January 2009

You are currently browsing the monthly archive for January 2009.

Robert Buswell, Association for Asian Studies President, and Jeffrey Wasserstrom, the editor of the Journal of Asian Studies (and a China Beatnik, of course, who regularly contributes to this blog), have released a joint letter that may interest those who will be or are considering attending the AAS annual meeting in late March (or who simply like to follow the organizational goings-on of AAS and its flagship publications).

In the letter, Buswell, a U.C.L.A. specialist in Korean studies, and Wasserstrom lay out changes to this year’s and future annual meetings, including efforts to expand the scope of the association to include diplomats, journalists, and public intellectuals as well as emphasizing disciplines not traditionally well-represented in the association (and speaking to issues that engage this broadened audience through topical essays in the JAS), and increasing the internationalization of the association’s membership and journal coverage. To read the full contents, you can visit the AAS website.

For those who are interested in learning more about the schedule for this year’s meeting in Chicago, March 26-29, the program is available online. The conference (where, incidentally, our by then-just out China in 2008 will be displayed in the book exhibit hall) will include keynote speeches by Christopher Hill, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and Han Sung-Joo, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Korea and former Ambassador to the U.S. Journalists participating in panels at the conference include Howard French, Jonathan Fenby, Ching Ching Ni, Ted Fishman, and Nayan Chanda.

Tags:

By Pierre Fuller

A few weeks ago my mother learned at her Greenwich, Conn., church that, beyond church grounds, Bibles cannot be purchased in the People’s Republic. Her informant was a man from the Bible Society of Singapore who gave an evening talk on the state of Christianity in China at my parents’ mainstream Protestant parish. My mother soon asked her son in Beijing, me, about this fact over the phone and I couldn’t say either way: a Chinese-language Bible was not something I’d been actively looking for yet I could have sworn I’d spotted one in a shop a while back when living in China’s Northwest. Then again, that was a long decade ago. I am clearly no expert on the subject.

Then on a recent morning in a basement bookstore in the National Library in Beijing a volume with a black binding and gold lettering caught my eye. I pulled it off the shelf. In no shape to identify the Chinese word for “Genesis” or for “Psalms”, I checked the volume’s opening passage: “Shen shuo: ‘Yao you guang’, jiu you le guang,” it read. God said: “Let there be light,” and there was light.

I was holding a Bible.

I took the book to the counter – its look was so plainly familiar it could have had the stamp of the Gideons on its cover– and without so much as a glance at my selection the cashier, while barking into a phone, rang it up. At fifty percent off, I thought, they’re practically giving these away – and in the very belly of the National Library of the People’s Republic of China, no less (a bookshop, it must be said, that was hardly as glamorous as its location might suggest, a labyrinthine afterthought with an uninspired selection). So much for my mother’s stateside informant.

Returning to my research chores at the microfilm room upstairs I was reminded of a feature story I did for a Japanese daily a while back on the growing popularity of Christmas in China, specifically a very commercial version of it that I observed sprouting in 1990s Xi’an, the ancient capital. (One thing I was told by a church official then is that proselytizing in the PRC is legally limited to church grounds, but that hadn’t stopped the draw of crowds at one downtown Xi’an church on Christmas Eve 1999 from requiring crowd control as bodies spilled out of the doors during the service. Mostly curious students, I was told.)

Walking the city for material back then I came across a dramatic scene at a small church on the avenue running north from the city Bell Tower. A gaggle of old women were wailing at the steps of their church. At first I thought it might be a funeral; I quickly learned it was the funeral of the church building itself, a plastered structure suggesting 1980s construction. The building was condemned, the grounds beneath claimed for development, while the authorities promised to rebuild one for the parish in the outskirts of town. This meant a long commute to Sunday services and the women were adamantly opposed it. As for me, the foreigner with the notepad, I’d been sent by God himself, a teary-eyed woman announced, to let this be known to the world. The crowd around agreed. Overwhelmed, I escaped before any miracles could be expected of me.

