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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
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).

Economic interdependence has had a somewhat moderating effect on the relationship of China with the outside world, including Taiwan, Japan, and the U.S. (pp. 24, 96, 145 - 46, 190, 195, 233, 241, 247). Due to their fear of widespread instability and their lack of political legitimacy, Party leaders, however, have not displayed much courage in taking unpopular measures such as enforcing intellectual property rights or stopping currency manipulation in trading abroad (pp. 26 - 27, 53 - 54, 60, 73 - 74). Chinese leaders are well aware that the increased protectionism in the U.S. against the fast-growing trade deficit with China and the rampant piracy of U.S. products in China are not politically sustainable, especially in case of a majority change in Washington in 2009 (pp. 25 - 26, 248). At the same time, Shirk correctly points out that the ongoing fiscal profligacy of the U.S. is weakening the country at the profit of China (pp. 26, 249).

Of all China's challenges, the need for "social stability" overrules all other considerations, even it means sacrificing long-term diplomatic objectives for short-term domestic political gains (pp. 38, 52 - 54, 109, 148, 183 - 87, 197, 224, 234, 254 - 55). For the Chinese communist leaders and their families, losing power could result in the loss of their possessions or even their death (pp. 7 - 9). To keep its authoritarian grip on power, the Communist Party has articulated a three-pronged policy (p. 39):

1) Avoid public leadership splits

Shirk gives a useful overview of the "selectorate," the group of Party members who have the power to choose the leaders, and the modus operandi of the Party (pp. 39 - 52). The Communist Party is not known for its openness in framing domestic and foreign policies (pp. 43 - 44). Patronage is essential for keeping the Party in power, which feeds an endemic corruption from which many communist bigwigs enrich themselves at the expense of ordinary Chinese (pp. 60, 68 - 69). Party leaders learn from the Tiananmen fiasco that destabilizing internal dissent can undermine the Party's grip on power (pp. 48, 53, 162). Keeping elite contests for power hidden from the public is increasingly difficult as the audience-driven media are testing the limits on what can be reported (pp. 39, 50, 52, 55, 78, 183). Although China is a still a long way from having free mass media, resourceful Chinese increasingly give the Communist Party a hard time for censoring "undesirable news (pp. 82 - 83)."

2) Prevent large-scale social unrest

Shirk demonstrates with conviction that Communist China's obsession with internal stability paradoxically makes the Party very sensitive to public opinion due to the lack of any democratic institution to allow ordinary Chinese to express themselves peacefully (pp. 52 - 53, 66). Shirk overviews with mastery the multiple possible threats to one-party-rule and which means the Party uses to either neutralize or reduce these threats (pp. 52 - 69). Paradoxically, the more developed and rich China becomes, the more insecure and threatened Communist Party leaders feel (p. 5).

3) Keep the People's Liberation Army on the side of the Party

Unlike their predecessors, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, Communist Party leaders Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao are less politically secure and have a greater need to keep the military satisfied to safeguard them from domestic rebellion (pp. 46, 73, 77, 158 - 60, 202). Communist Party leaders seem to have a harder time saying no to the military demands for weaponry buildups and aggressive policies (pp. 70, 75 - 76, 222 - 23). The senior leadership of the PLA uses the Taiwan issue as the paramount factor for getting more "toys" approved (p. 74). By covering foreign policy, audience-driven media are making it harder for Communist Party leaders not to treat foreign policy as domestic politics (pp. 78 - 104, 140 - 254). Furthermore, history is not on the side of China because rising powers are likely to provoke war (pp. 4, 9 - 10, 210 - 11, 219, 243 - 45, 261 - 69). All of these factors undermine the credibility of the "peaceful rise" that Jintao - Wen Jiabao have promoted since 2002 (pp. 108 - 09, 252).

To summarize, China's behavior cannot be correctly understood without a proper grasp of the tectonic forces that have molded the country's history, geography, and culture.
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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
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This review is from: China: Fragile Superpower (Paperback)
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
3.0 out of 5 stars Imperfect Yet Intriguing, August 8, 2010
A. Morillo "Scifier" (Tempe, AZ United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: China: Fragile Superpower (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.

The author seems to think the Communist Party of China is actually doing the West a favor by holding back its seething anti-Western masses and keeping them calm.

How about an alternate explanation? - The Communist Party is hyping up anti-Western feeling amongst its own people, while presenting a more neutral and reasonable face to the West.

Ivory tower perceptions aside, the author paints an illuminating picture of the outlook within modern China (at least as far as the Communist Party is concerned).

The Chinese government, much like Stalin's Russia, has seen the bankruptcy of Communist ideology, and has turned to patriotism in order to inspire the masses. This has worked. The Chinese middle class has in fact taken to this new patriotism with a vengeance. The extreme patriotism the book documents is real and palpable. The West would be making a mistake in discarding Chinese middle and upper class patriotism as a factor in any future decision they make in regards to China.

