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China Airborne Hardcover – May 15, 2012

4.3 out of 5 stars 49 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Atlantic correspondent Fallows dives into this most timely subject and, in brisk yet erudite language, takes readers on a tour of China’s burgeoning aviation industry. Along the way, he provides an in-depth look at a place where general aviation is nearly nonexistent, multimillion dollar airports are built before airline traffic is approved, and the military holds ultimate control over all of the airspace. This economic and political narrative includes a great deal of history as well, including that of the American aircraft company Cirrus (now owned by the Chinese government, a subject that Fallows hints is worthy of a book of its own) and a significant look at the shadow Boeing casts worldwide. Fallows’ prescient look at society, culture, and business is based on his conversations with numerous individuals in China who spoke to him about the hard shift required to change gears and embrace open and accessible aviation, and the epic hurdles that stand in the way. Paired with China’s Wings (2012), readers will acquire an unparalleled view of China in the air past, present, and future. Highly readable and significant, Fallows’ book should not be missed by those seeking to understand America’s relationship with this global power. --Colleen Mondor


“Fallows keeps the reader engaged by weaving personal stories and lively personalities into his depiction of the changing aerospace landscape…his book makes for an intriguing read, looking at both sides of the picture: reasons for why China might succeed, as well as those for why the country might struggle.”
Publishers Weekly 

“Prescient . . . Highly readable and significant, Fallows’ book should not be missed by those seeking to understand America’s relationship with this global power.”
Booklist, starred review

“Precise yet accessible…An enjoyable, important update on an enigmatic economic giant.” –Kirkus  

“Will China change the 21st century, or be changed by it? China Airborne describes a country ambitiously soaring to fantastic new heights even as its destination remains perilously uncertain. James Fallows reports elegantly on the puzzles and paradoxes of this massive nation and its quest for global prominence.” –Patrick Smith, author of Somebody Else’s Century   
“James Fallows has found a brilliant metaphor for China, and he is uniquely qualified to unspool the tale. Based on years of firsthand experience on the ground in China—and in cockpits around the world—this book showcases his gifts for deep reporting and analysis. Fallows doesn't simply bear witness; he unravels and dissects. For this vast country to achieve a leading role in the aerospace industry, it must attain standards of innovation, efficiency and precision that would signal a new era in the rise of a superpower. Has it attained that level? There is no better writer to find the answer, and Fallows has done it.” –Evan Osnos, contributor to The New Yorker
“In China Airborne, Fallows tells the story of China’s efforts to become a global leader in aviation and aerospace, a story that reveals the economic and political tensions in contemporary China.  China’s past economic success has been built on a combination of massive investment and labor force mobilization—what Fallows calls “hard” economic power and autocratic political control.  But success in aerospace, like success in other industries that depend on innovation, requires what Fallows calls “soft” economic power—things like trust, honest and transparent regulation, coordination between civil, commercial and military organizations, and a culture of free research and exchange of ideas.  Anyone interested China’s future economic, technological  and political developments should read Fallows’ fascinating and insightful new book.” –Laura Tyson, Former Director of the National Economic Council and Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors in the Clinton Administration, professor and former dean of the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley

“That is the new book by James Fallows.  On the surface it is a book about aviation in China, but it is also one of the best books on China (ever), one of the best books on industrial organization in years, and an excellent treatment of economic growth.  It is also readable and fun.” —Tyler Cowen
“Not only does the book benefit from Fallows’ keen observations as a journalist in China, but also it is enriched by his technical knowledge as a passionate aviator. The result is informative and lively.” —The Economist  
“What sets China Airborne apart from other books on China's rise is Fallows' remarkable ability to analyze both China's unprecedented achievements in economic modernization and its inherent limitations…The story so brilliantly told in China Airborne, a metaphor for the much bigger story of China's rise, suggests that no one should take its future as a superpower for granted.” –San Francisco Chronicle

“It is worth the reader’s time to obtain it and read it. It is a timely look at a country in a newly dangerous economic and political situation. Understanding that situation is of utmost importance to the rest of the world.” —Asia Sentinel

“Fallows has an earthy, engaging style, and he sees the human stories of government officials, entrepreneurs, workers and intellectuals all pursuing the dreams they have for themselves and their country as they take off together into the skies…The book is accessible in different ways to different people. Sinologists and aviation geeks like me will happily pore through Mr. Fallows' detailed endnotes, trapped at the back where they won't bother casual readers. People looking for a grab buy at the airport will find something light that will also make them think. Businesspeople, students, or tourists going to China can pick this up and get a good grip on the Chinese zeitgeist.” –Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 

Praise for James Fallows
“Fallows is refreshingly aware . . . A shrewd observer of human foibles and political quagmires with the eye for detail of an experienced journalist, he gives us panoramic views of China that are both absorbing and illuminating.”
—Jonathan Spence, The New York Times Book Review
“Fallows represents the best of American journalism—honest, fearless, and hard-hitting. Moving easily among Chinese, from the ordinary to the high-ranking, he reports from China as an American observer, with the same questions and frustrations that most Americans feel but without either the prejudices of some or the ideological pixilation of others.”
—Sidney Rittenberg, Sr., coauthor of The Man Who Stayed Behind
Postcards from Tomorrow Square offers some wonderful snapshots of the contradictions of modern China. As always, Fallows writes from the front lines with insight and flair.”
—Rob Gifford, author of China Road
“James Fallows’s insatiable curiosity and clear narrative make his China journey a real reward.”
—John Sculley, former CEO of Apple Computer

