November 2008

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A Review of David Lampton’s Newest Book

By Eric Setzekorn

David Lampton, a distinguished professor of international relations at SAIS, knows this is a great time to publish a book on Chinese power. As a new administration, which he may play a role in, attempts to craft a balanced and articulate China policy, his newest effort, The Three Faces of Chinese Power; Might, Money and Minds, will be influential and widely read. The book is a comprehensive and largely successful attempt to grasp the motivation, intent and challenges for Chinese international relations as China becomes a global leader and East Asia the center of world economic, political and military power. The result is a cogent review of a broad range of issues and policies which, while impressive in its scope and clarity, is unbalanced in its source selection and focus.

The vital theme that Lampton weaves into his account is the tremendous rise in the quality of Chinese leadership and growing economic, military, political tools at China’s disposal, all dedicated to one objective: stability. Lampton repeatedly cautions readers that for at least the next ten to fifteen years China will be occupied dealing with its tremendous internal problems and domestic needs and should not be seen as a destabilizing threat. He is cautious to note that although China’s current policy to become more integrated into the global system should be construed as a positive trajectory it will still require massive changes by the world and particularly the United States.

Lampton defines power as “the ability to define and achieve objectives” which can be achieved by: “might” coercive power implemented through military action, economic embargoes and isolation; “money,” which can obtain coercive power and confer normative power; and “minds,” ideational or soft power. Each of these facets is intertwined and mutually supporting with advances or retreats in each area conferring more or less power to the others. An important aspect of Lampton’s definition of power, and a running jab at recent American policy, is a concern with power “efficiency.” Lampton writes that “the efficient use of power requires the optimum mix of power types to achieve objectives with the least expenditure of resources” (255). A correct and wise balance of the three facets of Chinese power is a large part of what has enabled China to advance its relative position in every sphere of influence so rapidly.

Might and coercive power is the subject of the first section, but is given very brief treatment, with an emphasis on non-military coercion. While the rapid and extensive modernization of Chinese military forces, particularly China’s naval and air force, is well covered, Lampton broadens the context to include economic and diplomatic coercion. His access to high level decision-makers and sensitive programs such as China’s space efforts helps flesh out some unseen drivers and components of future Chinese military plans, but there is little new information or conclusions. The entire section is largely an effort by Lampton to alleviate fears of China’s rising military power and castigates foreigners for the predilection to focus on Chinese might.

Money and Lampton’s depiction of the economic rise and power of China are focused more on the rising financial leverage of China than a re-telling of the usual celebratory statistics that are trumpeted in countless books and journals. A crucial power node of Chinese money is “the power of the buyer” arising from China’s huge trade imbalances and illustrated through government directed purchasing, such as the continual contest between Boeing and Airbus. The power of the buyer gives the Chinese government tremendous leverage to creating constituent pressures from within other nations in high-tech fields such as nuclear power which are desperate for access to Chinese markets.

Minds and the following chapter “China and its Neighbors” is the real heart of the book and distinguishes it from other China books, especially China books in the United States which generally examine only the bi-lateral relationship. This “ideational power” encompasses “the intellectual, cultural, spiritual, leadership and legitimacy resources that enhance a nation’s capacity to efficiently define and achieve national objectives” (118). In these two chapters, Lampton explores the greatly under discussed way that China has successfully built subtle ideational power and deftly tracks its progress around the East Asia region. That China’s government serves as an authoritarian model for developing countries is a fact most foreigners are generally aware of but almost no attention is paid to other forms of China’s increasingly refined use of soft power. Lampton shows this to be a mistake. Lampton mentions the $1.35 million dollar grant from the Chinese government to finance 50 percent of the cost of producing material for the Chinese Language Advanced Placement (AP) Test. This exercise of what on the surface appears to be soft power is rather a shrewd combination of might, money and minds operating together to mutually advance Chinese power objectives. The small grant gives the Chinese government tremendous financial leverage in the production and approval of study materials to shape American students’ initial impressions of China and further isolate Taiwan’s traditional character system.

