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China: Fragile Superpower: How China's Internal Politics Could Derail Its Peaceful Rise [Hardcover]

by Susan L. Shirk
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)


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Book Description

April 16, 2007 0195696948 978-0195306095 First Edition
Once a sleeping giant, China today is the world's fastest growing economy--the leading manufacturer of cell phones, laptop computers, and digital cameras--a dramatic turn-around that alarms many Westerners. But in China: The Fragile Superpower, Susan L. Shirk opens up the black box of Chinese politics and finds that the real danger lies elsewhere--not in China's astonishing growth, but in the deep insecurity of its leaders. China's leaders face a troubling paradox: the more developed and prosperous the country becomes, the more insecure and threatened they feel.
Shirk, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State responsible for China, knows many of today's Chinese rulers personally and has studied them for three decades. She offers invaluable insight into how they think--and what they fear. In this revealing book, readers see the world through the eyes of men like President Hu Jintao and former President Jiang Zemin. We discover a fragile communist regime desperate to survive in a society turned upside down by miraculous economic growth and a stunning new openness to the greater world. Indeed, ever since the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square and the fall of communism in the Soviet Union, Chinese leaders have been haunted by the fear that their days in power are numbered. Theirs is a regime afraid of its own citizens, and this fear motivates many of their decisions when dealing with the U.S. and other foreign nations. In particular, the fervent nationalism of the Chinese people, combined with their passionate resentment of Japan and attachment to Taiwan, have made relations with these two regions a minefield. It is here, Shirk concludes, in the tangled interactions between Japan, Taiwan, China, and the United States, that the greatest danger lies.
Shirk argues that rising powers such as China tend to provoke wars in large part because other countries mishandle them. Unless we understand China's brittle internal politics and the fears that motivate its leaders, we face the very real possibility of avoidable conflict with China. This book provides that understanding.


Editorial Reviews

Review


"One of the best books I read on China."--Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times


"Susan Shirk has written the definitive book at the right time. For those seeking an objective look at the new China, your search is over. The bonus is that Fragile Superpower is as fascinating as it is informative. A great accomplishment."--Madeleine K. Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State


"Ms. Shirk's magisterial book gazes down on China from above."--The Economist


"Revelatory...Shirk has written an important book at an important moment, with the Beijing Olympics approaching and a new Chinese product scandal breaking practically every week. China: Fragile Superpower should change our assessment of China's leadership, which is a lot less stable than many of us thought."-Washington Post Book World


"Shirk's depth of knowledge about China - including personal acquaintance with many of its leaders - makes this book a valuable read."--Christian Science Monitor


"In her extremely convincing book, she shows that there is another emotional side which, driven by unresolved internal tensions, could still push China into a military confrontation."--Financial Times


"Now more than ever we need a realistic approach for dealing with China's rising power. Susan Shirk has an insider's grasp of China's politics and a firm understanding of what makes its leaders tick. China: Fragile Superpower is an important and necessary book."--Brent Scowcroft, former U.S. National Security Advisor


"In this eye-opening work, Susan Shirk details China's incredible economic progress while lifting the rug on its severe internal problems. She has injected a dose of realism into a distorted vision of China which has been promoted by gushing China watchers who focus on Shanghai's skyline."--James Lilley, Former American Ambassador to South Korea and China


"Although other problems dominate the news today, a rising China presents America's greatest long-term challenge. Susan Shirk's excellent book argues compellingly that it also poses the greatest challenge to China's leaders. How they meet this challenge affects not only China, but also the U.S. and, indeed, the world."--William J. Perry, former U.S. Secretary of Defense


About the Author


Susan L. Shirk, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State responsible for U.S. relations with China, is Director of the University of California's Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, and she is a professor at UC-San Diego's Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies. A leading authority on China, she has been visiting that country since 1971, meeting with top Chinese officials, and has written numerous books and articles on this subject, including pieces that have appeared in The Washington Post, Financial Times, and Wall Street Journal.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA; First Edition edition (April 16, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195696948
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195306095
  • ASIN: 0195306090
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #394,196 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
53 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars China at Times Its Own Worst Enemy July 9, 2007
Format:Hardcover
Susan Shirk gives her readers some useful tools to better assess the future behavior of a fast-resurging China after being "humiliated" for a century and a half (pp. 153 - 55, 185 - 87). Shirk clearly explains that Chinese communist power has two faces. China wants to be seen as behaving responsibly to foster economic growth and social stability (pp. 105 - 139). Shirk correctly states that actions rather than words will make it more credible. Establishing this reputation requires China to accommodate its neighbors, to be a team player in multinational organizations, and to use economic ties to make friends (pp. 109, 199, 223, 257 - 61).

In case of a major crisis, especially one involving Taiwan, Japan or the United States, China could show its other face by acting irresponsibly due to the absence of effective checks and balances of the Chinese system. Party leaders could recklessly play the nationalistic card again as they did with Taiwan in 1996 or with Japan in 2005 if they need to look strong domestically with other leaders, the mass public, and the military (pp. 10 -12, 43, 63, 69, 77, 139, 151, 173, 179 - 80, 186 - 90, 197, 205, 219).

