Customer Reviews


26 Reviews
5 star:
 (9)
4 star:
 (12)
3 star:
 (3)
2 star:
 (2)
1 star:    (0)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favorable review
The most helpful critical review


52 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What Everyone Needs to Know about China
Being surprised is something I expect from a good work of fiction, but not necessarily from nonfiction, especially when I am familiar with the subject - or so I thought. Thus it was a treat when I found plenty of surprises in this book, such as the following passage from the section titled "What is the alternative to viewing Mao as a monster?":

"There are...
Published on October 1, 2010 by Xujun Eberlein

versus
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not what the cover promises...
Most of the book covers Chinese history which is useful and informative in itself but only a small portion of the book provides guidance on how that history shapes the people and country now and going forward. The book is also written in short sections on specific historical topics and so doesn't really have much of a flow to it.
Published on May 8, 2012 by Mike


‹ Previous | 1 2 3 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

52 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What Everyone Needs to Know about China, October 1, 2010
This review is from: China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know (Paperback)
Being surprised is something I expect from a good work of fiction, but not necessarily from nonfiction, especially when I am familiar with the subject - or so I thought. Thus it was a treat when I found plenty of surprises in this book, such as the following passage from the section titled "What is the alternative to viewing Mao as a monster?":

"There are many alternatives to thinking of Mao as a fiend who was China's Hitler. One useful one is to see Mao's place in China today as comparable to that of Andrew Jackson's in the United States. Though admittedly far from perfect, the comparison is based on the fact that Jackson is remembered both as someone who played a significant role in the development of a political organization (the Democratic Party) that still has many partisans, and as someone responsible for brutal policies toward Native Americans that are now often referred to as genocidal.

"Both men are thought of as having done terrible things, yet this does not necessarily prevent them from being used as positive symbols. And Jackson still appears on $20 bills, even though Americans tend now to view as heinous the institution of slavery (of which he was a passionate defender) and the early 19th-century military campaigns against Native Americans (in which he took part)."

This comparison is refreshing, and it could only come from someone who knows both American and Chinese history intimately. Admittedly, I have limited knowledge about President Andrew Jackson. On the Chinese internet today, when searching for "President Jackson," glorious descriptions fill my eyes: "people's friend," "the bank killer," a war hero who defeated the British army, a wise politician who prevented the US from splitting apart. No mention of his not-so-glorious role in killing Native Americans. You wonder how an average internet surfer in mainland China can get a complete picture of this controversial American president.

But, before you feel fortunate to have the benefit of a free press and internet in the US, hold on a second. Can the average American reader get the whole picture of Mao? This really depends on what you happen to read or hear. If you have only read Jung Chang and Jon Halliday's best-selling biography, Mao: The Unknown Story (2005), for example, then Mao was born a monster. If you have only read Edgar Snow's Red Star Over China (1937), on the other hand, then Mao was a legendary hero of the Chinese peasants. The actual Mao, of course, was a more complex historical figure than either of those works portray.

Chinese in the Tang Dynasty already understood "Listen to both sides and you will be enlightened; heed only one side and you will be benighted", but it is never easy to consistently follow this practice. The few American writers I know of who write about China with this maxim in mind include James Fallows, Peter Hessler, and Jeffrey Wasserstrom. If you are interested in China and don't want to be benighted or brainwashed, read books with different views before forming your opinion. Or, as a short cut, start with a book like China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know. The parallel between Mao and Andrew Jackson might be imperfect, as Wasserstrom has noted, but it is a big step up from good-evil dichotomy that seems so pervasive.

In fact, one of the most appealing characteristics of Wasserstrom's new book is that it does not sidestep controversial issues and opinions. On the contrary, it deliberately provides the reader with views from opposite sides, in a rather straightforward and balanced manner. In recognizing differences between Western and Chinese views, Wasserstrom helps break stereotypical perceptions and opens the reader's inquiring minds. He does so throughout the book.

The breadth of this relatively short, 150-page book is amazing. Starting with "Who was Confucius," it continues without pause to "What was the Dynastic Cycle," "What was the Opium War," "Why did the Qing Dynasty Fail," and much more. Given the brevity and the format, there is a necessary lack of nuance, but there is a great overview of the backbone of Chinese history presented in the blink of an eye.

Building off of the past, the book devotes a chapter to the post-Mao development of China into the modern state it now is. Then it outlines "U.S. -China Misunderstandings," and finally presents a chapter on what the future holds, providing useful insights into the different ways that Americans and Chinese view one another and how differently they interpret the same events.