As a well respected Washington insider, Lampton has tremendous access to global political, military and business leadership. His depth of personal contact with senior leadership is a central strength of Lampton’s work, but means the story of Chinese power has a technocratic and antiseptic feel. It should perhaps be noted that some of Lampton’s access is perhaps due to his position as a paid consultant to the law firm of Akin Gump which advises Chinese state-owned corporations, big oil companies and Chinese state-owned big oil companies. He notes in chapter one that “The power wielder is like a conductor” which may be a useful analogy in discussing geo-political decision making but is a condescending and bloodless way to view the authoritarian governance of 1.3 billion people. Lampton’s language is more skewed when he takes the rare moment to mentions Chinese relationships with countries that have “deficient practices regarding human rights.” He ignores thorny questions such as Darfur altogether; Darfur has no citations in the index versus Gross Domestic Product’s twenty four. When discussing Chinese priorities he mentions the need to create “more predictable legal and judicial systems” rather than transparent or just ones.

David Lampton is one of the most highly visible China scholars today and was an advisor in some capacity to President-elect Obama during the campaign, although his lobbyist ties and previous affiliation with the American Enterprise Institute and the Nixon Center might keep him out of a policy position. He was also one-half of a testy public debate with James Mann, which Mann won in large part because Lampton never really engaged (some would say “understood”) Mann’s primary argument. The Three Faces of Chinese Power is an outstanding book and will rightly be highly influential, but should be paired with a more grounded and morally centered analysis of Chinese power, the likes of which we currently lack.

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Peter Zarrow on Rereading Russell’s The Problem of China

Even though Dewey and Tagore have gotten more attention lately in scholarly works on Chinese education and ruminations of Chinese interactions with other countries, we at China Beat remain equally interested in the third famous foreign philosopher who gave a high profile set of lectures to audiences in Beijing and other cities during the aftermath of World War I: Bertrand Russell.

We thought about him when running our series on Jonathan Spence’s Reith Lectures, since Russell gave the inaugural ones sixty years before that. And we think of him when perusing the sections of Chinese bookstores devoted to philosophical matters or the history of ideas, for a translation of his famous History of Western Philosophy is often prominently displayed there. Ironically, whereas Russell once sold a lot of books in Europe and America, from the English language edition of that tome to works on many other topics (including what he thought about China), his biggest readership now is likely in the PRC. With these things in mind, we’re delighted to be able to bring you historian Peter Zarrow’s take on how Russell’s 1922 book-long commentary on China has stood the test of time.

In 1920 Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) visited China, based in Beijing and giving lectures across the country. One of the founders of analytic philosophy and a trenchant radical, upon his return to Britain Russell quickly came out with a book on China conditions called The Problem of China (London: George Allen, 1922). I looked at it to see what Russell had to say about his trip. It turned out that the book has only passing references to his own experiences in China—it’s more of a high-toned journalistic overview. Russell offers many generalizations and predictions about China. Naturally some did not work out, but many were prescient. Looking at them almost 90 years later, it occurred to me that when Russell was wrong, he was wrong in a way that illuminates the problem as much as if he had been right.

Witnessing a China in turmoil—warlords, demonstrations, strikes, the ever-present imperialist threats—Russell was both sympathetic and empathetic. For their part, Chinese looked to Russell partly for ideas about what they should be doing and partly as a mirror. Russell’s trip overlapped with John Dewey’s extended lecture tour, and there were short visits by Margaret Sanger, Albert Einstein, Rabindranath Tagore, and many more at about the same time.

Yet Russell was a special case. Unlike his backers in “Young China,” he had a great fondness for many aspect of the traditional culture; he regarded with great skepticism plans to build up modern industry without taking into account of how it would actually benefit workers and ordinary consumers. (The only full-length study is Feng Chongyi’s Lousu yu Zhongguo: Xifang sixiang zai Zhongguo de yici jingli [Russell and China: A case of Western thought in China; Bejing: Sanlian, 1994] though there are several articles in English). Russell began his book with some scene-setting boilerplate that is even true today than it was then:

Chinese problems, even if they affect no one outside China, would be of vast importance, since the Chinese are estimated to constitute about a quarter of the human race. In fact, however, all the world will be vitally affected by the development of Chinese affairs, which may well prove a decisive factor, for good or evil, during the next two centuries (p. 9).

Then he set out to prove it.

The position of China among the nations of the world is quite peculiar, because in population and potential strength China is the greatest nation in the world, while in actual strength at the moment it is one of the least (p. 63).

This was to foresee Chinese reunification and the creation of a strong government. Russell was not alone in this view, and it was certainly what the Chinese he met strongly desired, but outsiders often deemed it unachievable. Russell’s point, however, was not simply Napoleon’s apocryphal warning that the sleeping dragon had better be left to sleep. Rather, China would either become more like the industrialized West or Russia, or else the West would change. Russell hoped for the latter.

