This is the first in a series of regular book reviews on US-China relations, China culture and policy, and inter-societal dynamics in greater Asia and the West. If you have a book you’d like to suggest for review, please contact us. Happy reading!
One of my favorite books about the US view of China is The China Fantasy, by Jim Mann. Though written a decade ago, it is eerily prescient in calling out the self-delusional views that have dominated the US position toward China and our national cycle of action-reaction in building Chinese foreign policy.
Not well-accepted at the time of publication, The China Fantasy illuminated the fact that engagement and “benefit of the doubt” interaction with China might not bring the benefits of democracy, liberalization, and opening up that dominant US decision-makers foretold.
Mann posited three resulting scenarios of China development at the time:
- Trade and engagement with China resulting in China opening up and democratizing;
- China experiencing chaos due to societal imbalances (rich vs poor; urban vs rural) and collapsing in on itself; and
- China globalizing on its own terms, as US policies of appeasement and convenient overlooking of human rights and global norms violations diminish any sense of Chinese government accountability.
Seen as the most unlikely at the time of publication, the third scenario has become reality, as China takes center stage on a global scale. In retrospect there are some takeaways that are useful going forward:
- Things in China can happen very quickly– a barely imaginable projection of a decade ago is an undeniable reality now. Time accelerates possibilities.
- Lack of diversity and perspective at the US national level (and groupthink, lobbying and power politics) is weakening the country’s ability to effectively anticipate a broad range of international possibilities and trends. This does not seem to be improving.
- Individual actions and interactions still make a difference. Mann, as an educated, non-partisan individual, wrote a book that proved to be right. He had his own relationships and vantage point. Individual, person-to-person connectedness gives a greater insight into what is going on, than relying on high level policy briefs and vested interests to guide decisions. A professional, non-partisan diplomatic core provides some benefit.
I highly recommend reading the book, and at the very least check out Mann’s poinient op-ed in the NY Times here. The book is only 112 pages long. Size does not equal power and impact.
Have a book you’d like to see reviewed? Drop us a line and let us know the title!
Social tags: @byjamesmann