A year later an underground film project brought me to rural Liaoning Province in the Northeast where we were invited to informally film an animated Christian service at a towering village church, its choir decked in white and red vestments as they sang before a congregation of several hundred. I recall our hosts sporting T-shirts emblazoned with “Jesus Saves” in red characters all that afternoon as they cooked us produce pulled, no doubt, from the neighboring fields.

I couldn’t have imagined a more idyllic atmosphere. But more significant was what occurred several days later in downtown Shenyang when the temptation to interview a 90-year-old man occupying his daily sidewalk perch at our apartment building’s side gate was too hard to resist. Naturally, our crew of three, Sony VX-1000 and boom mic in hand, attracted a crowd – and, soon enough, police, who escorted us back to our apartment to figure out what these foreigners (and one Chinese) were up to.

We’d just been in the surrounding countryside filming quaint rural scenes but also the homes of residents, some very poor. That meant there were videotapes all over the house. But the authorities didn’t even ask about that possibility. Some six hours at the precinct followed, many cigarettes passed around. The end decision was that we were to return with the offending tape (yes, we were allowed to take it home with us) the following business day. We did so, and sitting in a room with a plainclothes officer we ran through the content on a TV: the church service wasn’t deemed objectionable; the humble interior of a “peasant” abode? That had to go.

I could understand the logic. Why not broadcast a thriving congregation? But a reminder of the rural majority languishing in poverty? That’s no good. So we erased it right then and there and returned to our stockpile of other footage, our equipment intact, our visas unchanged. I would’ve thought the fist would’ve come down harder on us. Had we received special treatment because we were foreigners? Doubtless. But then we’d also been picked up precisely because we were white guys attracting a crowd to the otherwise innocuous interview of an old pensioner. And confiscating the equipment of these touring amateurs would hardly have warranted a call to Human Rights Watch. Someone could’ve made a few thousand bucks off our camera, easy. (A good thing no one thought of it, it was borrowed equipment.)

Looking back, the plight of that Xi’an parish deserved to be told, but I didn’t have it in me to write it then. Today, it strikes me as a scene straight out of Michael Meyer’s newly-published Last Days of Old Beijing, a moving account of the tragic face-lift and social dislocation of China’s capital. As in much of Meyer’s Beijing, the destructive forces on that ill-fated Xi’an church were a combination of cancerous developers given carte blanche to ruin and raise along with a cruel system of little warning to those affected, and no appeals. That plaster house of God could have been a much-needed clinic or neighborhood senior social parlor before the profits, “prestige” and conveniences of “development” tore it down. But I was hard-pressed to see Christianity in the equation.

As for my new Chinese Bible, it’d be a challenge for me to get through it, so maybe I’ll pass it on to a curious friend. Which brings me back to the Bible Society and its talk-China tour: It’s easy to get sloppy when you’re preaching to the choir. But if tracking Bibles is your business, at least get the facts straight.

One year ago today, I posted an essay entitled “What Shall We Do with the Dead Dictator?”, which discussed the DPP government’s efforts to further the cause of transitional justice (轉型正義) by reexamining the legacy of former ROC President Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975). A number of related policies ended up sparking considerable controversy, included renaming the CKS International Airport as Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, and especially changing the name of the National Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall to National Taiwan Democracy Memorial Hall.

The KMT regained power just two months later, following which things began to move in reverse. Most recently, the Ministry of Education, in one of its last policy decisions during the Year of the Rat, announced that in July 2009 the Democracy Hall’s name plaque will be removed and the original plaque restored. This was based on an Executive Yuan decision to withdraw the former government’s request to abolish the Organic Statute of the CKS Memorial Hall< (國立中正紀念堂管理處組織條例廢止案), as well as a resolution by the Legislative Yuan that the Hall’s name be changed back to Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall.