Understanding what is happening in China, or America, is difficult for even the best informed people on both sides of the globe. If you are trying to get real insight into the Boxer Rebellion, Mao Zedong, Tibet or a host of other issues relating to China, one short book is surely not enough. But whether you are new to things Chinese or are an old China-hand, something said in China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know will make you think twice, and the references included should carry you quite a way. If you feel a bit lost for not getting a definitive answer to some questions, then you might be one step closer to learning the truth.

(A more complete review can be found on my website [...])
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


30 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Background, Though Rather Bland -, April 14, 2010
This review is from: China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know (Paperback)
"China in the 21st Century" provides a good background on China, though it is rather bland reading. In addition to providing background on China, Wasserstrom also addresses important issues (eg. "Is war likely over Taiwan?") in a even-handed manner. The author also brings appropriate focus - eg. reminding readers that even though intensively competitive, about 70% of its largest businesses are still state-owned. However, the book lacks any solid projections for the future - especially China's economics.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


48 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Guide for the Perplexed...on China, April 27, 2010
This review is from: China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know (Paperback)
I've long-admired Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom's China writings for the way in which this author succeeds in making the country's more obscure bits that much clearer for the novice China enthusiast or budding Sinologist.

Rather than further mystify the country's infamous "exoticness" to Westerners and cast his readers further into doubt in copping to that most annoying of journalist/blogger catchalls like "if it's one thing for certain, nothing is ever what it appears to be in China and everything changes constantly," Wasserstrom distances himself from the usual scholarly bluster and navel-gazing by employing a novel Q&A approach in getting his book's premise across. China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know indeed attempts, as its title promises, to include just about everything anyone needs to know about China.

Leaving aside for the moment the discussion about the quality of the material to be found inside its covers or about Professor Wasserstrom's throw-down (though I love it!) that what you're about to read is "what everyone needs to know" about China, the book's written using concise, accessible, easy-to-digest paragraphs.

This Socratic technique alone places the book firmly into front-of-mind awareness for the novice China reader. Those finding themselves armed with only the most rudimentary of knowledge about that juggernaut nation to the East will walk away, as Wasserstrom surmises "...[knowing] a few more basic things about the people of the PRC than they did when they read its first pages." Old China Hands, too, might appreciate this book as a ready reference, and perhaps even those claiming "expert" status about the country will be pleasantly surprised to discover how the book challenges several of their rigorously-held assumptions. As for myself, someone who considers himself a novice in chinoisierie, it achieved its mission masterfully. At a compact 135pp, I agree with scholarly reviewer Susan Shirk who claimed that the book "...provides the essential knowledge that intelligent citizens need to have about China...[that] can be read in less time than it takes to fly from the U.S. to China!"

On to the Book's Structure:

Wasserstrom's strategy is evident from the get-go: China in the 21st Century has been bisected neatly into halves: China's "historical legacies" and its "present and future."

For those who aren't as interested in the PRC's pre-1949 legacy, skip on over to the work's second half to acquaint yourself with Wasserstrom's clever summaries about everything of note that's transpired in the country since the end of the Chinese Civil War, the milestone likely marking the beginning of the West's genuine interest in China's domestic affairs or its international relations.

Chapters are further segmented by individual questions, bearing passages that can be cited from independently of the book's other sections without affecting one's overall understanding of the work (the likely effort that went into ensuring this would indeed be possible must have been enormous).

Personally, however, I wouldn't go so far as to claim this book can be skimmed through with a flippant regard for chronology. For those whose knowledge of China is at the introductory phase, for best results I suggest starting on page one and reading straight through to the end. Advanced readers can get away with a more a la carte approach.

Note Taking:

Since the beginning of 2010, I've taken to scoring up all of my newly-purchased China books with notes and arrows. While this might sound more akin to a Jackson Pollack (pictured above) work of art, this new method (thanks to Tim Sanders for getting me started on this) has helped me to cement lessons learned within specific passages to make future referencing of works I enjoyed eminently simpler. Wasserstrom's Q&A format is conducive to this sort of note taking because his responses to his own questions are short enough to make my short notes relevant.

Vital Sections:

Specific questions that Wasserstrom poses resonated quite profoundly for me. I commended him for adding these, since they probably address the bulk of present Western misunderstanding about China, not to mention how such confusion contributes disproportionately to the immense vitriol certain Western circles continue harboring for the PRC and its leadership.

