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Ancient Chinese Thought Modern Chinese Power Ancient China Xuetong Yan Princeton University Press

30th July 2011 History Books 27 Comments

[I] found Dr. Henry A. Kissinger’s comment that it is ‘a fascinating study’ very much to the point. . . . Given China’s growing influence in the world right now, the work should no doubt have a wider readership than might appear the case prima facie. Princeton University Press should be congratulated on producing such a handsome volume. It can be highly recommended for library purchase in its hardback edition. — Malcolm Warner, Asia Pacific Business Review

[F]or those who welcome a China that is increasingly active at the global level, as well as for those who do not, it seems the time is right to thoroughly engage with the ideas and proposals of prominent Chinese thinkers today like Yan Xuetong. By putting his grand vision for a Chinese ‘superpower modelled on humane authority’ to the test before it becomes a possible political reality, we will have gained a greater appreciation of China’s cultural heritage and, following that, a glimpse at its possible political future. — Mark Chou, Australian Review of Public Affairs

“China’s great thinkers from the time of Confucius are known for their profound contributions to philosophy, ethics, and military strategy. Less appreciated in the West is their sophisticated thinking about statecraft. The incessant conflicts among the fragmented principalities that eventually formed a unified China in 221 BC produced a rich flowering of conceptual thinking on issues of governance and interstate relations. In this fascinating study, inquiring readers will find a wealth of information regarding how ancient China’s strategic sages assessed the factors determining the success or failure of rulers and states, with immediate relevance for better understanding the implications of China’s current rise to wealth and power.”–Dr. Henry A. Kissinger

“China’s increasing strength and influence in the modern world are confronting Chinese with a new set of intellectual challenges in assessing how the country’s enhanced status will affect Chinese behavior, how other countries will react, and what policies China should adopt to optimize its interests. Not surprisingly, thoughtful Chinese are looking for clues in their distant past, two and a half millennia ago, when the competition over six centuries among the political enclaves that eventually formed a united China prompted an outpouring of philosophical thinking on issues of statecraft. This stimulating book examines this thinking in ways relevant both to international relations theory and China’s emerging position in world affairs.”–J. Stapleton Roy, former U.S. ambassador to China

“Xuetong Yan, one of China’s liveliest and most provocative international relations scholars, provides an excellent introduction to ancient Chinese theories of statecraft. Combined with the responses of his critics, his thoughtful essays reveal the exciting intellectual ferment among China’s international relations thinkers. Many of the concepts are recognizable to Western scholars, some are not, but Yan’s masterful effort to show how all these ideas might be relevant to China’s ‘rise’ should be read by everyone who is interested in understanding how the past may influence the present.”–Alastair Iain Johnston, Harvard University

The rise of China could be the most important political development of the twenty-first century. What will China look like in the future? What should it look like? And what will China’s rise mean for the rest of world? This book, written by China’s most influential foreign policy thinker, sets out a vision for the coming decades from China’s point of view.

In the West, Yan Xuetong is often regarded as a hawkish policy advisor and enemy of liberal internationalists. But a very different picture emerges from this book, as Yan examines the lessons of ancient Chinese political thought for the future of China and the development of a “Beijing consensus” in international relations. Yan, it becomes clear, is neither a communist who believes that economic might is the key to national power, nor a neoconservative who believes that China should rely on military might to get its way. Rather, Yan argues, political leadership is the key to national power, and morality is an essential part of political leadership. Economic and military might are important components of national power, but they are secondary to political leaders who act in accordance with moral norms, and the same holds true in determining the hierarchy of the global order.

Providing new insights into the thinking of one of China’s leading foreign policy figures, this book will be essential reading for anyone interested in China’s rise or in international relations.

[I] found Dr. Henry A. Kissinger’s comment that it is ‘a fascinating study’ very much to the point. . . . Given China’s growing influence in the world right now, the work should no doubt have a wider readership than might appear the case prima facie. Princeton University Press should be congratulated on producing such a handsome volume. It can be highly recommended for library purchase in its hardback edition. — Malcolm Warner, Asia Pacific Business Review

[F]or those who welcome a China that is increasingly active at the global level, as well as for those who do not, it seems the time is right to thoroughly engage with the ideas and proposals of prominent Chinese thinkers today like Yan Xuetong. By putting his grand vision for a Chinese ‘superpower modelled on humane authority’ to the test before it becomes a possible political reality, we will have gained a greater appreciation of China’s cultural heritage and, following that, a glimpse at its possible political future. — Mark Chou, Australian Review of Public Affairs

Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power (The Princeton-China Series)

On China

“Nobody living can claim greater credit than Mr. Kissinger for America’s 1971 opening to Beijing, after more than two decades of estrangement, and for China’s subsequent opening to the world. So it’s fitting that Mr. Kissinger has now written On China, a fluent, fascinating…book that is part history, part memoir and above all an examination of the premises, methods and aims of Chinese foreign policy.”
-The Wall Street Journal

“Fascinating, shrewd… [The book's] portrait of China is informed by Mr. Kissinger’s intimate firsthand knowledge of several generations of Chinese leaders. The book deftly traces the rhythms and patterns in Chinese history…even as it explicates the philosophical differences that separate it from the United States.”
-Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

“Henry Kissinger was not only the first official American emissary to Communist China, he persisted in his brokerage with more than 50 trips over four decades, spanning the careers of seven leaders on both sides. Diplomatically speaking, he owns the franchise; and with On China, as he approaches 88, he reflects on his remarkable run. To the degree that Washington and Beijing now know each other, it is in good measure because Kissinger has been assiduously translating for both sides.”
-Max Frankel, The New York Times Book Review

“Fascinating… In On China, statesman Henry Kissinger draws on historical records and 40 years of direct interaction with four generations of Chinese leaders to analyze the link between China’s ancient past and its present day trajectory. In doing so, the man who helped shape modern East-West relations presents an often unsettling, occasionally hopeful and always compelling accounting of what we’re up against.”
-The Chicago Sun-Times

“From the eminent elder statesman, an astute appraisal on Chinese diplomacy from ancient times to the fraught present “strategic trust” with the United States. Former Secretary of State Kissinger brings his considerable scholarly knowledge and professional expertise to this chronicle of the complicated evolution and precarious future of Chinese diplomacy with the West. … Sage words and critical perspective lent by a significant participant in historical events.”
-Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

In this sweeping and insightful history, Henry Kissinger turns for the first time at book-length to a country he has known intimately for decades, and whose modern relations with the West he helped shape. Drawing on historical records as well as his conversations with Chinese leaders over the past forty years, Kissinger examines how China has approached diplomacy, strategy, and negotiation throughout its history, and reflects on the consequences for the global balance of power in the 21st century.

Since no other country can claim a more powerful link to its ancient past and classical principles, any attempt to understand China’s future world role must begin with an appreciation of its long history. For centuries, China rarely encountered other societies of comparable size and sophistication; it was the “Middle Kingdom,” treating the peoples on its periphery as vassal states. At the same time, Chinese statesmen-facing threats of invasion from without, and the contests of competing factions within-developed a canon of strategic thought that prized the virtues of subtlety, patience, and indirection over feats of martial prowess.

In On China, Kissinger examines key episodes in Chinese foreign policy from the classical era to the present day, with a particular emphasis on the decades since the rise of Mao Zedong. He illuminates the inner workings of Chinese diplomacy during such pivotal events as the initial encounters between China and modern European powers, the formation and breakdown of the Sino-Soviet alliance, the Korean War, Richard Nixon’s historic trip to Beijing, and three crises in the Taiwan Straits. Drawing on his extensive personal experience with four generation of Chinese leaders, he brings to life towering figures such as Mao, Zhou Enlai, and Deng Xiaoping, revealing how their different visions have shaped China’s modern destiny.