Although the Ministry of Education had originally proposed holding a public forum to discuss whether or not to change the plaque, no such event was arranged. According to one top-ranking official, this was due to concerns that such a forum might spark tensions between DPP and KMT supporters. While it is true that political discussions in Taiwan tend to be heated, and can even turn violent, one cannot help but recalling the observation that Judge Damon Keith made in a 2002 federal appeals court ruling, namely that “Democracies die behind closed doors“.

Another rejuvenation of the past involves the redeployment of the Hall’s honor guard in time for the Lunar New Year holiday, which means that tourists and other visitors can once again see soldiers marching (goose-stepping?) in front of Chiang’s statue (an image of the guard also adorns the new home page of the Hall’s website). One of the few things that will not change is that the Liberty Square (自由廣場) inscription at the entrance to the hall is to remain untouched.

Party politics aside, one cannot help but wonder when Taiwan’s leaders will choose to promote the examination of the complex facets of Chiang’s rule, positive and negative alike. In contrast to nations like Argentina, Rwanda, South Africa, South Korea, etc., Taiwan has yet to entrust a truth and reconciliation commission with the task of investigating past wrongdoings (its sole “Truth Commission” was created in order to delve into the 2004 presidential election shooting). Fortunately, scholars have made considerable efforts to pick up the slack, with Jeremy E. Taylor and his colleagues organizing a conference entitled “Reassessing Chiang Kai-Shek: An International Dialogue” to be held at Queen’s University, Canada on August 7-9, 2009. In addition, the Institute of Modern History at Academia Sinica has organized a Chiang Kai-shek Research Group, which includes participants from Taiwan, China, Japan, and the United States. Perhaps with time some form of justice will prevail, for only after a nation’s triumphs and tragedies have been accorded the thorough study they deserve can true reconciliation take place.

2009 is a year of anniversaries for China, with the 90th birthday of the May 4th Movement coming in the spring and the 60th of the PRC arriving in the fall. With this in mind, we’ve asked Samuel Liang of the University of Manchester, a specialist in Shanghai’s built environment, to provide our readers with background on a locale that has special significance for both of the just-mentioned anniversaries. Namely, the building where an early meeting of the Communist Party was held in 1921, which stands near the recently built shopping and entertainment district known as Xintiandi.

This structure, often treated as a sacred revolutionary shrine, has a complex history, as readers will see. It is tied to the May 4th Movement because many of those who attended the Party Congress held within its wall, including Mao Zedong, had been active in those 1919 protests and the general “New Culture” intellectual fermentation of the time, and as a birthplace of the Communist Party it is tied to the founding of the PRC in even more obvious ways.

By Samuel Y. Liang

In the late nineteenth century, foreign landowners and Chinese builders jointly created lilong compounds for Chinese residents in the foreign settlements of Shanghai. Somewhere between enclosed compounds and open alleyways, the lilong houses opened up traditional walled domains, generated fluid spaces between houses, neighborhoods, and streets, and accommodated a wide range of commercial and residential functions and people from all walks of life.

Toward the end of the Qing dynasty, traditionally-trained scholars sojourning in Shanghai were influenced by modern nationalism, thanks to the print media introduced into the city from the West, and they often disseminated revolutionary ideas of overthrowing the Manchu empire when meeting in courtesan houses in the lilong neighborhoods near Fuzhou Road. It was in such obscure spaces that the first group of radical, progressive intellectuals emerged from the community of self-pitying and discontented literati at the turn of the century.

After the May Fourth Movement in 1919, a new generation of Chinese intellectuals embraced the Western ideals of democracy and science and enjoyed the city’s new, Western-style public spaces, such as coffee houses, cinemas, and public parks. Yet the living quarters of the new intellectuals were still in unassuming lilong neighborhoods of mixed functions, which had mushroomed in the new urban areas as the city expanded rapidly in the 1920s and 30s.

