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China: Fragile Superpower Paperback – August 15, 2008

ISBN-13: 978-0195373196 ISBN-10: 0195373197

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (August 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195373197
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195373196
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #98,805 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


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

"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

"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

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

"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

"Susan Shirk's lively and perceptive book examines the constraints on Chinese foreign policy in an era of rapid socio-economic change.... Shirk brings a wealth of experience as an astute observer of Chinese politics and as a practitioner of track I and II diplomacy toward China to illuminate the relationship between domestic legitimacy dilemmas and foreign security dilemmas."-- Alastair Iain Johnston, The Laine Professor of China in World Affairs, Harvard

"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

"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

About the Author

Susan L. Shirk is Director of the University of California's Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation, and Professor at U.C.-San Diego's Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies. A leading authority on China, she has has written numerous books and articles on this subject, including pieces that have appeared in Washington Post, Financial Times, and Wall Street Journal.

Customer Reviews

This is a great book for anyone that is interested in China, and want to understand why China behave the way she does.
Y. Li
It is widely believed in China that if the regime allows Taiwan to declare formal independence without opposition, the public will bring down the Communist government.
Loyd E. Eskildson
In the end, the author accomplishes her goal of getting readers to empathize with the problems of Chinese leaders, but she may also overstate her case.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

53 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Serge J. Van Steenkiste on 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 By Erez Davidi on 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 By A. Morillo on August 8, 2010
Format: Paperback
This is a definite pro-China book, but this fact does not detract from the author's long experience and insight into China. The author has a lot to offer, regardless of one's outlook on the issue.

As a result, I encourage people on both sides of the China issue to read this book.

The title is little deceptive (chose by a publisher perhaps?). Upon reading it, one might assume a work about China's corrupt and ruthless industrial infrastructure, its rampant pollution, or the alienation of the peasant population.

No such thing.

The major subject throughout consists of - get this - the problems the Chinese government faces in trying to keep its super-patriotic and anti-western population under control and keeping it from doing (or forcing the government to do) something extreme against the West.

At times, the book's author seems to have been breathing the rarified air of the ivory tower for too long, which seems to have given her an outlook which at times seems somewhat detached from reality or even common sense.

For example, she states that the Chinese Communist Party's propaganda apparatus has bouts of independence and initiative, occasionally acting out on its own and causing anti-foreign rioting which sometimes gets out of control, leaving the Central Committee wagging its head in disbelief.

In another bout of warped reality, she puts the Central Committee (the leadership of China) as constantly subject to the (anti-western) passions of the military, the Congress, students and the Chinese people in general. All these passions aren't at all about internal problems mind you, but about the anger the Chinese feel at the imperialist capitalist countries and their past and present mistreatments of China.
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