The Chinese, though as yet incompetent in politics and backward in economic development, have, in other respects, a civilization at least as good as our own, containing elements which the world greatly needs, and which we shall destroy at our peril (63).

Russell’s socialism, then, did not blind him to what he saw as the good points of the Chinese tradition—an argument that then as now had both adherents and critics in China itself. By the traditional civilization, Russell meant courtesy, harmony, understatement, tolerance, a certain unworldliness—features that Russell directly contrasted to the Western lust for domination and that have perhaps become Oreintalist tropes of a certain kind. Russell did find one trait that China shared with Britain, noting that the Manchu Qing conquerors of the seventeenth century

set to work to induce Chinese men to wear pigtails and Chinese women to have big feet. After a time a statesmanlike compromise was arranged: pigtails were adopted but big feet were rejected; the new absurdity was accepted and the old one retained. This characteristic compromise shows how much England and China have in common (p. 64).

Russell had every reason to like China. He was lionized while he was there; he could use Chinese civilization to criticize the West; he liked Chinese reformers, whom he hoped would lead China in a direction ultimately different from the capitalist-industrial-imperialist civilization of the West. However, Communist revolution, Russell thought, would not solve China’s problems. He had visited Russia earlier in 1920, coming to the conclusion that the Bolsheviks, whatever their skills at industrializing a backward nation, were leading Russia toward dictatorship that was bound to be disastrous. This was not to say capitalism had any solutions for China, as Russell proclaimed in a passage anticipating some of today’s descriptions of China.

I expect to see, if the Americans are successful in the Far East, China compelled to be orderly so as to afford a field for foreign commerce and industry; a government which the West will consider good substitute for the present go-as-you-please anarchy; a gradually increasing flow of wealth from China to the investing countries, the chief of which is America; the development of a sweated proletariat; the spread of Christianity; and substitution of the American civilization for the Chinese; the destruction of traditional beauty, except for such objets d’art as millionaires may think it worth while to buy; the gradual awakening of China to her exploitation by the foreign; and one day, fifty or a hundred years hence, the massacre of every white man throughout the Celestial Empire at a signal from some vast secret society.… It will be done in order that rich men may grow richer,… government that yields fat dividends to capitalists (p. 166).

As it happened, China’s full induction into the world economic system was to await the war with Japan (1937-45), the Communist Revolution (1949), and three decades of real but autarkic development under Maoism. Racial massacres and vast secret societies notwithstanding, Russell understood that forces were emerging that would ensure China would not remain a victim of exploitation and poverty forever. Yet, again, he was not comforted by the possibility of a strong and capitalist China.

In the long run, the Chinese cannot escape economic domination by foreign Powers unless China becomes military or the foreign Powers become Socialistic, because the capitalist system involves in its very essence a predatory relation of the strong towards the weak, internationally as well as nationally. A strong military China would be a disaster; therefore Socialism in Europe and America affords the only ultimate solution (64).

Russell did not look to China to solve the world’s problems. But he saw a chance, however slim, of a patriotic and stable form of socialism coming to the fore there. Otherwise:

If the Chinese were to adopt the Western philosophy of life, they would, as soon as they had made themselves safe against foreign aggression, embark upon aggression on their own accounts….They would exploit their material resources with a view to producing a few bloated plutocrats at home and millions dying of hunger abroad. Such are the results with the West achieves by the application of science (p. 251).

Arriving in China in October 1920, Russell stayed until July 1921. Russell of course spoke no Chinese. His primary interpreter was Yuen Ren Chao [Zhao Yuanren], later known as a distinguished linguist and then in the midst of translating of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland into Chinese. It seems somehow appropriate for the translator of Lewis Carroll to interpret the lectures of the world’s foremost mathematical logician, albeit a logician who displayed a shocking set of beliefs in women’s equality, birth control, worker’s organizations, and experimental schools; and a man who thought the capitalists and state war machines of the West were destroying the world.

Peter Zarrow is a historian at the Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica. His work focuses on modern China and he is the author, most recently, of China in War and Revolution, 1895-1949.


We are healthily skeptical about the newsworthiness of award recipients — prizes don’t, after all, always go to the right people. But a well-bequeathed award can draw attention to an intriguing book or piece of writing that one might have otherwise missed.

In an attempt at a premature 2008 awards wrap-up, here are a few that you might have overlooked.

