Thursday, July 21, 2011

China By the Beach

For me, one of the best parts of summer is the ability to sit on the beach -- in Liguria, or North Carolina -- and catch-up on my reading. Without exception, I always start with Homer and the Greeks [except this year the cycle is Virgil and the Greeks], but (to paraphrase NC's own James Taylor) I always have "China on my mind" as well! Recently, I was asked by some colleagues in the IMD Dutch alumni community to suggest some summer China reading. In response, I've tried to come up with a brief but interesting list that would be good for the beach:

To Change China by Jonathan D. Spence. Originally published in 1980, this is the book that I always use to start any reading list on China. Spence, a distinguished China scholar, offers us a sobering view of the futility that has marked the efforts of past generations of Western missionaries, aid-providers, and business people engaged in attempting to change the mind of China in a variety of what appeared to them as logical and attractive ways. This was the book that left the biggest impression on me prior to our moving to China in 1980, and the one that I think of instinctively whenever I hear the dreams of a new-to-China enthusiast.

On China by Henry Kissinger. Published only a few months ago, Kissinger's book (reviewed by Jonathan D. Spence in The New York Review of Books) is the only book on this list that I have not yet read, but it is in my pile for this summer. Although the book hardly mentions China of the 21st century, I am including it because Kissinger is in a unique position to offer us a historical and politically-interperative overview of Chinese history, and I think that such a historical treatment is a well-worthwhile foundation upon which to build an awareness of contemporary and future China.

When China Rules the World by Martin Jacques. We have used this book as a primary reading for IMD's EMBA discovery expedition to China for the past two years, and it has served us well as a platform for bridging China's omnipresent past with it's accelerating drive into the future. Jacques, who writes for The Guardian, offers an informed and wide-ranging view of China's political and social infrastructure and how they interact with the rampaging economic machine that it transforming the global economy.

The Party: The Secret World of China's Communist Rulers by Richard Mcgregor. In the midst of our adulation of the Chinese growth experience, it is always a danger to discount the role of the Communist Party in all of this. As the old song title indicates, it's very likely true that: Without the Communist Party, there Would be No New China. The Financial Time's Richard Mcgregor has produced a very accessible and informative introduction to this most mysterious of growth catalysts.

The Beijing Consensus: How China's Authoritarian Model will Dominate the Twenty-First Century by Stefan Halper. Could China's success persuade other emerging markets to give-up on democracy and market mechanisms and adopt a more "directed" approach to economic growth and social organization? Halper provides a good overview of this recent political movement.

Ultimatum by Matthew Glass. Just as I was about to post this, my good friend Katrina Garner pointed out that no beach reading list would be complete without a good novel. I think that she's right and Matthew Glass's first novel is an amazing one for the beach. Climate change and US-China rivalry combine in an incredibly realistic and gripping yarn. Even if you are not interested in China, this is a good one for the beach!

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