Monday, July 4, 2011

Red China

Chinese civilization is the longest continuous civilization in the world. They were the masters of their own domain and beyond.  They invented many items that the West now takes for granted like paper, printing, gunpowder, the compass, and the noodle.  Marco Polo marveled at China’s grand cities which he considered to be greater than the great cities of Europe. It’s only by a twist of fate that China fell to the West. Since the industrial revolution, China has chaffed under Western imperialism. The Chinese people are a very proud people that look for ways to shake off Western imperialism and to take their rightful place in the  world.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       To understand China today, you need to understand their historical perspective. A good book to read is China: a History by John Keays. Keays explains the history of China from 1050 BC to 1950 when the Chinese Communist Party took power. This book does a good job in condensing the more than 5000 years of Chinese history into a manageable book. Each major dynasty or era has their own chapter, and each chapter describes beautifully major accomplishments and failures of the era. This book provides a great foundation of general Chinese history, where modern Chinese leaders are coming from, and provide maps which are easy to follow. Keays explains that many of the emperors view themselves as rulers with a divine mandate and that divine mandate can be taken away by the people. Every change in dynasty and government without fail started from the peasants, this is what the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is trying to avoid at all cost. 

Modern China:the fall and Rise of a Great Power, 1850 to the Present, by Jonathan Fenby covers what happened to China after the CCP took power.  Fenby explains in great detail the corruption of Chinese officials and the greed of Western powers, especially the British in 1850. When Chinese authorities tried to stop the British opium trade using legal means within China, the East Indian Company with the support of the British government conquered China. This led to other nations carving up China into their own spheres of influence. After the fall of the Qing dynasty, the Republic of China, and later the People’s Republic of China, rose up to regain China’s right to rule. The book gives accounts from the people who were there through interviews and personal stories, not just dry facts.

The rise of the Chinese economy is a direct consequence of the rise of the Chinese Communist Party according to Richard McGregor in The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers. Under Communist leadership, China has surpassed Japan as the world's second largest economy.  McGregor addresses misconceptions regarding the CCP as he explains how the CCP adapts to changes within the world.  He also describes how the CCP survived the passing of Chairman Mao, the financial crisis, and many corruption scandals, to rise from the ashes to be a party for the “people”. What’s great about this book is that it presents real world stories from the people to help illustrate its points. It is not too technical. 

As the world continues to worry about the rise of China, China is stressing it does not want to dominate the world; it just wants to be friends and make lots of money. 

1 comment:

  1. James W. Harris7/29/2011 3:59 PM

    The Young Adults section of the Bartow Library has three graphic novels (the fancy word for book-length comic books) that are relevant, I think, to this post. All make fine reading for adults.

    1. Shenzhen: A Travelogue From China by Guy Delisle. Delisle is a comic book artist and an animator. This is a diary of his work-related stay in the Chinese city of Shenzhen north of Hong Kong, a city undergoing tremendous growth. The book isn’t a travel guide to Shenzhen. It’s one person’s highly subjective story of his reaction to the city and his experience there. Though it is ultimately more about the author, not the city, you feel you have at least some sense of some aspects of the city, and modern China, after reading this. Witty, insightful; great storytelling, excellent art. It is the kind of high-quality, intelligent work that shows that comics can be as effective as any other art form.

    2. Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle. Though not about China, this is the book that made Delisle (see review just above) famous. His work as an animator took him to the capitol of one of the strangest, most mysterious, and most dictatorial cities on earth. Again, the storytelling and artwork are wonderful.

    3. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. This is somewhat less adult than the two books above, but it is still very readable for adults. Writer/artist Yang tells three separate stories that he gradually brings together as the book progresses. One is a parable starring the mythical Chinese Monkey King struggling with various mythological beings; the second is the story of Jin Wang, an Asian American student trying to fit in with his white classmates; and the third story is about an Asian American teen horrified by his monstrous cousin, a fantasy character who is a grotesque combination of the very worst and most absurd Asian racist stereotypes. All three stories are excellent, and the book gets better and better as Yang masterfully pulls the three storylines together for a powerful climax.