As the book seems to indicate, this new brand of patriotism comes with a giant chip on the Chinese shoulder. The Chinese (and especially the Communist Party) feel the West has wronged China in the past (think imperialism and opium wars), and continues to treat China without the respect due to a world economic and military power. The Chinese middle class has (through party propaganda and some real feeling), developed a strong distrust and dislike of the West.

Furthermore, the book makes abundantly clear the Central Committee does not trust the West and is convinced the West will do whatever it takes to keep China down. This attitude is reflected on down to the population through propaganda and selective information.

In spite of the author's rhetoric, the book makes clear that Chinese socio-political policy is two-faced. While externally, Chinese politics are formal and low-key, at home, the Chinese media actively and consistently pushes hostile rhetoric against the United States, creating a largely negative view of the US and its allies amongst the Chinese people.

The Chinese are by nature, reserved, and rarely express this patriotic feeling outside China. This makes the West largely unaware how patriotic the middle and upper class population in China has become and how antagonistic this new patriotism is to the West. I believe this book does a good job of demonstrating the reality of this Chinese attitude, which is actual and palpable amongst the party apparatus and the middle class.

The author's comments (or better said comments from Chinese which she has interviewed) are especially revealing in relation to the sensitive Taiwan situation
(see p-185).

The Taiwan crisis is a situation created by long-term CCP propaganda. Most Chinese originally didn't care about Taiwan, and most of the lower class still doesn't.

In truth, Mao in the 1940's cared so little for Taiwan, that he said he would set the islands free after wining the civil war. The author herself (a China expert) states that "The public cares intensely about Taiwan because the CCP has taught it to care - in school textbooks and the media." The author's statements are backed up by China's own experts. One Chinese expert backs up her initial assertion, and states: "the strong feelings about Taiwan are due to China's education." Another expert exclaims, "public opinion about Taiwan has been created by 50 years of CCP propaganda." Finally, one more educated Chinese expert finally states: "The people don't really care much about Taiwan. It's the government that cares." In short, it is the party apparatus that cares, not the Chinese in general. In a way, this is what really counts because it is the party apparatus that rules, and decides what general `belief' will be, not the average Chinese person.

Through many prolonged contacts with the various levels of the Communist Party, the author has enough inside information to paint a real picture of this group's attitude towards the West, and especially the United States. What does that picture reveal?

1) they don't particularly trust us

2) they don't particularly like us

3) they think the long-run policy of the West is to keep China suppressed and boxed-in

4) they still feel quite aggrieved at the West's past historic abuses of China

5) they feel aggrieved at what they perceive to be America and Japan's present-day disrespect for China

6) they want the West to give China a bigger leading role in solving the world's political issues (e.g. North Korea, Iran, Kashmir, Taiwan, Darfur, etc) - this has been a major point of misunderstanding between the West and China, leading to the stalemate in North Korea and Iran. China wants a MAJOR role, not a co-equal or complimentary role.

7)In view of all this, the Chinese are simultaneously preparing two types of solutions to China's grievances:
a) an immediate politico-economic solution (presently being carried out through political and economic means)
or (if the above does not succeed)
b) a future military solution (to be carried out by the armed forces once they are ready to do so)

The `solution,' according to the author or required result expected by China is international recognition of Chinese hegemony in East Asia and increased recognition of Chinese economic and political power world wide.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understanding China, August 2, 2007
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. Hostilities with China, while obviously not desirable , could break out nonetheless. Following Shirk's line of analysis, should China emerge the clear loser, the regime would suffer loss of legitimacy and possibly collapse altogether. Whether anything better would emerge in its place, though, is an open question.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Easily 5 Stars!, July 5, 2007
It's a beautifully written book by Ms. Susan Shirk. Her credentials as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State during the Clinton administration responsible for relations with China speak for themselves. Her understanding of the interrelation between domestic and international principles is well highlighted.

This book captures the fickleness of the Chinese government in their need to suppress public distraught, and how their desire to raise nationalist views has been counterproductive to their international mission of keeping foreign partners from viewing them as a dangerously rising power.

She gives you the facts of China's past and current state of development and reviews the United States' and other countries' positions on the rising power, and allows you to determine for yourself whether China will be a real danger or a humble superpower willing to lend a hand for the betterment of the international sector.

This is an absolutely wonderful book that simply has to be read more than once.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understand China?, June 16, 2007
With 20% of the world's population and the second largest economy, China is an emerging super power. How it balances its rapid growth and awakening population with its increasingly challenged political situation will determine its future. The United States is the reigning world super power. How it handles or mishandles China's emergence will determine the world's future.