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; First Edition edition (May 15, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375422110
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375422119
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #380,184 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Loyd Eskildson HALL OF FAME on May 26, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Fallows' 'China Airborne' summarizes China's efforts to become a world-class contender in the commercial aviation field. China's rising demand for increased aviation services is hard to imagine - more than two-thirds of all the new airports currently under construction in the world are in China, and its airlines plan to triple their fleets over the next decade - providing the fastest growing market for Boeing and airbus. Its 2010 commercial airline fleet (2,600 planes) was about half that of the U.S., and is targeted to rise to 4,500 by 2015 - representing half the new aircraft sole worldwide. In 2011 the Chinese government committed to spending $250 billion to jumpstart its own aerospace industry - an amount 5 - 10 times (depending on how one counts) the FAA budget for capital improvements and airport construction during the same period. China's largest carrier, Air China, commands a $19 billion capitalization - greater than United-Continental, American, U.S. Airways, JetBlue, SkyWest, and Hawaiian, combined. Its there largest carrers are valued at #1, #3, and #4 in the world. Beijing's airport has the world's 2nd-largest passenger traffic, behind only Atlanta. The world's three largest cargo airports are Hong Kong, Memphis, and Shanghai, with the two Chinese airports growing at a 20% rate vs. 6% for Memphis.

Underlying this push into aviation and much of China's 12th Five-Year Plan is a desire to move up the 'smiley curve.' The curve runs from the beginning to the end of a product's creation and sale. At the beginning comes first the brand, then the idea for the product, then high-level industrial design, followed by detailed engineering design, and the necessary components. The middle consists of manufacture and assembly.
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Format: Hardcover
Jim Fallows has written an excellent book on modern China's dreamers.
It is passionate and balanced about China, and about China's emerging aviation industry.

The book is an excellent analysis of the PRC government's internal conflicts between the PLA , national ministries, and municipalities.

China is embarking on multiple massive transformations of its infrastructure.
Highways, bullet trains, and 100+ modern municipal airports being constructed at the same time as water, coal, food, and health are sacrificed in a new 5 year plan with a new slate of national leaders.

China needs to guide 300 million more rural citizens to relative middle class levels.

This book is a well crafted deliberation on whether aviation is going to be one of the catalysts for that goal.

My only criticism of the book, is that it lacks maps and charts to help the general interest reader.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I don't remember why I bought this book. I've been reading a good deal about China via other books, plus magazines and newspaper articles. While this book has occasional insights about the Chinese and their society, in general, it is mainly about the history of the aviation industry in China. This subject, I would think, would be of limited interest to most.

The author has a personal interest in air flight, and, of course, China needs to link its huge cities via airliners. Here is where the author knows his stuff: Beijing International Airport is the second busiest in the world behind Atlanta. Air China is the largest airline in the world as far as capitalization. China is adding airports like mad in parts of the country that have yet to have an airport. Today, more than 250,000 people work in the Chinese aviation industry.
When Henry Kissinger went to China, secretly, in 1971, its airports were closed to western traffic. Kissinger flew via Pakistani International Airlines in a Boeing 707, for which the Chinese did not have a proper walk-up ramp. They had to build one especially for the Kissinger visit.

Because of the long Sino-Japanese Wars, plus the horrible economic disasters in the country under Chairman Mao, the Chinese fell far behind the developed countries in air travel by the 70s. China used old Soviet plans before the Boeing 707s became available after President Nixon's visit in 1972. But China's aviation infrastructure was primitive. It was simply not in the position to monitor flights from airport towers, or to properly maintain planes, or to staff them with qualified pilots. Plus, there was reluctance on the part of Chinese pilots to criticize their superiors or those around them who might be failing and/or needing more training.
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Format: Hardcover
Fallows certainly can write an entertaining book. He starts by taking the Chinese aerospace industry as a metaphor for China. And he comes up with amusing and interesting anecdotes from his travels in China. Furthermore he also helped me to understand more about the aerospace industry as such, its commercial logic, challenges and risks. I enjoyed the fast read, the 'easy listening' style of the authors writing.
Yet overall the book disappoints. By taking this particular industry as a metaphor for China he move too fast away from aerospace into general political and economic territory. Thus there is little to be learned about the Chinese airlines, how they are being operated, how did they come into being, why there are so many and how they are competing. This would have been just one topic of interest among many others relating to aerospace.
The other territory, general politics, economic development of China etc. has also been sufficiently covered too many other books and here Fallows adds little new to the gigantic mountain of literature. Furthermore, he obviously had to rely completely on intermediaries (interpreters, foreigners living in China). There are even newspapers in China dedicated to the aerospace industry. How valuable can reporting be if the reporter is not even able to use this basic sources of information?
Three stars because the writing is good, but not more, as the content does not live up to expectations.
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