With his singular vantage on U.S.-China relations, Kissinger traces the evolution of this fraught but crucial relationship over the past 60 years, following its dramatic course from estrangement to strategic partnership to economic interdependence, and toward an uncertain future. With a final chapter on the emerging superpower’s 21st-century world role, On China provides an intimate historical perspective on Chinese foreign affairs from one of the premier statesmen of the 20th century.

On China

  • 27 responses to "Ancient Chinese Thought Modern Chinese Power Ancient China Xuetong Yan Princeton University Press"

  • Jared L.
    16:47 on July 30th, 2011
    Reply to comment

    There are several negative reviews or reviews saying other books are better. What this book has going for it is that it is so personal. Kissinger sat down with Mao and took part in opening US/China relations and has been a part of that relationship since. He is a little professorial in laying an immense groundwork, but he uses it quite a bit later, so it is worth the investment. He talks about events and conversations in the first person because HE WAS THERE!

    He does gloss over opinions of world leaders (on both sides) or buffs out smudges, but what else could he do? He realizes the political forces at work and recognizes leaders respond to their populace. He knows because he has been in the position to feel the effect.

    It’s not an easy read, though. You need to sit down and prepare and there are parts where he repeats points in a previous chapter as if he had forgotten he wrote them. Overall, though, it’s difficult to imagine a more personal invitation into the last 50 years.

  • Lisa Llano
    3:02 on July 31st, 2011
    Reply to comment

    Henry Kissinger has rendered a great service to any reader interested in the past 2 centuries of China’s relations with the outside world….and to any reader wishing to gain insight into the dynamics of China’s leaders as they cope with a growing, restive population. Secretary Kissinger outlines areas of political and historic sensitivity and highlights the close but empirical working relationship China has had with the United States over the past 4 decades. Challenges of the future are obvious; opportunites and options for mutual success are discussed. The Unites States does not have to have a zero sum relationship with China. This is must reading for any student of the history of China as well as investors and anyone interested in understanding world politics.

  • Satish KC
    7:42 on July 31st, 2011
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    Reading On China brought back memories of the Nixon years, those winters and summers of our discontent that straddled the 1960′s and 70′s. Henry Kissinger, as national security adviser and then secretary of state, spent much of that time toasting foreign leaders, zipping back and forth across the globe, bending the president’s ear, and occasionally expressing a wish that he should be president himself. The author of a long line of books, Mr. Kissinger maintains a prodigious output of words, a decades-long logorrhea that focuses on foreign affairs, but also covers history, culture, and religion. He shows great insight and a comprehensive grasp of international relations, all the while adhering to his pragmatic realpolitik approach. The book is well written, well organized, occasionally pedantic, but usually quite engaging. I hesitate to say this of a serious work that runs 530 pages, but it is a fairly entertaining read. Kissinger provides perspective and insight into the enigmatic nation that is rising in power just as rapidly as the US is falling.

    From the first run-on sentence of the prologue to the last sonorous snippet of final advice, this book is a lengthy, detail heavy and ultimately revealing study of American foreign relations during the past 60 years. The author was a witness to some of the central events of that relationship, during the Nixon and Ford administrations, and although he was shut out by Jimmy Carter, he maintains a presence in those relations even now. His recollections of personal conversations, based upon his own notes, constitutes a valuable source for historians, and an educational experience for all readers.

    The first time that I met Henry Kissinger, he seemed completely out of his element. Engaged in a mundane domestic task in a suburban Boston neighborhood, he seemed to be in discomfort, obvious even to a seven year old like me. Ironically, he would soon be putting foreign dignitaries at ease with his wit and charm. My father told us that he was a “Harvard professor,” a phrase spoken with derision and dismissal. The neighbors were shocked when he became a national figure. Little did we guess that the diminutive figure with the old world demeanor and rumpled business suit harbored a sizeable intellect, a mighty pen, and an even more sizeable ego. The ego still comes through in his writing, but the benefits of this book far outweigh the minor drawbacks. I recommend it to all who want to understand China better. I believe that it will become essential reading for those who will have to deal with China, a group which includes just about everyone.

  • PaulTheZombie
    8:51 on July 31st, 2011
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    Rarely have I turned the last page of a book and, without any conscious thought say, “phenomenal.” That was my reaction to this broad and insightful text on China.

    At 530 pages this book may look intimidating, but the writing is clear, captivating and compelling, and although it may take a few days to read, this is hardly a dense or unfriendly text.

    Dr. Kissinger takes us through 40 years of US diplomatic history with China. But this is not just about the history (fascinating as it is); understanding the background that led China to its current status is extremely useful as a going forward exercise.

    I recommend this book without reservation to anyone who does or anticipates doing business with China, to anyone who wants to understand the pre-eminent diplomatic focus that faces the next generation or two of Americans, and to anyone who believes it is important to learn from history.

    To that last point: in his introductory chapter, “The Singularity of China,” Dr. Kissinger provides the cultural context with which to consider interactions with the Chinese. In so doing, he also points out an important topic to keep in mind for American foreign relations: when we think about interactions with other governments, we use chess as the metaphor. “[chess] is about total victory. The purpose of the game is checkmate, to put the opposing king into a position where he cannot move without being destroyed.” In contrast, “China’s most enduring game” is wei qi, approximately pronounced way chee. “The wei qi player seeks relative advantage. … wei qi generates strategic flexibility.” Dr. Kissinger relates this thinking to Sun Tzu’s guidance on strategy: “A successful commander waits before charging headlong into battle. … a doctrine less of territorial conquest than of psychological dominance…” Independent of political view, consider this way of thinking in the context of the continued US presence in both Iraq and Afganistan; the classroom study question might be, how would a wei qi -oriented policy differ — or would it?

    Another topic that is quite current and relevant to American foreign policy today is the tension between America’s belief it has the moral imperative to tell other nations (and thus cultures) how to run their sovereign nations, and China’s irreducible commitment, born of its history of interaction with British and other colonial interests in the past couple of hundred years, to not be bullied by other nations. As Dr. Kissinger paints it, an unfortunate event such as Tienamen Square (where in 1989 protesters were forcibly, i.e., violently removed, and more importantly, in full view of the cameras of the world press) is viewed by the Chinese government as only that: an unfortunate event. In the eyes of the US, it is viewed as a fundamental failure of human rights.

    As a consequence, Americans tend to engage in social re-engineering diplomacy, trying to tie trade agreements to changes in China’s internal structure. China’s view is to simply reject meddling in their domestic affairs as meddling, and to point out that the US doesn’t have its own house in order with regard to human rights.

    So if you were a Chinese government official, you’d observe the unprovoked US invasions of Iraq or Afghanistan (especially given that the weapons of mass destruction story was not accurate) and translate Congress’ hard line oratory as a literal risk of war. Consider Liu Mingfu’s “China Dream: the great power thinking and strategic positioning of China in the post-American age,” just briefly referenced by Dr Kissinger. Colonel Liu (as I understand it) suggests that war can be avoided if the US can stifle its hegemonic aspirations. One must rely on English language analysis of Liu’s writing, see perhaps Cheng Li’s “China in the Year 2020: three political scenarios,” at the Brookings Institute, or Christopher Hughes’ “In Case You Missed It: China dream,” in The China Beat.)

    The point is, to China, appearances matter, and events as simple as President Obama meeting with the Dali Lama can be viewed as attempted interference with China’s domestic policy.

    To put this into context, imagine a group in the US, proposing that a part of the country secede from the Union. How would President Lincoln have interpreted a cheerful meeting in Beijing between Jefferson Davis and the Chinese head of state? Yes, I know: the Dali Lama is the very image of pacifism, and recently retired from his role as the head of Tibet to focus entirely on his religious leadership role. But to the Chinese government, the parallels may be considerable.

