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

4.0 out of 5 stars 48 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195306095
ISBN-10: 0195306090
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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.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (April 16, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195306090
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195306095
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 1.4 x 6.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,584,621 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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