Monday, August 16, 2010

What (we think) China Thinks - China's Charm Offensive

Charm Offensive
How China’s Soft Power is Transforming the World

By Joshua Kurlantzik, Melbourne University Press, 305pp

What Does China Think?
By Mark Leonard,Fourth Estate, 164pp.

China’s Brave New World
and other tales for Global Times

By Jeffrey Wasserstrom, Indiana University Press, 210pp

Reviewed: 3 May 2008

China's "Charm Offensive" to build "soft power" has changed the international landscape, mainly at the expense of the United States. Kurlantzik has a background in conservative opinion (US News and World Report, The Economist, New Republic).  His book seems intended to get the juices running among those who see diminution of United States supremacy, in any field, as catastrophic.

Chinese initiatives are less “charm” than a hard-headed campaign for influence and respect, based on offering the elites of foreign regimes an alternative to dependence on the West – economic development without pesky democracy. Kurlantzik seems to think it is a contest for "popularity".

Mark Leonard's book presents a fascinating range of views about China’s future, as advocated by serious and recognized thinkers within China. Importantly these people, many of them with contemporary Western education, are working within the Peoples Republic’s system of academic institutions and official think-tanks, competing for support for their views from the ultimate authority in all things: the Chinese Communist Party.

Read the full review

Richard Thwaites is a former ABC correspondent in China.

Lifting the Veil on Beijing's Forbidden City

The Forbidden City
Geremie Barmé,
Profile Books
Reviewed: 29 March 2008

Professor Geremie Barmé is one of Australia’s foremost contemporary sinologists. . Few anglophones could be better qualified to produce a cultural overview of the role of the Forbidden City through 600 years of Chinese history.

Don’t look to this book for a strict chronological history or a systematic museum guide. Barmé addresses the Forbidden City’s “a metaphorical life”, holding that over the centuries the reality of a sequestered imperial administration has fed the perception of China as perpetually enigmatic and inscrutable.

Tales of palace intrigue here only skim the simmering cauldron of dynastic power politics between eunuchs; the wives, concubines and their factional supporters; the royal siblings; the military and civilian officials; the foreign powers co-opted with dire consequence.  Read the full review

Richard Thwaites was Beijing correspondent for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation 1978-83.