Page 72's "What is the real story of the Tiananmen Uprising?" was particularly good for those whose knowledge of the June 1989 tragedy has become slightly murky in the two decades since the event. To wit, here were my notes for that particular question (n.b. TAM = Tiananmen Square Massacre):

* the official Chinese position on TAM: "a counter-revolutionary riot."
* Westerners too often assume most (protestors) were crushed by the tanks, but automatic weapons caused many more TAM deaths.
* more protestors were slain in the streets alongside Tiananmen Square, than in the square itself, hence Wasserstrom's use of Tiananmen Uprising as opposed to Tiananmen Square Massacre.
* by the time TAM's protests became what they were, other groups had by then joined in the fray (egs. disaffected intellectuals, civil servants protesting corruption, disaffected workers upset with the status quo, not just students).
* there was an uprising with many slain in Sichuan's Chengdu also, not just in Beijing, but few people know this.

Or how about page 76's "What effect did the fall of other Communist governments have on China?" I paraphrased the author:

* the Yugoslavian breakup was a godsend to China's ideologues, if only to reinforce the notion that a post-Communist nation was that much more harmful to national independence than a Communist one.

Things get better on page 78's "How did China's rulers avoid falling prey to the `Leninist extinction?'"

* four factors are worth considering in seeking to understand the surprising longevity of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). I paraphrase Professor Wasserstrom again:

1. China's traditional restive groups have been co-opted into the CCP system since liusi (i.e. TAM): entrepreneurs are now part of the ruling structure, intellectuals have access to previously-banned works, and students no longer have their academic lives micromanaged as in the past.
2. patriotic education has become a mainstay: the CCP is intent on educating the population that without the CCP, China will fall into pre-1949 disrepair and be once again occupied by imperialist powers.
3. the standard of living has been drastically raised and consumer goods are plentiful in all of the country's main urban centers. The people are no longer left wanting for things.
4. protests, far from being banned outright, are permitted within very limited contexts to permit Chinese society to blow off its steam. Factors that tend to tip protests from permitted into verboten territory are when they are a) multi-class, b) geographically widespread, and c) organized.

In the section entitled U.S.-China Misunderstandings, Wasserstrom moves onto a deft analysis of whether China is or is not a Big Brother state. Whether it takes on characteristics of Aldous Huxley's "soft" authoritarianism as depicted in the groundbreaking doomsday fiction Brave New World or does it instead embody characteristics more akin to George Orwell's 1984 and its version of a world gone dreadfully awry living up to Orwell's hellish version of "hard" authoritarianism?

I suggest you check out page 109's "Is China a Big Brother state?" to enjoy the answer.

Moving onto the book's final section entitled The Future -- which, if you ask me, makes the entire purchase worthwhile given how it depicts all manner of potentially hot button issues pertaining to China, its neighbors, and their relation to the rest of the planet -- page 116 has the author asking if China is indeed bent on world domination.

I wasn't altogether comfortable with Wasserstrom's bold claim on the following page that China has "no plan for world domination." Neither during the height of the proxy wars of the 1950s to the 1970s, and not today, he says, was this ever the case. Really? I noted in the margin, "how can he say this with a straight face?"

Furthermore, on page 118 he says:

The showcasing of military hardware during National Day parades can, in fact, be seen as being as much an effort to remind domestic audiences of the sophistication of the weaponry of the state as an effort to make an impact on foreign observers.

Plausible, sure. But does this necessarily lead to an even bolder claim that China has zero designs on world domination? Somehow I suspect the answer lies somewhere in between these two poles.

He next asks "How likely is a war with Taiwan?"

Wasserstrom doesn't address how likely war with Taiwan is, though he does posit two very valid reasons why Taiwan shouldn't fear reunification:

1. Economics influence politics. The two countries' close financial relationship have already established binding ties that would be very difficult to undo.
2. Hong Kong: the Special Autonomous city-state seems to be preserving its independence well. Would Taiwan be any different?

The PRC might even conceivably become a nation of "One Country, Three Systems," with China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan each making their respective contributions to minimize the likelihood of future conflict.

"Is China likely to become a democracy?" (p123).

Militating strongly against this eventuality is how diligently the PRC has been learning from the experiences of both Taiwan and South Korea as "...the CCP work[s] tirelessly to learn how to avoid precisely the[se] scenarios..."

And "What kind of government will China have in a decade?" (p125).