1. There was consternation from the Chinese state in August and September over the mention that activist Hu Jia might be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. While he didn’t win the Nobel, he was awarded the Sakharov Prize by the European Parliament. Hu Jia is now in prison for sedition, but he was under house arrest prior to that. You can view a video that he made during that time here.

2. Noted Sinologist Francesca Bray was part of a team that won a prize (the Sally Hacker Prize) for their seven-volume study Technology in World History.

3. For regular China Beat readers, Susan Mann’s book The Talented Women of the Zhang Family won’t be new; Nicole Barnes reviewed it last January. The book was just awarded the Fairbank Prize (the American Historical Association’s top prize for East Asian history) and earlier this year it was a finalist for the Kiriyama prize.

4. We just recommended Ching Kwan Lee’s new book, Against the Law; it was recently awarded the Sociology of Labor Book Award.

5. We haven’t read this novel, but this summer Chinese writer Yang Yi won a Japanese book prize for a Tiananmen-themed novel (written in Japanese).

6. The New York Times ran an important ten-part series on China and the environment last year, “Choking on Growth” (link to Part I). Now it’s been awarded a Grantham Prize for Excellence in Reporting on the Environment.
7. And for those who missed the announcements last spring of the Levenson winners (the book prize given by the Association for Asian Studies for the best pre-1900 and best post-1900 China book, respective), they were:

2008 Pre-1900 Category: Martin J. Powers, Pattern and Person: Ornament, Society, and Self in Classical China (Harvard University Asia Center, 2006)

2008 Post-1900 Category: Sherman Cochran, Chinese Medicine Men:
Consumer Culture in China and Southeast Asia (Harvard University Press,

Neither of these recent winners of the prize have contributed to China Beat (yet), but we’re pleased to see that a list of past Levenson award recipients includes some names that should be familiar to readers of this blog, as they’ve either written for us, been interviewed by us, or had their names show up in the Table of Contents for our forthcoming China in 2008 that was recently posted at the site. To cite just two examples, 21st century winners of the post-1900 prize have included Yan Yunxiang (whose comments on Chinese youth will be featured in the book) and Geremie Barmé (who has contributed to the blog and will be well represented in China in 2008 as well).
If you haven’t already stumbled across Fuchsia Dunlop’s piece in last week’s New Yorker on a Hangzhou restaurant that uses only local food, it’s worth a read. Dunlop, author of two Chinese cookbooks and the recently-published memoir Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper, describes her trip to visit Dai Jianjun, owner of the Dragon Well Manor, which serves a prix fixe menu to diners (starting at about 300 yuan) “prepared with local ingredients according to the theories of Chinese medicine and the solar terms of the old agricultural calendar.” Here’s a short excerpt:

Dai’s main worry is that traditional farming and cooking won’t survive another generation. During two weeks that I spent in Hangzhou, in two different seasons, I accompanied him on visits to half a dozen or so rural suppliers, and in almost every household the parents and grandparents were keeping up the family farms, while the children had left for the cities. One fisherman who provides most of the restaurant’s fish and shrimp quipped that his son was more interested in shang wang—surfing the Internet—than in san wang: casting a fishing net. The oldest supplier is ninety-three years old.

Dai sees himself as a custodian of traditional skills. “My senior chefs are all officially retired workers, but they are teaching the younger chefs how to cook without MSG,” he said. “And when this place was built I made sure that there were younger workers around who could learn from the old master craftsmen.” He dreams of one day opening a self-sustaining farm where schoolchildren can learn about the origins of what they eat. “In the past, everyone who grew up in the countryside knew how to raise pigs and fowl, and understood the old agricultural calendar,” he said. “But things have developed so quickly, and we are losing touch with our traditions.” Still, he is aware of the limitations of his project. “We can only do this on a small scale,” he told me as we finished our tea. “China has so many people, and so little land. If everyone tried to eat this way, there wouldn’t be enough food to go around. But we must try to sustain our agricultural lore and culinary skills for future generations.”

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As part of our continuing follow-up on “China Beatniks in Beijing,” we wanted to share with you a couple links to articles on the talk Kenneth Pomeranz (彭慕兰) gave at Qinghua University, here and here (both in Chinese). Pomeranz’s talk for the Beijing Forum was at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse, the site of Nixon and Mao’s meeting as well as the former home of Jiang Qing. Here are few pictures:

The outside of Diaoyutai

Ken Pomeranz speaking at the Beijing Forum

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