    My only complaint about this book is that the epilogue seemed too brief and too imprecise: Dr. Kissinger imagines a “Pacific community” (for example, see Lee Kwan Yew’s writing on the toic) but doesn’t clearly articulate the implications, including national self-interest values (to the US).

    All in all though, a small complaint about an extraordinary work from one of the finest minds of American diplomacy in action.

  • pop frame
    11:42 on July 31st, 2011
    Reply to comment

    Dear Readers

    One out of Six…………..!!!………….wow…………….!!!

    Chapter 18 and the Epilogue……..???

    So, Why doesn’t China and Taiwan for that matter have potable water….???

    I mean water you can drink right out of a tap.

    Still, after all these years……they don’t have it.

    Think about it.

    Think “Prisoner’s Dilemma”.

    A few days ago the U.S. Senate no less, passed a Monetary Bill targeting China.
    So…….”I told ya so”……would seem to be in order.
    No “strategic dialogue” on “interdependence” or “beautiful theories on International relations”.
    Just I told you so!!!
    And obviously the U.S. Senate wasn’t convinced by this book either.

    So, Mullen was there yesterday to try to talk to Beijing. “I wonder how that went over?”, I ask myself…….”they probably went to his speech many of them to “test their English listening comprehension.”…..the speech ended up being for the students….the children……not…..the leaders….no way….”

    I like the book. And it has been released at entirely appropriate time.
    Next year there will be a Presidential Election in The United States.
    Everbody should read this book. This book should be discussed.
    The next ten years will perhaps be one of the most challenging decades in American history.

    This is not the first book I have ever read that Dr. Kissinger has written. I am a big fan of his 1994 book “Diplomacy”. Interestingly enough some of his predictions about the potential difficulties of the EU back in the early 1990′s when Maastrict was being signed have actually come to fruition. Like not having enough money and the default of member nations. Those are outcomes still to be watched….and they are being watched….by China.

    Then there is his style and analysis. It can be described almost in one word: objective…..he doesn’t force his reader to accept his analyses of course but there is a certain kind of analytical style that I might describe as almost hypnotic but not in a negative sense. He simply asks his reader “to consider…..what might happen if…..such and such where the case……then what would you do….”…..the amazing style of the diplomat.

    Charles Darwin said it best in his book “On Natural Selection” when he starts the book by saying that and I paraphrase “……all living organisms are in a state of “Universal Struggle for life”…that it appears to me is almost like saying that all living organisms are in a struggle with each other either directly or indirectly for their existences…….”.

    So this is what I have been doing for the last more than thirty years watching and observing empiracally like Darwin….my subject of course China and The Chinese.
    Doing it how? Simply by living with them, 24/7/365. Watching them struggle.

    And of course when I get a chance to read a book like this one it is a chance for me to compare and contrast my empiracal experiences and the impressions and conclusions I have come up based on these with/ against another kind of benchmark.

    Perhaps if we employ the prinicple of “Universality” from physics we might conclude that all societies are equivalent.

    I must say that I think the price of the book is reasonable. Thanks.

    But then there are the internal conflicts…….what will happen there????
    And Mullen complains again……see the pattern developing???

    “Is the world,” I ask myself, “really going to buy this?”.

    And now the U.S.A. is no longer a triple A rated country…. rather it is now AA+.
    Doesn’t The Bank of China do “Interbanking loans”?

    Oh yeah and just as of a few days ago Texas Governor Rick Perry entered the contest for President of the United States of America mentioning in his speech how the U.S.A. should not be “bound or dictated to by foreign owners of America’s debt”….( sounds just like 1773 all over again…something about “unjust taxes”…levied by a foreign power )….so do I say “told you so”??Then on the front page of my today’s 15 August newspaper I see a very worried looking new U.S. Ambassador to China…..where it was quoted just a while before in Chinese papers that “we (China) should use our financial weapon to slap Washington over arms sales to Taiwan….”
    then there’s the “Tea Party guys”……these are my First Ammendment Rights….Freedom of Speech…..for further reference check with the A.C.L.U.

  • TrafficWarden
    12:07 on July 31st, 2011
    Reply to comment

    When it comes to China, it’s hard to think of a person or diplomat who has served as long and has as much hands-on, working knowledge of the relations between the red giant and the West as Dr. Henry Kissinger. In fact, it’s impossible.

    With engagements dating back nearly a half-century and covering administrations on both sides of half a dozen rotating regimes, Kissinger has devoted his life’s work to bridging the gaps between the U.S. and foreign entities, with China being at the top of the list. In this voluminous, 586-page work, Kissinger warns of the U.S.’s desire to bring its own democratic morals to a land whose sovereignty is of paramount import. Only by studying the past, Kissinger argues in “On China,” can one find the middle ground that will prevent the two superpowers from coming to loggerheads in the future.

    At one time, China and the U.S. shared a common enemy in the Soviet Union. This triangulation was the basis for much of the early U.S.-China detente as promulgated by the diplomat’s early visits to China under President Nixon. With the fall of the Soviet regime, the relationship evolved into an economic battlefront where U.S. interference (over democracy, human-rights, economic agendas, etc.) was looked down upon by the Chinese though, of course, issues related to these positions continue to remain in force today.
    Along the way, Kissinger relates stories of his relationships with Mao Zedong and the post-Mao leaders (Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemen and Hu Jintao) with whom he has continually interfaced. Mao, he states, was an often cryptic and mercurial leader and those in the post Mao world have, at times, adopted some of his confusing attributes in his wake. Much is made of conflicts – from Vietnam to Taiwan to Tiananmen Square – where Chinese and U.S. policies remained at odds, while some form of shuttle diplomacy prevented either side from attempting a massive outbreak. Kissinger details the backroom politics of such moments in ways that seem both perplexing on the surface yet humanistic at the core. By citing details of both the 2,000 year history of the empire as well as the last century of Chinese governmental behaviors, the 87 year-old diplomat allows for a broader window of perspective in viewing what are often seen as isolated incidents.

    As far as the future of the Sino-American relationship, Kissinger argues for an understanding that sets aside the urge of U.S. diplomats to try and re-create a new China in the U.S. mold. Expecting China to embrace democracy anytime soon is a fool’s errand according to the author. Kissinger cites China’s stated goals as eschewing revolution, saying “it does not want war or revenge; it simply wants the Chinese people to `bid farewell to poverty and enjoy a better life.’” Whether, the U.S. or China’s own neighbors in the region are ready to accept that remains uncertain, but one thing is for sure, if relations between the two economic superpowers are to remain steady and grow, it will be the efforts of the next Kissingers that will have to help navigate the course.

  • oldschool
    20:19 on July 31st, 2011
    Reply to comment

    In his formidable 500-page-plus book, equally formidable scholar-diplomat Henry Kissinger writes about the nation with which he is inextricably linked: China. Kissinger infuses his text with impressive personal recollections based on more than 50 visits to China over 40 years, working either officially as national security adviser and secretary of state, or unofficially as a foreign policy expert. In that time, he has seen China’s evolution through four generations of its leaders. His insights on foreign policy and his personal rapport with top officials enable him to embellish this diplomatic history with extraordinary detail and discernment. getAbstract highly recommends the book’s vast scope to anyone seriously interested in examining China’s current and future role in world politics and economics, and that should be just about everyone.

  • nedendir
    21:45 on July 31st, 2011
    Reply to comment

    Well researched and engaging. My only comment is that the book is less about China itself and more about Chinese diplomacy in the Kissinger era.

  • Satish KC
    2:26 on August 1st, 2011
    Reply to comment

    Unlike excellent histories that focus on broad theoretical origins of politico-economic systems such as Fukuyama’s Origins and Morse’s Juggernaut, this book focuses on the modern manifestations and practical lessons of the Asian giant that could only be witnessed first hand by someone with intimate connections to the leaders. Kissinger proves throughout this erudite book that only someone with his experience and diplomatic savvy could have possibly gotten close enough to understand the culture. It just so happens that he is the only one that has such experience and savvy.