Probably the best way to describe PRC politics, says the author, is as a system of "adaptive authoritarianism." The CCP, he says, "...for better or for worse, has shown itself ready to experiment throughout its history, both before and after it seized national power," a factor which alone speaks strongly in favor of the Party's continuity into the future.

Summing Things Up:

China's Four Major Future Challenges:

Wasserstrom describes (given the CCP's penchant for numerical slogans, he says) China's Four E's: Economy, Environment, Energy, and Endemic Corruption, factors which can collide in the near future to capsize or possibly even deep-six CCP rule (p126).

On Economy:

Wasserstrom again:

"The regime has become both psychologically and practically dependent on high growth rates contributing to a general sense of optimism, which leads to a belief that, whatever its failings may be, the party remains legitimate because it is overseeing a period of impressive economic development and an overall rise in the living standards."

In other words, remove economic stability and all bets are off.

On Environment:

Notable inclusions in this section were (my notes):

* China suffers more than 4,000 mining deaths per year that amount to more than three-quarters of the globe's casualties for this sector.
* coal-burning electricity plants contribute to three-quarters of the PRC's electricity needs. This model works well provided coal remains a plentiful natural resource and the nation can continue affording to build new coal-fired plants each and every week, not to mention the suffocating greenhouse-gas effects.

On Energy:

China's desperate craving for oil stocks causes it to lavishly court regimes both in Africa and South America. China remains on permanently good relations with a very recalcitrant Iran.

On Endemic Corruption:

Wasserstrom writes that corruption remains China's Achilles heel. Corruption is the one things which can chronically undermine China's economic stability and lead to the outbreak of new TAM-style protests.

"How can the United States and China adjust to an era in which they are the two superpowers?" (p131)

Wasserstrom lists four distinct ways in which the U.S. and China are alarmingly similar:

1. Common industrial trajectories: China industrial development today strongly resembles the U.S. of the late 1800s and early 1900s.
2. Human rights: While Americans deride the PRC on its frequent violation of human rights, the U.S. remains one of the few countries which officially sanctions capital punishment. China too, for that matter. This, unlike the rest of the great powers.
3. Fiercely protecting oil stocks: The extent to which both the U.S. and China protect global oil stocks is astonishingly similar.
4. Treatment of minorities: Like it or not, both the U.S. and China have been the same in their treatment of (not necessarily in this order): Native peoples, Tibetans and/or Uighurs, and native Hawaiians.

Wasserstrom ends the book with an apt quote from Professor Stephen Mihm, who put it succinctly:

"...if we want to understand how to deal with China, we could do worse than look to our own history as a guide."

When Americans take the PRC to task for its misdeeds, says Mihm, a "bit of empathy might even be in order."

I couldn't agree more.

Less an apologia for the PRC's worst excesses, and dismissing just for the moment the fact that countries can even be excused for their most dastardly actions, almost people-like, Mihm's summation seems to be one of the stronger justifications to at the very least give China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know a fair shot.

Would you forfeit the chance to learn what everyone needs to know?
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not what the cover promises..., May 8, 2012
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Most of the book covers Chinese history which is useful and informative in itself but only a small portion of the book provides guidance on how that history shapes the people and country now and going forward. The book is also written in short sections on specific historical topics and so doesn't really have much of a flow to it.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars short, readable, and useful account with some lapses in objectivity, July 8, 2011
By 
RetiredMilitaryOfficer (Seattle, WA United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know (Paperback)
A succinct but readable account concerning major questions about China. The author makes some interesting comparisons between the PRC and the U.S. at comparable stages in development. I also found his characterisation of China as closer to "Brave New World" than "1984" very apt. He did, however, seem to be an apologist for or to downplay some fairly reprehensible PRC actions such as the Chinese intervention in the Korean War and the Tiananmen Massacre. I do agree with the author that we need to understand the Chinese perspective much better, but I disagree with the author's seeming belief that most PRC actions become acceptable if we look at them through a PRC lens. I also disagree with the author's Pollyanna attitude towards PRC intentions. Despite some reservations, I still think this book is well worth reading.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


