If you want to make an omelet, you must be willing to break a few eggs.” Vladmir Lenin
Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely..” Lord Acton
Phillip Pan, former Washington Post Beijing bureau chief has written a great book on China, entitled, “Out of Mao’s Shadow: The Struggle for the Soul of a New China.” The book profiles 11 Chinese, mostly present day, and by doing so, it very nicely provides a not very pretty snapshot on China’s political development.
Pan was in China from 2000 to 2007 and one gets the distinct impression he was working on many of these profiles the entire time. Pan clearly views the people of whom he writes as markers on where China is now and where it likely will be heading. Pan takes a decidedly pessimistic view of the party’s ability to reform from within and is overall rather negative on the idea of China’s growing economy automatically leading to a corresponding growth in the political arena.
I agree and I disagree. I too do not consider the party capable of instituting full on reform, but at the same time, I believe as China’s economy continues to grow, continuing reform is inevitable.
The Washington Post, in an article entitled, Battle Lines: Portraits of people seeking, and resisting, change in China, accurately describes the book:

The 10 or so intersecting stories he tells here are gritty and real. This is not a big-theme book about the “true” China but a concrete, closely observed encounter with particular people, places and events.
* * * *
Yet some big truths emerge.

Read this book for its beautifully crafted and moving profiles of 11 individuals and to garner big truths about China.
UPDATE: Richard over at Peking Duck, the best China book reviewer on the blogosphere, just came out with an absolutely glowing review.
UPDATE: 7/10/2010 — Mark’s China Blog just reviewed this book and he raved about it, saying that If you are going to pick up just one book on China, “this might be the one to read. You will not look at China the same after reading Out of Mao’s Shadow.”

  • I bought a copy of this book myself last week, and it is a very worthwhile read, as you say Dan, though I too do not fully agree with all of Pan’s conclusions. There are a number of good books also on the market that examine the extent of China’s political reforms, which are deeper than what most commentors (including Pan) seem to be aware of: Doug Guthrie’s “China and Globalization” and Mark Leonard’s “What Does China Think?” both spring immediately to mind.
    Even if China does, in the end, develop a system of democracy that is very different from that of a Western style parliamentary democracy, then so what? What’s the big deal? There are legitimate moral alternatives to such a system of democracy, as Daniel Bell explains in his book, “Beyond Liberal Democracy: political thinking for an East Asian context”.
    When it comes to China, we need to start thinking outside the box, by opening ourselves up to the legitimacy of alaternative models of development – both economic, jurisprudic and political. As Yvonne Sherratt points out in her book on “Adorno’s Positive Dialectic”, ‘Enlightenment to be enlightened, needs Subjects who can communicate rationally, and to do so, they need not attempt to transcend their own humanity, but rather, they need to be so intensely receptive to their world that they can be, in one moment fully rational and in the other, fully absorbed.’
    Failure to do so in my view can only result in the formation of views that are fundamentally ethnocentric, and that are hence potentially dangerous.

  • Hunxuer
  • I plan to review this book soon too. I’m half way through reading it, and so far I’m impressed.

  • Loved this book, I shared this with a ton of my friends, many of them Chinese, and they were just blown away with all the inspirational stories in here. Every expat in China needs to read this.