    Of course, this book does offer a grand history of the culture, from its beginnings nearly 5,000 years ago, and it is a brilliant survey. It shines most, however, in the 20th century, when Kissinger’s personal account is employed to convey the rest of the story.

    Anyone looking for insight into the rationale for China’s isolationism and that of the United States, which wanted badly to open the door, will be enthralled by this account. We learn, as seems obvious in retrospect, that it was not much more than the shrewdest of pragmatic policy decisions in an age when shrewd policy was the only way to survive. Kennedy and Johnson had both tried and failed. With the help of Kissinger, who has a reputation for shrewd pragmatism, Nixon finally succeeded.

    Kissinger reflects on the sleeping dragon at perhaps a more interesting time than the 1970s, when he was secretary of state. After 40 years, Nixon and his measures seem vindicated, as China has steadily moved in the direction of freedom and capitalism. And yet, with human rights issues far from being resolved and growing economic friction between China and the U.S., the fate of the relationship is more precarious than ever.

    That is why this is such an important book. It is our good fortune that Mr. Kissinger has been able to produce it.

  • PaulTheZombie
    3:34 on August 1st, 2011
    Reply to comment

    The beginning of the book provides a history of the culture of China and China’s view of its place in the world. This provides background for the actions of China’s leaders in the past 100 years. The book focuses almost exclusively on the political decisions and interactions between China and the USA and the former USSR. There isn’t much analysis of the internal effects of these policies. I was expecting more analysis of the Communist Party’s effect on China (good and bad); however, it was mostly a political overview of interactions between countries with very little critique of Chinese Communist policies on its own people. I was disappointed by the lack of critique especially since Communist China was a closed society until recently and the author is in a unique position to fill in the blanks.

  • pop frame
    6:25 on August 1st, 2011
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    In “On China”, former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger paints a broad picture of Chinese history, from the three kingdoms period through to the voyage of British agent McCartney, the Boxer rebellion, the cultural revolution and the current day. The greatest focus is on the opening up of relations and the second half of the text could almost be called “History of Kissinger-China relations”, but that does reflect Kissinger’s important historical role.

    Early in the book, to demonstrate the differences between Chinese and western strategic thinking, Kissinger compares chess to wei qi, known in the west by its Japanese name “Go”. Chinese strategic thinking, as stressed in the writings of Sun Tzu, does not stress absolute mastery, which is the name of the game in chess. Chess is a game with a clear victor and a clear winner, where total domination of the other player is the key. It ends when the opposing king meets the grim reaper. By contrast, wei qi is a game of subtle victories, with a lot of close matches where a game has a slight winner, but barely. In addition, the strategic priority in chess is to gain control of territory with the pieces already on board — everything is explicit. In wei qi, which translates as “game of surrounding pieces”, strategy is to be found in the pieces not yet placed on the board. Chess matches begin with a struggle for control of the center of the board and for the elimination of enemy pieces in head-on clashes; Wei Qi players move into empty pieces to mitigate the strategic potential of their adversaries. Quoting Kissinger “Chess produces single-mindedness; wei qi generates strategic flexibility.”

    This leads into Kissinger’s analysis of historical Chinese geopolitical strategy. Tradition in China was to rarely directly militarily engage enemies, instead preferring subterfuge. The strongest army was the army that never needed to fight. The strategy with respect to the barbarians surrounding China was to play “barbarian against barbarian”, a narrative Kissinger implied continues through to the present day.

    Playing barbarian against barbarian was a strategy that worked for China due to its historical position of strength. Its emperor was ruler of “all under heaven” and trade with other countries was contextualized in terms of tribute to the emperor – an ideology which meant an absence of trade with Japan. This strategy would near its end with increasing trade with the west, particularly Britain. China viewed Britain as a “far barbarian”, an offense to Britain. Britain was not allowed an embassy in China as horizontal state to state relations would be an offense to Chinese state ideology. Trade with China was limited to a single port. After the opium wars (opium being the one western import that was immensely successful in the Chinese market), trade with China was expanded to six ports, and embassies were allowed. Not wanting to give advantage to Britain, they gave the same deal to other imperial powers hoping to spur competition. The Chinese court concluded that playing barbarian against barbarian was the wise choice, and that they should play France and America against Britain. However, they had no real means to make that happen. What would follow was a “century of humiliation”, including the Boxer rebellion and the occupation of Manchuria, whereby China was consistently subject to the will of foreign powers. There were individuals in the Chinese court pleading change, but conservative forces would consistently win out. Plans for military and technological catch-up to the west were rejected on the basis that “China would no longer be China”. At some point, I’d like to better understand why China fell prey to conservatives and oligarchy whereas Japan underwent the Meiji restoration and industrialized? This is not explained by Kissinger. As I read the anecdtoes of the incompetence of 19th century Chinese leadership, I could not help but think of the current American leadership, whose priority is to maintain oligarchy at all costs, even at the expense of the future.

    The ongoing humiliation of China, the boxer rebellion, the carving up of Chinese territory by Russia and Japan could only end in the complete eradication of the previous Chinese ruling class, and the rise of Mao Zedong (Kissinger’s preferred spelling). Kissinger speaks approvingly of Mao, and all of his major actions except for the cultural revolution are spoken of with praise. All three of China’s major wars since Mao: The Korean war, the Sino-Indian war, and the third Vietnam war, are portrayed as Chinese victories. In the Korean war, China shocked the world by entering the conflict, and achieved its goal of creating a Korean buffer state and not having Western troops on its border, of falling victim to the wei qi strategy of encirclement. In the Sino-Indian war, Kissinger spoke approvingly of how Mao was motivated by a previous conflict ~1000 years prior, when China deterred future Indian aggression. It would take over territory and give it back, and give back captured weapons, a successful move of preemptive deterrence, and since that time India has not dared attack China.

    Interesting is the third Vietnam war (France and United States made up the first two). As recently as 1973, China and Vietnam had been allied, but the exit of the USA changed geopolitical considerations in the area. Vietnam, a historic Chinese vassal state, wanted to reunite all of Indochina, such an empire of ~100 million people under Ho Chi Minh would challenge regional Chinese hegemony. It signed a mutual defense treaty with Moscow in 1978 or so, and China saw the risk of being encircled, a la wei qi. As such, in a move of aggressive deterrence, it invaded Vietnam, wiped out enemy forces at huge cost to its own forces, and then pulled out. Vietnam no longer had the means to create a united Indochina, and a mockery was made of the Soviet Union, who failed to live up to their treaty obligations. Surprisingly, this obvious victory for China is one that Kissinger states was perceived as a failure by the western media and strategic analysts at the time. Why? Kissinger laments the fact that the best alternative to keep Vietnam out of Cambodia was to align with the “execrable” Pol Pot.

    The rise of the Sino-American alliance is presented in the book as being primarily a consequence of Soviet antagonism. China was recruiting the far barbarian (United States) to help fight the near barbarian (Soviet Union). Sino-soviet relations began to sour in the Korean war, where Mao was upset at the lack of Soviet assistance. There were also frequent border clashes in China’s north. Over time, Chinese propaganda began referring to the USSR as “revisionist” rather than “communist” or “socialist”.

    Kissinger does ask why rapprochement did not happen earlier. In the 1950s, it was impossible on the part of the USA because state department thinkers were embroiled in the debate of “who lost China”, referring to the nationalist defeat at the hands of the communists. This led to soviet experts taking over the positions of intelligence command. In the 1960s, China was torn apart by the internal instability of the cultural revolution, an impact that Kissinger compares to the effect the second Vietnam war had on the sociology of the USA. Once both countries had settled down, and the issue of Soviet intimidation became to serious to ignore, the case for rapprochement became stronger and stronger. Kissinger also claims that Mao was hedging because he thought the Vietnam protests in the USA could unleash a revolution there — this sounds hard to believe. It is also claimed he equated the timelines between 1918-1939 and 1945-1968, and thought another convulsion was around the corner.