When communism was first introduced to China, it also flowered in the milieu of Shanghai lilong. The most radical thinkers and activists of China used the lilong’s inclusive and obscure spaces as their covert bases to promulgate revolutionary and iconoclastic ideas. In July 1921, thirteen delegates, including Mao, from around the country and two representatives of the Communist International gathered in the small living room of an unassuming lilong house in the newly urbanized Taipingqiao area of the French Concession and held a secret meeting to found the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The meeting is now considered to be the First Congress of the CCP. The house, 106-108 Wangzhi Road, was at that time the sojourn residence of the Wuhan-based official Li Shucheng and his brother Li Hanjun. The latter hosted the meeting but soon left the party because of his different political viewpoints. In the next year, the Second Congress of CCP was held in another lilong house a few blocks away, which was then the home of Li Da. Around that time, the residences of the party leaders, such as Chen Duxiu and Li Da, were in fact the Party’s undercover offices.

Born in the lower strata of the urban environment, the Party had never succeeded in coming to power through urban revolutions. Though a small number of its agents continued to carry out “underground works” in the city, the Party achieved its final victory through successful managements of its rural bases. When the Party’s peasant army finally took over Shanghai in May 1949, the city as the Party’s birthplace was hardly known.

Rediscovery and Restoration
In September 1950, the Propaganda Department of CCP Shanghai Committee set out to search for the site of the First Congress. Assisted by Yang Shuhui, the wife of the Congress delegate Zhou Fohai, the Department rediscovered the former Li residence in April 1951; its new address was 76-78 Xingye Road, which, renamed in 1943, had turned into a busy street quite different from the former Wangzhi Road next to a vegetable field thirty years ago. The house was then used as a small noodle workshop and store, which had a traditional shop façade featuring a dark stone portal on a white plastered wall.

76-78 Xingye Road in 1951 when it was rediscovered as the CCP First Congress site (source: Lu and Zhang 2001).

Inside the CCP First Congress Memorial, 1951 (source: Lu and Zhang 2001).

The Party committee immediately rented the house from the private landlord and, after consulting the Congress delegate Li Da, recreated the Congress meeting room on the second floor of 78 Xingye Road; in the room were displayed the portraits of Marx and Lenin and Mao’s handwritten script: “Little sparks spread into a prairie fire.” On July 1, 1952, the city’s official newspaper Jiafang Daily announced that the Shanghai Revolution History Memorial had been preliminarily completed after one year’s repair and renovation, featuring an article lauding the city as the original site where sparks of revolution fire first spread out. The key city officials visited the site on the same day.

Shortly after, the chief of National Relic Bureau visited the memorial from Beijing; he considered the memorial’s current outlook and layout as not genuinely reflecting the original condition of the Congress site. In June 1953, the white-washed walls of the memorial building were restored to their “original” brickwork and the commercial signs of the noodle workshop and the next-door pickle store were also removed.

The partially restored CCP First Congress Memorial, 1953 (source: Lu and Zhang 2001).

In the restoration process, the memorial officials interviewed the landlord Madam Chen and her tenants for a history of the neighborhood. In 1920 Chen built a small lilong compound called Shudeli, which consisted of two rows of houses. The front row facing Xingye Road had five units (100-108 Wangzhi Road); each unit was one-bay wide and two-story high and had a small courtyard behind the front entrance. The Li brothers rented two units right after the compound was built. They moved out about three years later and then Chen let the whole front row to a merchant, who extensively rebuilt the complex into two bigger units: 100-104 became a three-bay house and 106-108 a two-bay house. The courtyards of 104 and 106 were rebuilt into the houses’ two new wings. The merchant then opened a soy sauce and pickle store in 106-108 and sublet 100-104.

In October 1957, following Beijing’s further direction on faithful restoration of revolution heritage sites, the memorial restored the complex’s the five stone portals and courtyards. And the Congress’s meeting venue was now set in the downstairs living room of 76 Xingye Road, which was then meticulously furnished for its original appearance in the 1920s, and in which no portraits or handwritten scripts of the leaders were displayed again. Now the memorial complex was given a monumental façade of grey brick walls, red arched portals, and dark wooden doors.