In "China Fragile Superpower", Susan Shirk provides valuable insight on the pressures facing China's leaders and the wisdom needed within the United States to help ameliorate those pressures. It is highly recommended for anyone wishing to understand Chinese leadership and their likely reaction to world events. It is a "must read" for anyone in a position to influence Western policy toward China.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fragile is probably not the right word..., April 16, 2009
This review is from: China: Fragile Superpower (Paperback)
Excellent and hard read (i.e. need to pay attention). Provide thoughful insights into key events in the recent years regarding China and useful backgroud into China's relationships with US, Japan, etc. But I think "Fragile" is probably not the right word given her premise - it is more akin to an Emerging Superpower with growing pains. It could be argued that China has less check and balances than US to trigger war (but these check and balances did not stop US engaging in recent wars).
I respect Susan as the author as she clearly footnoted her points with extensive well-researched references, remained well-balanced (acknowledging diplomacy mis-steps), differentiated between views, opinions and facts. She also remained modest by having only the last few pages devoted to recommendations that are pragmatic. The way to build understanding is always to start with the other party (i.e. "seek to understand first rather than to be understood") especially if the other parties have norms that are different (for example, why giving respect is effective). I would recommend people who are doing business in China especially with large state-own enterprise to also read this book to understand China better. The book would be better but longer if she included observations such as a) how the government is re-introducing Confucianism to provide moral bearing to the masses b) the government is not one organised entity but with many levels and departments not all acting in unison. Combined with the large population and still low per capita income, it is no wonder that the Chinese leaders continue to focus on domestic issues first.
Can I encourage Susan to write an update maybe 10 years from now? Would be interesting to see how events would unfold.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book Club Natural, June 5, 2007
It's amazing how this book can empower a book club. We all became much more educated about China, and were so pleased that it is not a dry book but rather a page-turner. We all had different takes on the underlying premise of the book, that China's internal politics are the key to its peaceful entrance to the world stage: Peter Navarro's point of view, that of the members of an investment club, the issue of human rights--this was one of the best meetings we've ever had.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars China: Very interesting reading, May 29, 2007
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This is a powerful book. Starting off with some frightening scenarios it paints at first a gloomy picture of potential conflict. It then goes on the describe the foundations on which the scenarios could eventuate with some great insights into the inner workings of the China public and political system. In the end it portrays a future world with a China as a legitimate global power, returning to a rightful position possibly, in a role not incumbered by capitalist history.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Assumptions, Analysis, Thoughts., October 6, 2009
This review is from: China: Fragile Superpower (Paperback)
Susan Shirk is one of the top foreign affairs gurus in regards to US-China relations. Her tremendous experience with Chinese internal politics is evident throughout the book. She brings a vivid and shocking reality of Chinese politics to readers who know little or nothing about the subject. However, while well written and thoughtfully considered, her conclusions are based on unfounded and unjustified philosophical assumptions that she proposes without second thought. The book lacks quantifiable proof and seems to reflect Shirk's own personal observations and musings instead of political analysis and fact. The following are a few of the weaknesses.

1. The primary assumption that Shirk makes is, the Chinese Governments overarching objective is to STAY IN POWER. There is no other goal greater than retaining control for the CCP, this is where it starts and ends. She starts her argument from this point, but fails to argue why this is so. It is merely an undeniable fact in her world. All political maneuvers are rationalized through the ideal of "maintaining power". Perhaps the CCP leadership really care for the people? Perhaps their goals are more noble?

2. She argues that the protests against Japan and the US, were not really protests that focused on the offenses of the two offending countries, but rather a show of political power by the people, who were really protesting against the Government. They protested on these occasions, because it was something the Government would allow (to an extent). This is an unfounded claim which Shirk backs with anecdotal examples. This analysis screams of Orwell influenced thought, 1984 anyone? In the first chapter of 1984, readers are introduced to the "Two Minutes Hate", and the protagonist, Winston Smith, finds himself seething at Goldstein along with the rest of his colleagues, but his hate was really directed towards Big Brother. Protests and demonstrations of anger are only expressions that can affix on any target at a whim. I think Shirk has been reading a little much Orwell and fantasizing about the overreaching grasp of authoritarian government rather than focusing on real issues.

3. Her overwhelming American prejudice towards the situation in China is felt throughout the book. The book is lacking a comparative analysis that would really open eyes. While the Nationalism of the Chinese is dangerous, it is nowhere near as explosive and destructive as the Nationalism (or some would say, Patriotism) of Americans. China's collapse or transformation into a Nationalistic State would NOT endanger the world militarily. The only "country" in danger, is Taiwan. China lacks the military capabilities to seriously disrupt world peace. Only America has the Aircraft Carriers, Stealth Fighters, C4I capabilities, and other modern fighting equipment to wage war effectively anywhere on the planet. If the American public and leaders are provoked enough (9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq), then serious instability would occur. China just wants what is hers. America wants the world.

Overall, her book is a great introduction to Chinese politics for the uninitiated. Take caution though, and read critically, without swallowing every one of Shirk's claims.
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China: Fragile Superpower
China: Fragile Superpower by Susan L. Shirk (Paperback - August 15, 2008)
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