    I didn’t pay as much attention in the sections dealing with 80s, 90s and early 2000s as I found them kind of dull. There was some brief discussion about the Chinese shock with respect to the negative world reaction following Tienanmen square, they didn’t get why the rest of the planet cared. Had I been more informed I might have been more captivated by the commentary that China is returning to Confucian values, rather than its post-revolutionary Marxist-Maoist ideological structure.

    Forwarding to the future, Kissinger asks if China-US relations are under the same framework as Britain-Germany relations of 100 years prior. He brings up the Crowe memorandum of 1907, which concluded that Berlin-London antagonisms were inevitable and independent of behaviors and beliefs of their leaders. Kissinger realizes this may be the case but urges a different future. He points out that whereas European leaders in 1914 were unaware of the destructive potential of their weapons, the same is not true of current leaders and nuclear weapons. He urges the creation of a pacific community, much like the post-war atlantic community, so that Sino-US relations can be moved through the prism of a shared future rather than a competition. I wonder if he really means to endorse global government. It’s a nice picture, but it seems all of these politics end with a rosy epilogue showcasing a vision of a possible bright future.

    In an interview on TV I saw of Kissinger with respect to this book, he said that the concept of “China’s rise”, was a mislabel. China, he said, believes it has always been at the apex of civilization, and the period 1800-2000 or so is merely an exception to the historic norm. That is the impression I get from his text, and of Kissinger’s view of China.

  • Juana Cruz
    9:46 on August 1st, 2011
    Reply to comment

    In On China, Henry Kissinger provides an extensive study of foreign and domestic Chinese policy. Furthermore, he provides some insightful observations on Chinese mentality and culture mostly in the context of foreign policy and military strategy.

    In the first few chapter, Mr. Kissinger’s provides some background to support his view that China is an ancient civilization proud of her own culture that never felt the need to learn anything from foreign countries. On the contrary, the Chinese assumed that foreign countries should learn from them. This was partially due to the fact that until around mid 19th century, the Chinese economy was responsible for around 30% of the world’s GDP and was more developed than most of the Western world. Because of this mind set, China was reluctant to learn from the West and began to fall behind the Western world – economically and military-wise.

    The chapters following mostly concern Mao Zedong and the important events that occurred during the time he served as Chairman. Mr. Kissinger briefly touches defining events such as the Great Leap Forward and the Culture Revolution, however, he mostly focuses on Mao’s foreign policy during the Korean War, Sino-Indian border crisis, and the high tensions between the Soviet Union and China, which almost resulted in an outright war between the two communist giants’ countries. The author does not provide a broad review of these events, but rather he focuses on the points he sees to be important in the context of foreign and domestic policy.

    The really insightful part of the book starts with the establishment of the Sino-U.S. diplomatic relations that Mr. Kissinger was personally involved in. After Mao’s era, Mr. Kissinger discusses at length Deng Xiaoping’s policies, mostly focusing on the economic reforms and the opening up of China to the world. Kissinger concludes with some advise regarding the future of Sino-U.S. relations.

    In conclusion, this book is a rather easy read, and is highly recommended for anyone who wishes to expand his knowledge of Chinese history.

  • John Baxter
    12:41 on August 1st, 2011
    Reply to comment

    This lengthy tome is worth slogging through just to better understand how exactly we got to a place where a despotic, communist regime is about to eclipse the US economically and challenge us militarily. Mr. Kissinger should be ashamed rather than smug, but like so many he actually doesn’t seem to get it.

    When you are done, try “Death by China” (Navarro and Autry) for a sobering dose of reality. Its no where near as fancy or wordy, but it is a lot more connected to reality.
    Death by China: Confronting the Dragon – A Global Call to Action

    After that try Paul Midler’s “Poorly Made in China” to better understand the details of how we are being cheated and sometimes poisoned.
    Poorly Made in China: An Insider’s Account of the China Production Game

    Finally, Baiqiao Tang and Damon DiMarco’s “My Two China’s” will wake you up if you’ve been under the spell that China dictators are benevolent.
    My Two Chinas: The Memoir of a Chinese Counter-Revolutionary

    God save us all.

  • eliteuser
    18:41 on August 1st, 2011
    Reply to comment

    These days, just about everyone who has read SunZi and can get his hands on a word processor seems to improvise himself a China expert, depicting apocalyptic scenarios in which the Western World is shrinking to the periphery of international affairs while China comes back roaring to rule the world.

    Among the scores of self-proclaimed, self-styled and self-absorbed China experts, Henry Kissinger is one of a handful of people who has the resume and the intellectual horse-power to pull the role off.

    The book is neither a purely theoretical essay on China’s foreign policy nor an historical account of China’s recent history. Kissinger only makes what theoretical claims he can later justify with facts and only discusses what facts can be interpreted through his framework. In this sense the book reads neither like a sterile treaty on foreign affairs nor like a chronicle of events without clear context. Kissinger himself being a main character at certain points during the narration does not impinge on the fundamental impartiality of the narration, nor does he overstate his role or his importance. He appears on the scene and then fades away as if he wasn’t aware that it is himself he is talking about.

    Without a doubt, one of the very few recently publyshed must-read books on Chinese foreign policy.

  • Satish KC
    23:22 on August 1st, 2011
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    I have never read any book by Kissinger before, and I am very impressed by his writing which is very clear, to the point, and easy to understand. His first hand experiences with the Chinese leaders in different administrations and in changing times and political cultures are very interesting and his relationships with politicians are very complex and respectful. He is a very good teacher and definitely helpful in enhacing understanding of the world politics through history.

  • Now what?
    7:49 on August 2nd, 2011
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    On China is more than one book. It is a complete and interesting overview of Chinese history and it dwells also in the complicated and bumpy relationship between modern China and the United States. Kissinger’s analysis of the dynamics of the Cold War in On China could have been too a book in itself, as also the author’s personal memories and thoughts of the times he lived, in and out of politics. Henry Kissinger was the first American to engage modern China in negotiations after the victory of Mao in 1949 and the establishment of the Popular Republic of China.And he has remained for decades the link-formal or not- between the United States and China. As an insider, he describes as no one could do, not only the leaders that conform the secretive inner circle of power in China, their strategies and thinking, but the obstacles that both countries have faced on the way to establish a close and workable relation. Some of the issues, as the relation with Taiwan,remain unsolved, but as Kissinger explains through the book the main problem is the cultural abyss that separates China and the United States. On China was written as part of the solution: it is meant to be a bridge between China and the US.To help the reader understand- and If possible empathize-with China. From this point of view, this excellent book is the last act in the life of a brilliant diplomat and scholar.

  • Jolynn Ordona
    12:15 on August 2nd, 2011
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    Prior to the publication of this book the definitive resource on China was Jonathan Spence’s “In Search of Modern China”. Spence the Yale Professor, is still indispensible to a modern understanding of this remarkable country. Now there is a second more up to date source and that is Henry Kissinger. The former Secretary of State who is now 88 years fortunately has taken the time to put together this incredible piece of work that only he could have created.

    The book demonstrates the necessity of having lived a very long productive life and generating wisdom capable of distilling his understanding of a country down to a 530 page volume of work. It is as good as any of his previous works (13 with this one) and for my money I now put this book in Kissinger’s top three, along with WHITE HOUSE YEARS and DIPLOMACY.

    First the MECHANICS of the Book

    If you are going to read the hard copy as opposed to digital, you are in for a treat. The font is beautiful, and the paper used to print the volume is delicious. I say this because if you are a heavy reader; you really appreciate turning the pages of beautifully textured pages. I annotate all of my books, writing in margins, in the back on blank pages and just about everywhere, and I love writing on beautiful page that take the ink nicely. This book was crafted professionally as good as it gets.