Revolution and Museum
Seeking to recreate the original form of the Congress venue, the restoration project in fact produced a monument free from any traces of the lively lilong neighborhood of mixed functions and inclusive spaces. It was a purification process against the locale’s combined commercial and residential contents. The result was a uniform façade and dead (or monumental) space rather than the original unassuming neighborhood where the secret meeting took place. By erasing the locale’s natural and evolving history through the decades that had bred rebellious potentials, the regime installed a hegemonic power structure, which the memorial symbolized, to prevent any future revolutions. As soon as the revolutionary process turns into a monumental space, its beautiful soul gets lost. The monument is then an empty shell that attempts to eternalize a reinvented past by terminating the place’s living, natural history.

After the restoration, the Revolution Memorial was open internally to the Party cadres. In March 1961, the memorial was designated as a “Key National Cultural Heritage Site.” During the Cultural Revolution, the rebels/red guards filled the memorial with posters and slogans, turning it into a stage of their revolutionary activities. In 1968, it was formally renamed the CCP First Congress Memorial and opened to the public. To accommodate the increasing amount of visitors, in 1973 the memorial incorporated the four housing units in the back row of Shudeli as auxiliary spaces. In 1984, Deng Xiaoping handwrote a title plate for the memorial.

The CCP First Congress Memorial during the Cultural Revolution (source: Lu and Zhang 2001).

The history of the memorial has been reconstructed by the memorial’s officers and researchers since the 1990s, coinciding with Shanghai’s rapid development. Before this time, the memorial was mainly regarded as a local base for revolutionary education, not a national monument of revolutionary history (probably because the Party still considered Shanghai a stronghold of the “bourgeois lifestyle”). From Mao’s perspective, the Chinese revolution started in remote rural areas. For decades, as featured in primary-school textbooks, the iconic birthplace of the CCP had been a tour boat in the South Lake at Jiaxing, about sixty miles from Shanghai; the boat is a remade copy of the one on which the Congress delegates held the last day’s meeting after their secret meeting venue on Wangzhi Road was discovered by the French Concession police. As the last refuge of the secret meeting, the tour boat and its idyllic setting better represented, and indeed anticipated, the late course of the Chinese revolution history.

In the meantime, the Maoist regime continued the revolution legacy by mobilizing the masses in a series of political campaigns—an ongoing violent, destructive process rather than peaceful commemoration of the revolutionary past. Turning that legacy into static monuments would be against the true spirit of revolution, and similar to the revisionist approach of the Party’s bureaucrats, against whom Mao launched the infamous Cultural Revolution. For Mao, revolution had be powered by endless class struggle, as he wrote when organizing Hunan peasant revolts in the 1920s: “A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous…” Neither is revolution, I might add for Mao, a peaceful pilgrimage to a revolution museum.

Expansion in the New Age
In the late 1990s when Shanghai reemerged as a global city, the First Congress Memorial acquired a new title, “National Model Base for Patriotic Education,” and attracted an increasing number of visitors each year. The old complex of about 900 square meters became inadequate and overcrowded, with visitors often queued up on the street. In 1996, the CCP Shanghai Committee decided to build a new wing for the memorial. Funded by private donations and assisted with volunteer labor, the construction project started in June 1998 and was completed just before the fiftieth anniversary of the “liberation” of Shanghai in May 1999.

Located to the west of the original Congress site, the expansion adds 2,316 square meters to the memorial. While the new wing’s façade simulates the rusticated appearance of lilong houses, the new wing is a space of modern simulacra. Passing through the old-style stone portal, visitors enter a grand and shiny hall that encompasses almost the entire ground floor. At the end of this rather empty hall hangs a huge Party flag in front of which initiation ceremonies for new Party members are held on some key dates, such as July 1(the CCP’s Birthday) and October 1 (National Day). The exhibition gallery upstairs displays a pictorial narrative of the Chinese revolution, including a group of wax figures forming a reconstructed scene of the Congress. A visitor wrote: “In the wax figures, I saw realistic and vivid human characters and their pensive faces showing confidence in China’s future.”

