Sad tidings this week, via Chris “Devonshire” Devonshire-Ellis. CDE – not to be confused with CBE (Commander of the British Empire, a British honour bound to come his way soon, one way or another) – has announced that he is leaving China in a rambling post on his otherwise unheard-of blog, China Briefing. Mostly, readers are treated to a lengthy exegesis of his CV – emphasis on lengthy — with added emphasis on the fact that he became the “Baron of Coigach” in April 2011.
This “Red” Baron China Hand begins his valete by telling us how his clever disinclination to not speak or learn Chinese was one of the keys to his becoming, in his words:
A millionaire entrepreneur with offices around the world… Not having Chinese language skills, yet possessing some business experience proved for me a better platform for trying to understand China.
(Never mind, for a second, that his online bio lists him as being a Mandarin speaker.) There follows some incoherent frothing, spread across three paragraphs, about the Dalai Lama, Mongolian sovereignty, “evil… [that] has spread across China like the Biblical Plagues,” the merits of Hong Kong and Beijing air quality before we get to the meat of the piece: “China is a young man’s game. At 52, I feel I don’t really want to have to put up with the daily hassles…” – and many, many paragraphs later – “…the reason I am leaving China is simply that I have outgrown it, and so has my business.”
In between these remarks, there is a proud picture of Baron Chris in what appears to be the lobby of Elton John’s tomb –
– but also much, much interminable blather about his company, “Drezan Shira” (the name, apparently, is a homophone of his own; wait, what?), which proves him to be a chronic blowhard and interminable bore – entrepreneurial epithets which can now be proudly appended to such trophy descriptions as:
Basically he seemed like a nice guy but felt like he just talked a little too much about himself in the same way that anyone that’s been in China a long time does, quite a cordial guy who did his best to make you feel like he “knew” you already. For example I specifically remember him using my name a lot and looking me straight in the eyes.
That’s from Eric, an American in Beijing working in trade who has had the pleasure of meeting the Baron. Another longtime expat and China watcher, who admittedly has not met Devonshire, had this to say:
My impression, perhaps unkind, is that he is a bullshit artist (but not artiste) of a type rarely found anymore: a nobody who managed to concoct a faux-aristocratic new self in a boomtown city. The hyphenated name, the purchased baronry, the constant mention of his clubs, the photos of himself wearing ascots — ASCOTS — would get you a polite rejection letter if you had them as part of a novel, along with a note from the editor saying that it might be better to have the protagonist be a believable human being.
If that seems blunt, you’ve yet to hear the opinion of Gilman Grundy:
Chris Devonshire Ellis is not registered as a legal professional anywhere, has not completed any formal schooling in law, or accountancy or tax… he has no professional qualifications of any kind.
That Grundy passage is from a decisive 2008 takedown of the great man on the blog Fear of a Red China, in a 80-strong commented article that effectively decimated the Baron’s original claims of China expertise, viz:
1. His education at Strathclyde University in Scotland and the University of London, institutions separated by hundreds of miles but courses at both of which he claims to have attended, before being prevented from completing either by an unspecified “family tragedy”;
2. The worldwide “Devonshire” office empire as anything more than a collection of post-office drops and inboxes;
3. His Mumbai offices and staff being damaged in a terrorist attack, a claim “Devonshire” made but then removed from China Briefing (his company in fact used Regus virtual office space, miles from any bombings);
4. Many of the admiring comments on his articles coming from someone other than “Devonshire” himself (indeed, there are already four wonderfully effusive responses in support of his latest post, one from a chap called “Digby Ross” and another from a “Cedric Woollet”; I for one look forward to reading what Sir Peregrine Yaffle has to say);
5. Perhaps most damningly, as far as illuminating the hollow infrastructure of his China business model, the Baron “stepp[ing] down from his position as managing partner of the China Practice in 2007” and taking over “the firm’s India practice, based in our [virtually non-existent] offices in Mumbai.”
In fact, he had fully resigned from the company via a statement he released on China Briefing, since taken down, which read, “He effectively leaves the business he founded 17 years ago in South China and the publishing company that is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year” due to a self-admitted “serious error of judgment I made publishing details of off-the-record meetings with Chinese ministers.”
His experience with Chinese ministers isn’t exactly stellar, if this is any indication:
Again, the original resignation announcement is part of China Briefing’s junkyard of broken links. That Romney-esque managerial magic act of “retroactive de-resignation,” according to the industry, commerce and law blog Gong Shang Fa, proved “that [‘Devonshire’] is the only thing animating his company, as in no partners with any capability. Otherwise, they would have forced him to really remove himself in an attempt to protect their own interests.”
With his latest promise to exit China, the Baron joins – or rather, leaves (we can but guess) – a long list of foreign frauds with a “business” presence in China. The ability of these types to insert themselves between certain parties and insinuate themselves into shady business deals is part and parcel of developed countries’ maturity (or decline) from being manufacturing powers to ones that provide and export “services” – a product both as depthless and elastic as it sounds.
Most of them, perhaps aware of how their true credentials might wilt under the slightest scrutiny from their savvier compatriots, operate deep under the kind of high-profile radar that has brought “Devonshire” into such frequent and bruising contact with China’s savvier bloggers. When they do occasionally surface from the depths, like a gas-bloated whale carcass, into the public gaze, it is normally because the edifice they have erected around themselves has come crashing down. Neil Heywood, a classic figure of foreign hubris if ever one existed in the PRC, is the best-known example: months after his supposed murder, actual evidence of what his decades of business dealings in China actually were or achieved are as intangible as the circumstances of his demise.
Devonshire’s frequent inventions, misrepresentations and half-truths — his purchase of a meaningless Scottish title, as well as that risibly shanzhai double-barreled name (Devonshire?) — suggest a keen narcissist, yet one uncomfortable with much of what he sees. Still, he’s alive and schmoozing — that is, when he’s not “stalking” Grundy and bullying others, like Ryan McLaughlin, into removing blog posts – and supposedly a multimillionaire.
The upshot of all this is, in his own words, the boss of Drezan Shira has to somehow “replace [him]self.” Which shouldn’t be too hard. And hey, look — the ad’s already up on Craigslist:
Smooth-talking, charming Walter Mitty-type chancer needed to helm fictional company in China. English-speaking ability a must. No other qualifications necessary. Salary $$!
Chris Devonshire-Ellis is looking for a carbon copy of himself. How hard can that be in China? We wouldn’t worry too much for him, though, even if the perfect candidate fails to surface. After all, there’s always Digby Ross. We’re sure he needs a job.