    The ORGANIZATION of On China

    The Secretary has made 40 trips to China in his lifetime, enough that he should be the Honorary Ambassador to the country. He is thoroughly infused in the history of China, and he certainly does give you the history. There are 18 chapters plus an epilogue spread over 531 pages. There are 36 pages of footnotes and it is obvious that the Secretary had considerable organizational help with the footnotes which is to be expected.
    The first three chapters or 91 pages are devoted to the nation’s history and Kissinger gets it right. I have made many trips to China, but I still have problems with the language. When you read any book on China, you will have problems with pronunciation. What I do is quickly scan the book writing down 50 or a 100 names or terms I can’t pronounce, and then head for the first Chinese restaurant in town, and ask for help with the words. People love to help, especially when you are taking an interest in their culture and language.

    The guts of the book begins on page 91 or Chapter 4 which is Mao’s Continuous Revolution. This chapter is superb and superbly written. If you study American China relations, the question that is always stipulated is whether or not America lost China in 1949. Kissinger correctly reminds us that China might never have been ours to lose, so we asking the wrong question.

    Mao always believed that the Confucian order had for thousands of years kept China a weak China. Confucius preached HARMONY, and Mao believed that progress could only come from brutal confrontations both in China and with outside adversaries for China to advance. Mao also believed that these confrontations would happen naturally, but if they did not, he was not beyond creating confrontations even if they had to be within the Communist party to kept progress going, as he understood progress.

    Chapter 6 which deals with China Confronts Both Superpowers is another section that only Kissinger could have written. It is here that China confronts the Soviet Union creating the Sino-Soviet split, and the United States with the Taiwan Strait Crisis. The chapter is riveting, and will affect and change your understanding of history.


    The book is indispensible. You cannot understand China and modern Asia without having this book under your belt. One would have to be foolish to visit China and not read this book first to truly benefit from such a trip. Mao was famous for the Long March, and this book is a long journey for the reader but it is very rewarding. The Secretary takes us through the Road to Reconciliation in Chapter 8, and then the first encounters with Nixon, himself and the Chinese leadership in Chapter 9.

    It is a fascinating portrayal of power meeting power head to head, and the respect that even enemies can hold for each other. It is now generally accepted that only Nixon the hardened right winger could have opened the door to China and brought the American people along with him, because he Nixon was viewed as tough. Perhaps in a decade or two, Harvard will accept what most historians have already accepted.

    In Chapter 11 we witness the End of the Mao Era. Zhou Enlai falls and Deng’s first return to power begins. Kissinger loves writing about Deng and calls him the indestructible Deng throughout chapter 12. Keep in mind that it was Deng who opened up modern China and began the reforms that were necessary for China to assert itself years later internationally and economically.

    For those readers that know very little of China, this book is a whirlwind tour of a country fast gaining hegemony over Asia. You need to read Chapter 13 on the Third Viet Nam to understand how China is capable of dealing with its neighbors. Had we handled Viet Nam this way, the outcome and history would have been different.


    Henry Kissinger ON CHINA is destined to become a best seller and in the process will greatly help an America that knows very little about China except for newspapers, to understand not just the history of this vital country, but its future and the nexus of that future with America’s future. No one can ignore China, so the sooner we as Americans gain the understanding that we need to make intelligent decisions, the better off we will all be. If you have an interest in China whatsoever, run to read this book, and do not put it down until you are finished with it. Good luck and thank you for reading this review.

    Richard C. Stoyeck


    I will share something extraordinary with you. When you read a book like this, you will have a better understanding of China than 98% of the people living in China and 95% of the Chinese people living in America. I am still shocked when I meet Chinese people in this country young and old who have next to no understanding of Chinese history prior to Mao. They do not know the name Sun Yat-sen, or even Zhou Enlai, and forget about the Cultural Revolution unless they lived through it. Even the tragedy of Tiananmen Square is fast fading from memory.

    It reminds me of German history in the post Hitler period. Anybody in Germany who was educated post 1950 has very little to no understanding of the Hitler period. It is simply glossed over as a dark period in German history; the teachers do not know what to say. Just amazing.

  • Markoc
    14:42 on August 2nd, 2011
    Reply to comment

    Firstly, Dr. Kissinger delivers an intelligent and well-constructed review of recent Chinese history. This is an indispensable read for any China novice wishing to better understand modern China and the intent of recent US policy. Clearly the former Secretary of State understands the political and strategic issues better than anyone and he has coupled his extensive personal experiences with very solid research.
    However, the author’s personal involvement in the evolution of the US-China relationship and to some extent his actual responsibility for the success of the modern Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has rendered this great statesman incapable of objectively evaluating the true nature of China’s ruling elite, seeing the devastation that China’s abusive trade strategy has wrought on American workers, considering the environmental disaster that China is inflicting on all of Asia, or being realistic about China’s regional and strategic military threats. It isn’t as though he doesn’t know the facts, and occasionally he cites them, he just can’t get any real world perspective on them because he simply hasn’t been in the real world for a very long time.
    For Dr. Kissinger, history is an abstract game of strategy played across fancy diplomatic dinner tables, parlors filled with overstuffed chairs, and magnificent conference rooms. He has been to China dozens of times over a forty-year period, but I’d doubt he has ever really walked the streets of a Chinese city alone much less spoken anonymously to a normal Chinese citizen. He’s never felt the mud of rural China on his legs – unless perhaps he was helicoptered into somewhere for a photo op. From his ivory tower the prisoners in China’s labor camps, the women subjected to forced abortions, those beaten and tortured for their political or religious beliefs, or the unemployed workers standing outside America’s shuttered factories appear as mere pawns to be traded for the attainment of bigger strategic objectives in a captivating game of geopolitical intrigue.
    Dr. Kissinger remains a tragic captive of meta-ethical relativism. He is simply unable to really see evil for what it is and would never dare to call it out in the way that braver men like Churchill or Reagan have. He can casually mention the millions who died during Mao’s Great Leap Forward or suffered in the insanity of his Cultural Revolution and yet still fawn on the Chairman as a congenial host. The chapter in which Kissinger glosses over the massacre at Tiananmen without counting the dead – or even acknowledging why doing so remains impossible – was particularly disturbing. He enumerates the body count in countless wars and uprisings before June 4, but finds this event worthy of a chapter only because he is compelled to – very weakly – justify the pathetic US policy reaction.
    In his epilogue, Dr. Kissinger builds a careful, amoral analysis of China’s rise as a mirror of Germany in the years before the First World War. That period of classic diplomacy is a great analogy for a strategy hound not wishing to be burdened by pesky ethical issues. He has carefully selected it to accommodate his natural tendency to moral equivalency. For example in this section he asserts that in the possibly emerging US-China cold war that “both sides would emphasis their ideological differences” as though they were equally valid or that consideration of their validity is too trivial to investigate. What the good doctor fails to confront is the fact that the current Chinese ideology is simply National Socialism with Chinese characteristics. This fundamental truth suggests the much more disturbing analogy of the years before the Second World War as the more apt analogy for this analysis, complete with the goose-stepping troops on review and a showboat political Olympic games.
    Nonetheless, I highly recommend the book if for no other reason than it nicely summarizes the dominant policy paradigm that is currently leading the world toward the brink of disaster. As Sun Tzu wisely teaches, it is very important to understand your enemy and America’s most dangerous enemy is China and our domestic China apologists.
    The essence of all this is nicely summed up by a insightful comment from Deng Xiaopeng which Kissinger offers to us without a hint of irony:
    “Your spokesmen have constantly justified and apologized for Soviet actions. Sometimes they say there are no signs to prove that there is the meddling of the Soviet Union and Cuba in the case of Zaire or Angola. It is no use for you to say so. To be candid with you, whenever you are about to conclude an agreement with the Soviet Union it is the product of concession on the U.S. side to please the Soviet Side.”