Indeed, the memorial is now a training ground for the Party’s future cadres and bureaucrats (urban economic development) and has probably superseded the Jiaxing tour boat as the icon of the CCP birthplace. It indeed symbolizes a new turn in China’s red course—a new urban revolution of demolition and rebuilding rather than the Maoist (anti-urban) revolution of class struggle. This new development is turning the whole city into a gentrified, museum-like space of visual display.

The entrance hall of the new extension of the CCP memorial, 2006 © Samuel Y. Liang

The memorial’s new extension (on the right) and the entrance to Xintiandi (on the left) on Xingye Road, 2007 © Samuel Y. Liang

An Urban Revolution
In 2001, the two urban blocks surrounding the CCP Congress Memorial were developed by the Hong Kong-based Shui On Group into a trendy place of leisure and consumption, known as Xintiandi. Because the city’s planning code stipulates that the memorial be preserved and new buildings around it be of limited height, Shui On innovatively combined historic preservation and commercial development, making lilong architecture the theme of the project. Like the Congress memorial, the commercial spaces in this new development are sites of modern simulacra—be they of political propaganda or of consumerist persuasion. Here, indeed, the work of the architect and developer is comparable to that of the Party in rebuilding the memorial. While the latter retrospectively invents the revolution history as an ideological structure of the ruling class, the former re-manufactures the colonial and socialist neighborhood into a consumer paradise for the new elite class.

Now global capitalists such as Shui On cooperate with the local government to carry out an urban “revolution” in Shanghai—one of space and architecture. This revolution targets the decayed lilong neighborhoods and entails the relocation of the residents (socialist workers from the Maoist era) from the decaying urban core, which is then reclaimed or, rather, re-colonized by the transnational elite.

The Congress memorial and the Xintiandi now co-exist quietly at Xingye Road; they not only symbolize the two distinct stages of China’s revolutionary/modernization course but also reveal the paradoxical continuity between them. Indeed, the current rebirth of the Congress memorial seems an architectural restatement of Elizabeth Perry’s assessment that “For better and worse, China has not yet bid farewell to revolution.”

Further readings:
For the history of the CCP First Congress Memorial published in Chinese, see
Lu Miqiang. 2002. “Yida huizhi jianguan 50 nian lishi zhi huigu.” Shanghai dangshi yu dangjian, 2002.9: 28-30.
Lu Miqiang and Zhang Jianwei. 1999. “Fengyu Xingye lu.” Shanghai dangan, 1999.1: 23-27
—-. 2001. “Zhonggong yida huizhi xiushan fuyuan jishi.” Shiji, 2001.2: 8-11.
Ye Yonglie. 1991. Hongse de qidian. Shanghai: Shanghai renmin

For the expansion of the memorial in the late 1990s and how the memorial is currently received, see
Ni Xingxiang. 1999. “Xiangei Shanghai jiefang 50 zhounian: zhonggong yida huizhi jinian guan kuojian gongcheng xunli.” Dangzheng luntan, 1999.6: 20-22.
Zhao Zhengyong. 2001. “Zhanyang ‘taiyang’ shengqi de defang: Ji canguan zhonggong ‘yida’ huizhi jinianguan.” Zhibu jianshe, 2001.8: 42-43.

For a spatial and symbolic reading of the memorial in relation to the Xintiandi project, see
Liang, Samuel Y. 2008. “Amnesiac Monument, Nostalgic Fashion: Shanghai’s New Heaven and Earth,” Wasafiri, 23.3: 47-55

For an assessment of the CCP’s governance strategy and contemporary Chinese politics, see.
Perry, Elizabeth J. 2007. “Studying Chinese Politics: Farewell to Revolution?” The China Journal, 57: 1-25.