31 of 43 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Touring a botanical garden while astride a galloping horse, October 31, 2010
This review is from: China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know (Paperback)
This book minimizes ongoing human rights catastrophes in the PRC, claiming that the PRC party-state is not Orwellian except for the occasional "moment" such as in the wake of the 1989 Tiananmen Crackdown. Wasserstrom has practically nothing to say about the Party-controlled legal system that continues to generate human rights violations on a daily basis. Wasserstrom reserves his greatest ire not for the PRC's human tragedies of famines and purges caused by Mao Zedong and his CCP, but for a Jung Chang's biography of Mao, which Wasserstrom pigeonholes as having portrayed Mao as a "monster." Although portions of that far from definitive book read more like reportage literature than as history, Mao comes across as a human of ruthlessly autocratic temperament, not as some sort of inscrutable monster. Why is Wasserstrom so furious about Chang's negative portrayal of Mao, while indicating no problem at all about Edgar Snow's lionizing portrayal of Mao in _Red Star Over China_? Perhaps an answer can be limned from Wasserstrom's unreserving approval of Elizabeth Perry's far-fetched comparison of the Hawaiians under US rule with the Tibetans under PRC rule. This sort of comparison practically beggars belief in its trivializing of the sufferings in Tibet under PRC rule through famine, a policy of Han Chinese in-migration, the destruction of over 90% of Tibet's monasteries and nunneries, de facto martial law, and the widespread beating and torture of Tibetan prison inmates.
Readers who would prefer a book with more empathy for the ordinary PRC citizen--and fewer glittering generalities and apologetics--might consider Philip Pan's _Out of Mao's Shadow_.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Timely, easy-to-read primer on China, December 27, 2011
By 
This review is from: China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know (Paperback)
As one of the blurb writers on the back cover basically states, if you are looking for something to read on your first flight to China to learn about the country, then Jeffrey Wasserstrom's "China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know" (CIT21C) is your book. Even if you aren't visiting China, or have been there before and have learned a bit about the country, then CIT21C is a good, relatively up-to-date (as of 2010) overview of the important aspects of the country's history as well as current issues.

Wasserstrom tackles a seemingly impossible task, to summarize the key historical events of a mythical 5,000 year-old society as well as recent news events and current issues in the span of a mere 135 pages. All in all he does a more than adequate job. The book is broken into six chronological chapters and follows a "FAQ" (Frequently Asked Questions) format. This, plus the fact that he uses language and vocabulary aimed at a mass (rather than an academic) audience, make the book highly readable. I only have two quibbles: the book could have benefited from another round of proofreading and fact checking, as there are a few mistakes of facts which are obvious upon reading; and I would have preferred to see a bit more explanation of how China's economy has boomed over the past 20 years and how it has impacted the people and culture. There are a few academically-inclined topics, such as debates about certain writers and works of literature, that could have been shortened or dropped to free up more space for economic issues.

CIT21C will, at a minimum, provide you with a framework and timeline of important events, as well as educate you about the major aspects of those events, such that you can put subsequent information into context. If you want to learn more about China, you can then choose other books and articles that explore topics in more depth. One of the best attributes of CIT21C is that Wasserstrom has provided a detailed "Further Reading" section, which not only points to other reading material but provides the author's views on each work, so that you get a flavor of what to expect.

So aside from a few flaws, CIT21C is a very good primer on China. Perhaps the publisher will be encouraged to produce similar volumes for India, Russia, Brazil and other emerging countries.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a friendly, capable guide, December 23, 2010
By 
This review is from: China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know (Paperback)
Full of clear explanations of fast-changing Chinese realities, and thoughtful comparisons with American experience. Wasserstrom is a friendly, capable guide, dealing with tons of the questions Westerners normally raise. Along the way he compares the career of Mao Zedong with that of Andrew Jackson. He compares American views on ethnic unrest in Xinjiang with those of Indian journalists, who have their own familiarity with ethnic disturbances.

Along with his compact explanations, Wasserstrom directs the reader to a host of good websites and books. He calls for a corresponding book on what everyone in China should know about the USA.

--author of A Galaxy of Immortal Women: The Yin Side of Chinese Civilization
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thorough BUT, March 2, 2013
By 
Cowboy John (Fort Collins, CO, USA) - See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know (Paperback)
With the bad habit of needing to start a book at the beginning, I had to be a third through before I learned anything about the 20th Century, let alone the 21st Century. Access to history is important, but slowed down preparation for a two-week class on Today's China I took. I will, though, pass the book on to daughter who has adopted two children from China.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Relevant, informative, just need a little better delivery., June 16, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
The book was filled with valuable, relevant information. Although, for teaching purposes, a student might find it to be a "dry" or boring text. The information from this book is best obtained in small doses of reading.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 2 3 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

Details

China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know
China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know by Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom (Paperback - April 16, 2010)
Used & New from: $0.01
Add to wishlist See buying options
Search these reviews only
Send us feedback How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you? Let us know here.