    Greg Autry,

    Coauthor, Death by China
    Death by China: Confronting the Dragon – A Global Call to Action

  • The Dealer
    21:49 on August 2nd, 2011
    Reply to comment

    Including on pages 204-205 where Mao (in a 1965 interview) denied having any part in the arming of North Vietnam. Kissenger points out fast that Mao in fact had given 100,000 logistical troops to the NV. What a bad commie liar Mao was.
    To the poster to my work. Yes, Thomas, Mao was all that bad stuff. Good thing he lived less than 50 years ago as he is still worthy of some thought (in a bad way).

  • nedendir
    23:15 on August 2nd, 2011
    Reply to comment

    Dr. Kissinger’s latest book On China is described by Penguin as a “sweeping and insightful history,” which it certainly is. However, it clearly intends to also be an analysis of the relationship of the United States and a rapidly developing superpower starting where Dr. Kissinger entered the history personally and then projected into the future coexistence of these two nations. On this level I was immediately struck by its comparison with China: Fragile Superpower by Susan Shirk. Kissinger makes reference as did Shirk to the game GO analogy in Chinese thinking, to comparison with Otto von Bismarck’s development of a “rising” Germany, and to a win-win rather than zero sum outcome for the relationship, and there are other similarities. Certainly, Kissinger’s view is much longer as Shirk’s analytical piece picks up long after the Korean War. But it is in comparing the books that I find Kissinger’s treatment much less detailed and far more respectful of the relationships he has with Chinese leaders-as though he plans yet another visit and wants a still friendly welcome.

    Susan Shirk’s central theme is that the Communist Party rulers of China view almost all domestic and international issues from a single viewpoint-the preservation of their rule. She dwells far more on issues that will always divide the peoples of China and the USA like religious suppression, lack of workers’ rights, forced abortions, control of Tibet, Internet/media censorship, jailing and killing dissidents (Tiananmen), pirating of intellectual property, and unfair competition for jobs and currency supremacy. Both Shirk and Kissinger realize the necessity of having a way to deal with transient crises like the bombing of the Chinese embassy, the collision of our plane with theirs in the strait, WTO admission, the attempted purchase of UNOCAL, Japanese premiers’ visits to war memorials, as well as longstanding problems like North Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, Taiwan, and Taiwan. These countries must understand each other if they wish to navigate such roiled seas. Kissinger tries to take this understanding into the deeply philosophical realm, which is why he rehearses the entire history of China and describes its recent leaders as polished, eminent statesmen. Shirk has the more realistic and pragmatic approach. She mentions Sun Tzu only once and Confucius never.

    The many reviews here make it unnecessary to summarize Dr. Kissinger’s book. It is an impressive effort that all Americans should read. However, it reminded me immediately of another book from 2007 by a US State Department member, who also visited and dealt with the Chinese on many occasions, that might be a better guide for relating to China’s “peaceful rise.” Perhaps Susan Shirk’s work China: Fragile Superpower deserves another look to provide a more balanced view than Kissinger’s of the leadership we face in China.

    (Both books have only one map up front, Kissinger’s more detailed, Shirk’s more analytical. Kissinger has a central collection of of illustrations that are glossy images of leaders’ visits right up to Obama. Shirk has interspersed photos directly illustrative of the points of narrative.)

  • Satish KC
    3:55 on August 3rd, 2011
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    Dr. Kissinger has had personal experience with four generations of Chinese leaders, as well as building an appreciation of its long history. His “On China” primarily covers China’s initial encounters between China and modern European powers, the breakdown of its alliance with Russia, rationale behind and its involvement in the Korean War, and President Nixon’s historic trip to Beijing. The book is an attempt to explain differences in how the Chinese both view themselves as an exceptional civilization (cultural; non–applicable to other nations) and think about foreign and military strategy, vs. the U.S. (God-given, with an obligation to spread to others). Most of “On China” consists of a readable, but detailed history of China, along with how those events have shaped its leaders. Kissinger’s historical accounting begins with with Confucius, and goes on to also summarize the forced opening of China by Great Britain and other ‘barbarians,’ Japanese and Russian occupation, Mao’s takeover and creation of continual chaos, reclaiming former boundaries (India, Tibet, Inner Mongolia; crises over Taiwan), rationale for Sino-U.S. rapprochement, the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, and China’s subsequent healing and economic resurgence initiated and led by Deng Xiaoping.

    Early China was plagued by internecine conflict that threatened the empire’s sustainability. Confucius (551 B.C.- 479 B.C.), an itinerant philosopher largely ignored in his lifetime, provided the ‘glue’ that has both kept the empire together since, while uniting its people, and providing much of Asia’s ‘state religion.’ Expertise in Confucian thought became the key to advancement after the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – A.D. 220) adopted Confucius’ thinking. In doing so, the State assumed a moral obligation to provide virtue and harmony, and its people took on an obligation to obey the state as well as honor their ancestors and emphasize learning.

    Between 1405-1433, China’s Admiral Zheng sent out a fleet of large, technically advanced ships to Africa, the Middle East, India, and other closer locales. The fleet’s size, number of vessels, and sophistication dwarfed that of the Spanish Armada that was created 150-years later. The purpose of the voyages is unclear to historians, and the next Emperor ordered the fleet destroyed, along with Zheng’s records of those voyages. The expeditions were never repeated. More significantly, withdrawal from Western nations limited access to new ideas and led to China being physically and economically dominated by others from the mid-1800s until the 1990s – its ‘Century of Humiliation.’ (China’s share of the world’s GDP was about 25% in 1500, grew to approximately 30% in 1820, and fell to about 4% in 1950.) Deng’s re-opening China’s economy in 1979 brought China back – it is now the world’s #2 economy and expected to become #1 in about 15 years, based on purchasing-power parity.

    As an aside, Kissinger also notes that China’s turbulent history has taught its leaders that not every problem has a solution, and that too great an emphasis on total mastery over specific events could upset world harmony. Important lessons that the U.S. could benefit from.

    Keys to understanding China: 1)Confucianism – a single universal standard of conduct and social cohesion. 2)Sun Tzu – outsmarting an opponent = good, conflict = bad. 3)China’s recent history of humiliation. 4)Fear of social disorder.

    Human-rights activists will not be satisfied with Kissinger’s lack of umbrage on human rights in China – especially regarding Mao; realists, however, will recognize that the passage of time, China’s rapid economic improvement and Confucian history make the topic much less important to the Chinese. Those more sardonic will simply note that Kissinger’s firm does extensive business in China and he does not want to risk that. Kissinger also does not cover China’s newly acquired economic power vs. the U.S. via its extensive holding of U.S. debt, our recent loss of respect due to the ‘Great Recession’ and our loss of manufacturing leadership. Regardless, “On China” is essential reading; it also clearly demonstrates why Dr. Kissinger is renowned among foreign policy experts.

  • Seano
    8:51 on August 3rd, 2011
    Reply to comment

    I am a history buff and love Chinese history, and naturally I enjoyed Kissinger’s latest book. On China is well written and full of historical facts and events dated back from Huang Di, Spring-Autumn and War Era 1200 B,C, The book is interesting enough to keep me engaged 90% of the time. I specailly like the part when he talked about his visits to China with Nixon in the 1960s. His depiction of Chou En-Lai and of Mao are interesting. Most Chinese mau not agree, but His point of views are fact-based and relevant. On the whole I’d recommend this book to Westerners who want to learn more about China. GOOD READ!

