On China Review

On China
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On China Review
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 BookIf 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 ChinaThe 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. MY ANALYSIS 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. CONCLUSION: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 ASSIDE: 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.
On China Overview

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