinese speakers.  In many languages, each letter represents a sound and the reader can piece together a word letter by letter.  In written Chinese, each character represents an entire idea not a sound.  A final comment advised that, because of tradition or respect, sometimes some names or institutions are written in their original Romanized form.  For example, one of the first national universities is known as Peking, not Beijing University.

A final welcome addition to the guide’s extensive discussion on Pinyin and Chinese characters would have been a section on Chinese names.  It’s helpful to be reminded that a Chinese person’s surname traditionally comes first (like HU Jintao) but you can see many variations (like Gong Li or Li Gong).  It’s also true that some Chinese adopt a western name such as Jackie Chan.  Additionally, there can be many variations in a name’s spelling due to transliteration (e.g. Chen, Chan, Chin).  However, you can apply Bandy’s techniques on finding alternate keywords to your prospects’ names and their variations.

When Bandy switched the format of her guide from .pdf to on-line resource she overcame a limitation of all print resources.  The reader will need to weigh whether they have the resources to maintain continual access to the manual.  At the time of this writing, the guide had one screencast tutorial on how to select a dictionary with plans for more interspersed through the guide.  The author also includes several sources how the reader can keep current with Chinese information trends on their own.  This is particularly valuable since some Chinese sources are not always available.  For example, Sina Weibo (the micro-blogging site) was shut down for three days by the Chinese government in April, 2012.[2]

I’d recommend it to: Experienced Prospect Research (Donor Research) professionals who need to either complete their first Chinese prospect research project quickly or slowly develop their Chinese research skills.  The handbook has enough links and information resources to point a researcher to substantial information right away.  There are also techniques and perspectives about searching a non-western writing system that can be absorbed over the longer term to improve a researcher’s overall knowledge base.

 


[1] Pinyin:  a system of romanization for the Chinese written language based on the pronunciation of the Beijing dialect of Mandarin Chinese. Source: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/461271/Pinyin-romanization

[2] http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2012/04/03/han-han-finds-limits-of-new-weibo-freedom/

One Comment

  1. Stephen Rowe says:

    Thank you for doing this Sabine! Would never even have thought of looking for a review of this guide, but I stumbled upon it while consulting your ‘international sources’ list.

    Stephen

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