  • Ripel
    10:44 on August 3rd, 2011
    Reply to comment

    There is no doubt that Dr Kissinger is or was a skillful diplomat. And this book is a great introduction from him to the history of Sino-American foreign policy. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Dr Kesssiger’s accounts of his dealings with Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin. However, I can’t help but observed that either the author has a romanticised view of the Chinese regime and its leaders or is censoring himself when writing this book for he knows the Chinese leadership will probably read it.

    I appreciate the reality of foreign policy and that the advancement of national interests often carries with it unavoidable costs vis-a-vis morality and human suffering. But I agree with the assessment of Chris Patten (the last British govenor of Hong Kong)that Dr Kessinger let Mao off the hook too easily on what he did to the Chinese people by launching the Great Leap Forward (afterall only 20-40 million people died) and the Cultural Revolution, just like the author let Deng off the hook for ordering the PLA to crush the protesters at Tiananmen.

    As someone who is ethinc Chinese working and living in China, working alongside Mainland Chinese including mid to high ranking officials, I can assure you the Chinese people themselves (officials included) are far harsher in their assessment of their current and past leaders. Like Dr Kissinger himself noted foreign policy does not exist in the vaccum of advancement of national interest, there has to be some underlying value system. To me, that underlying value system means respect for human rights and dignity. The Chinese are no different in their aspiration for human rights and dignity and it would be misguided for anyone (including the author) to side step that in their assessment of Chinese leadership.

  • TrafficWarden
    11:09 on August 3rd, 2011
    Reply to comment

    This collection of essays explores the relevance of the writings of significant pre-Qin thinkers about ancient Chinese statecraft to facilitate a better understanding of modern international relations. The pre-Qin thinkers covered include Guanzi, Laozi, Confucius, Mencius, Mozi, Xunxi, and Hanfeizi.

    The book consists of three essays by Professor Yan Xuetong (Director, Institute of International Studies at Tsinghua University in Beijing), three essays by other Chinese scholars who comment upon and critique the views of Professor Yan, and another essay by Professor Yan in response to his critics. The book also has three short Appendices: The first Appendix provides a brief description of the Spring and Autumn and Warring Periods in China, and brief synopsis of seven pre-Qin masters. The second Appendix has an interview of Professor Yan that explores his life and academic career. The third Appendix is an essay by Professor Yan on why there is no modern Chinese school of international relations.

    The book provides an interesting look at the political philosophy of ancient Chinese thinkers, and how consideration of their views could provide some ideas and insights to facilitate a better understanding of modern international relations. The essays by Professor Yan also provide an interesting look at his views about how the study of pre-Qin thinkers can improve modern international relations theory to be more rigorous and scientific, as well as his views on how China can use ideas from the pre-Qin thinkers to “help in perfecting China’s strategy for ascent” (Book at page 144).

    The book could appeal to readers interested in: (1) the writings of pre-Qin thinkers about Chinese statecraft; (2) a different approach to modern international relations theory; and (3) the views of a current Chinese scholar about how China can improve and strengthen its influence in the world today.

  • John Baxter
    14:03 on August 3rd, 2011
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    As Henry Kissinger shows in his new book On China, Chinese history has shaped its approach to foreign relations. But he doesn’t say much about China’s future. Here’s where Yan Xuetong’s book is particularly helpful (Yan’s book is endorsed as a “fascinating study” by Kissinger himself on the cover). Yan Xuetong argues that China’s foreign relations can and should draw on the lessons of ancient Chinese political philosophy. The book is clearly written and will interest anyone who cares about what Chinese intellectuals are thinking (as opposed to what foreigners think they should be thinking) and what it may mean for China’s political future. Yan himself is a rare combination of influential foreign policy analyst and excellent scholar writing for future generations.

  • eliteuser
    20:04 on August 3rd, 2011
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    When I first picked up this book, I expected it to be a typical political memoir where the author presented the facts and events in a manner to put himself in the best light possible, and used it to advocate his own views on political events. This book is so much more than that! Kissinger starts off with a quick description of China’s history from early imperial times, through its encounters with the colonial ambitions of the West in the 1800′s, and into the Chinese civil war. In addition to his description of the historical facts, Kissinger explains the nature and the rationale behind Chinese foreign policy through these years. Kissinger then moves into the United States’ encounters with China after the communists took over. I expected Kissinger to start inserting his own opinions at this point, but he largely stuck to an objective statement of the facts. When he got to the opening of China in the Nixon years, he presented his thoughts about China and the United States’ policy toward it in a very matter of fact manner. He then continued to give a description of the personalities and the events that led to China’s remarkable economic rise. Throughout the book, Kissinger limited himself to an objective statement of the facts and issues regarding the United States’ relationship with China. While he certainly favors continued engagement with China, he presents the arguments of people who wish for a more confrontational policy with China in an even-handed manner. I found this book to be remarkably informative and very enjoyable to read. It is an excellent primer on Chinese history and a must read for anyone who is interested in US/China relations.

  • cjinsd
    2:39 on August 4th, 2011
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    Diplomacy is the highest form of the art of human relations, and few living today can match that of the master of that art, Henry Kissinger. In my opinion, he is America’s Michelangelo of diplomacy and we have much to thank him for his long and dedicated service.

    Having paid dutiful homage to him, let me ask you a question. Do you like the game of chess? If so, then you will enjoy reading this book for it is not your usual history tome. It goes beyond a straightforward account of the major international political events associated with contemporary China (starting at its initial confrontation with countries of the West). It provides the reader with the services of a veteran “color analyst” to accompany him/her. With his assistance you will learn how the pro interprets strategic moves and nuances. This is rich and interesting stuff.

    Now don’t let the size of this “white cover” volume intimidate you. It is double-line spaced; so it is actually less that 270 pages.

    The political maneuverings around the USSR, Formosa, Korea and Vietnam are all here, as well as the opening of the “new” China to the West (which was skillfully and artfully facilitated by the author and his boss, President Nixon). The roles and influence of Mao, Zhou, Deng, Jiang, Hu and Wen are compared.

    I thought his review of the incident at Tiananmen Square was insightful and represented his strategic as well as political viewpoint well. As for surprises, the Chinese perspective on the USSR during the post-Vietnam War was an eye-opener to me, a Vietnam veteran. I found the last two chapters which offer up Kissinger’s thoughts on contemporary issues to be the most valuable. However, I quibble with the selection of the disequilibrium caused by the unification of Germany as a nation prior to World War I as an historical lesson for current times.

    Here are some examples of the insightful thoughts included among many:

    “Almost all empires were created by force, but none can be sustained by it. Universal rule, to last, needs to translate force into obligation. Otherwise, the energies of the rulers will be exhausted in maintaining their dominance at the expense of their ability to shape the future, which is the ultimate task of statesmanship. Empires persist if repression gives way to consensus.” (P. 13)

    “Appeasement has become an epithet in the aftermath of the conduct of the Western democracies toward Hitler in the 1930s. But confrontation can be safely pursued only if the weaker is in a position to make its defeat costly beyond the tolerance of the stronger. Otherwise, some degree of conciliation is the only prudent course. The democracies unfortunately practiced it when they were militarily stronger. But appeasement is also politically risky and stakes social cohesion. For it requires the public to retain confidence in its leaders even if they appear to yield to the victors’ demands.” (p. 84)

    “For the very request for reassurance defines the potential capacity for unreliability of the other side. If not, why would it be necessary?” (p. 121)

    “A cold war between the two countries (USA & China) would arrest progress for a generation on both sides of the Pacific. It would spread disputes into internal policies at every region at a time when global issues such as nuclear proliferation, the environment, energy,security, and climate change impose global cooperation.” (p. 522)

    “…were history confined to the mechanical repetition of the past, no transformation would ever have occurred. Every great achievement was a vision before it became a reality. In that sense, it arose from a commitment, not resignation to the inevitable.” (p. 530)

    I think that Kissinger’s book shall improve your personal vision of the “new” China. I recommend that you check it out if you like chess.

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