Presidential Reading Recommendations: II

By Kate Merkel-Hess

A few days ago, we ran the first installment in a feature that posed the question “What Should Obama Be Reading About China?” to prominent China watchers. While Evan Osnos at the New Yorker pondered Chinese responses to Obama’s inauguration, our contributors mulled over which five readings on China would give the new president the essential knowledge he will need to navigate one of the U.S.’s most critical relationships. Here are few more of the recommendations we’ve received this week…

Pankaj Mishra is the author of, most recently, Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Beyond and a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books.

Obama will be given plenty of briefing papers to prepare him for meetings with Chinese leaders. As a sensitive and unusually perceptive writer, who seems to possess a great deal of negative capability, he would, I suspect, enjoy reading more general and literary books about Chinese history and culture. Here is my list.

1. The Gate of Heavenly Peace, Jonathan Spence. An elegant account of the passionate and tormented men and women who made China’s modern history, more accessible—for the busy president at least—than Spence’s comprehensive but mammoth The Search for Modern China.

2. China Hands, James Lilley. This rather rambling and self-important memoir may seem a curious selection, but Obama ought to read at least one book that covers the history of US-China relations before and during the Cold War and, furthermore, amplifies the kind of American attitudes—personal as well as official—toward China that have no place in the twenty-first century.

3. China’s New Order, Wang Hui. In the wake of the financial collapse, the New Left’s critique of China’s uneven growth resonates more strongly than before, and reading Wang Hui’s book, the President would learn a bit about the crisis at home as well as the problems in China. He may also want to look into Wang Hui’s forthcoming collection of articles, The End of the Revolution.

4. I Love Dollars, Zhu Wen. Notwithstanding the libraries devoted to China in the West today, literary fiction by Chinese writers still offers the most penetrating insight into Chinese society’s self- perceptions, and Obama could enjoyably and profitably spend some of the many hours on the flight to Beijing by reading a few stories in this excellent collection.

5. China Beat. The assortment of lucidly written and interesting articles at this website could provide the cyber-savvy Obama with a swift and painless introduction to contemporary China.

Warren I. Cohen is Emeritus Professor of History at University of Maryland, Baltimore County, an expert in U.S.-China relations, and author of East Asia at the Center and America’s Failing Empire: U.S. Foreign Relations Since the Cold War.

1. Read Warren I. Cohen’s America’s Response to China (4th ed.) for an overview of Chinese-American relations from colonial times to 2000 (If he can wait, the fifth edition will go to press next week).

2. Read Nancy Bernkopf Tucker’s Strait Talk (out officially next month) for a comprehensive review of the Taiwan issue since 1969—essential for understanding why the Taiwan Strait is so dangerous and what mistakes the U.S. has made in past

3. Robert Suettinger’s Beyond Tiananmen for a close analysis of U.S. policymaking from 1989 to 2000. Suettinger was on the National Security Council and gives insight into how and why the U.S. did what it did (it will be a few years before Dennis Wilder provides the equivalent for the Bush years).

4. James Mann’s China Fantasy to get past all the nonsense we’ve been told about the benefits of engagement.

5. Philip Pan’s Out of Mao’s Shadow for an understanding of what life in China is really like today.

Bruce Cumings is Department Chair and a Professor in the History Department at the University of Chicago. His book, Korea’s Place in the Sun (1997), remains the foremost textbook on Korean history and he is the co-author, most recently, of Inventing the Axis of Evil, as well as contributing regularly to a variety of publications.

If he just read Lin Chun’s The Transformation of Chinese Socialism, I would be happy. I think it’s the best book on contemporary China in many years, but some American scholars don’t like it because her orientation is social democratic rather than liberal.

Tags: ,

« Older entries