The Communist Party has bet on jingoism since the 1990s because communism in China is a dying ideology in which almost no Chinese believes (pp. 11, 63 - 64, 145, 148, 164 - 70, 186). The Party implausibly claims that ordinary Chinese are unworthy of Western democracy because their country, unlike India, does not have religion to manage them responsibly (p. 53). Chinese leaders know that Chinese nationalists can turn against the Party if they appear too weak to deal with foreign pressures (pp. 61, 66, 173, 180).
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Is it doom or boom for The Communist Party? May 12, 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you only read the title of this book and had to guess what it is about, you would probably assume this book is about how China is a fragile superpower due its unstable political system and that it is a house of cards just waiting to collapse.

As of matter of fact, this book is more about the Communist Party's policies and methods of how to remain in power. In short, according to Shirk, these are the three golden rules which the Communist Party follows in order to remain in power: (i) avoid any public unrest (regardless of the reason for the demonstrations) which can escalate and lead to the collapse of the regime (ii) keep the army on the party's side. An important and obvious rule of thumb considering what just happened to Mubarak, former president of Egypt, once the army stopped supporting his regime. (iii) Avoid any disagreement among the top leaders. Clearly, any disagreement among the top leaders can be viewed as weakness and be exploited by the crowds.

In general, Shirk provides an interesting overview to what concerns the top leaders of the Communist Party and what challenges they're facing. I found the chapters about the tense China-Japan and China-Taiwan relationships to be especially interesting and revealing.

The main drawback of this book is that it doesn't provide any substantiation to support her argument that the collapse of the regime will actually halt the rise of China. Does it necessarily mean that China will not grow to be a superpower in the event the Communist Party loses control of the country? Not necessarily. Obviously, if such an event occurs, China will suffer from severe implications (civil unrest, economic slowdown, etc.) in the short-run. However, it doesn't necessarily mean that such an event will prevent China from obtaining superpower status over the long-run.

Nonetheless, this book is highly informative and provides insights into how the Chinese government manages its domestic and foreign policies.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understanding China August 2, 2007
Format:Hardcover
Few fields of academic endeavor are as determinedly pc as the study of communist China. China academics and intelligence analysts over the years have strived with some success to portray the communist regime in a more benign light than probably is warranted.

Fortunately Susan Shirk''s book--the best work yet to appear on contemporary China-- provides a balanced and thoughtful perspective on the contradictory impulses driving Chinese leadership behavior.As Shirk ably documents, pressures of rapid economic transformatiion, fraying political controls and rabid nationalist sentiment pose difficult challenges for the regime, increasing the potential for conflict with the United States. Shirk pleads for a U.S. China policy based on a better understanding of these constraints, both to lower the risk of war and to improve prospects of Sino-U,S, collaboration on issues of global concern.

This is a perfectly good argument as far as it goes and is relevant not just to China. Russia --economically emergent and increasingly nationalistic-- represents a comparable problem for U.S. policy.The U.S. penchant for Russia-bashing needlessly provokes Russian leaders and publics, heightening East-West tensions and clouding the outlook for peace and security in Europe.

Perfect understanding, of course is not a sure-fire recipe for conflict- avoidance. Washington can "lavish respect on China's leaders" (in the author's words) but there is a host of contentious issues on which it must pursue its own priorities: trade imbalances, contaminated food exports, software piracy, China's military build-up, Taiwan security, massive Chinese espionage operations in the United States, human rights violations and more.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Great insight into what drives China
The book gives an in-depth look into China's self image and what drives its internal politics and foreign relations. Read more
Published 5 months ago by D. Cannon
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful. Good Read
I bought this book because it seemed related to my senior thesis (sino-us economic interdependence and its affects on East Asian security). Read more
Published 10 months ago by bookdude
5.0 out of 5 stars The best reference book on China's rise
This book is one of the best books on studying China's rise. both its achievements and social challenges. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Xuecheng Liu
3.0 out of 5 stars Too long
The author could have say the same thing in a shorter and more accurate version. The assumptions are interesting and leads to new reflexion on China, still the books becomes... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Gervais Lavoie
4.0 out of 5 stars China the unstable Juggernaut:
Susan Shirk's book "China Fragile Superpower" is quite interesting. She points out that China's alleged peaceful rise as an economic world power is on shaky ground due to internal... Read more
Published 21 months ago by BlackJack21
2.0 out of 5 stars Dated, boring and superficial
Couldn't continue after reading a few pages. I kept looking for something new in the book
but couldn't. Read more
Published on May 18, 2011 by Bill Stones
4.0 out of 5 stars Fragile regime, not superpower
Excellent analysis of current PRC situation, but not what I expected from the title. It's not really about China as an emerging superpower, but as its subtitle says, it's about... Read more
Published on November 12, 2010 by Howard Newcombe
4.0 out of 5 stars Five star book with one star deducted for Russian omission
An outstanding analysis and presentation by a China professional.

Only problem is that Chinese relations with Russia are completely omitted. Read more
Published on November 4, 2010 by Wikileaker
3.0 out of 5 stars Imperfect Yet Intriguing
This is a definite pro-China book, but this fact does not detract from the author's long experience and insight into China. Read more
Published on August 8, 2010 by A. Morillo
1.0 out of 5 stars What I see is egoism
The author has not let down its American people. The objectivity and cogency may lose since it taking a side for its own country apparently. Read more
Published on May 24, 2010 by Andy
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