Despite a reputation for abstruse thought, the French intellectual Michel Foucault once explained his research in a straightforward manner: “I set out from a problem expressed in the terms current today and I try to work out its genealogy. Genealogy means that I begin my analysis from a question posed in the present.” Keyu Jin took that approach to heart in The New China Playbook, a work that explains China’s present by tracing its economic genealogy since 1978. 

After years of diplomatic pressure from the United States, China placed all fentanyl-related chemicals under an enhanced regulatory regime in 2019… only to see India emerge as a new source for the drug’s precursors the next year. Since then overdose deaths have continued to surge, prompting one US Senator to declare that “The flow of deadly synthetic opioids across our southern border is a public health crisis and a national security threat.” Peter Thilly’s new book, The Opium Business: A History of Crime and Capitalism in Maritime China, shows that a rising tide of addiction can indeed threaten a nation. It also shows why government attempts to disrupt the drug trade so often fail.

“Thou art the ruler of the minds of all people, dispenser of India’s destiny. Thy name rouses the hearts of the Punjab, Sindh, Gujarat and Maratha, of the Dravida, Orissa and Bengal.” Thus begins Rabindranath Tagore’s Jana Gana Mana. In 1939, Jawaharlal Nehru traveled to Calcutta and received Tagore’s blessing to make it India’s national anthem. That meeting took place in the home of Prasant Chandra Mahalanobis. Equal parts flawed, driven, and brilliant, Mahalanobis went on to steer the Five-Year Plans that promised to catapult India into modernity. Nikhil Menon’s new book Planning Democracy: Modern India’s Quest for Development captures this technocrat in full: how he amassed and exerted influence, and how reality fell short of his ambitions.

In 1980, the Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman noted “It is somewhat ironic that Hong Kong, a Crown colony of Great Britain, should be the modern exemplar of free markets and limited government. The British officials who govern it have enabled Hong Kong to flourish by following policies radically at variance with the welfare state policies that have been adopted in the mother country.” That explanation serves well enough for Hong Kong’s manufacturers, but how to account for businesses more aligned with the state? Private airlines, for example, inevitably depend on public infrastructure. Moreover, the government’s ability to negotiate landing rights is inescapable when every flight is international by definition. Hong Kong Takes Flight, a new book by John Wong, explores how that city’s flagship carrier adapted and grew for decades amid explosive growth and turbulent politics.

In May  2022, Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State, outlined the Biden administration’s approach to the People’s Republic of China. Blinken closed by speaking directly to the Chinese people, vowing “We’ll compete with confidence; we’ll cooperate wherever we can; we’ll contest where we must.” Between Blinken’s maxim and the actual conduct of foreign policy lie countless trade-offs, debates, and decisions. Scott Moore is familiar with those details, having lived in China before serving in the State Department’s Office of Chinese and Mongolian Affairs. His new book, China’s Next Act, offers guidance for how the US should decide when to cooperate and when to compete with China. 

China’s Pearl River Delta recently surpassed Tokyo as the world’s largest urban area. Amid that vast conurbation of over 60 million people stands the city of Zhongshan. The birthplace of Sun Yat-sen, Zhonghsan’s factories supply China’s middle class with consumer goods like lighting, furniture, and appliances. Looking east across the Indian Ocean, one finds Antalaha, a small harbor town on Madagascar’s eastern coast. Bordered by three national parks and without a paved road to the nation’s capital, Antalaha’s 67,000 inhabitants might seem remote. But thanks to a tree growing in those parks, Antalaha found itself fueling Zhongshan’s furniture industry. Annah Lake Zhu’s new book Rosewood: Endangered Species Conservation and The Rise of Global China, explores the consequences of this unexpected connection.

In 2021, China launched the world’s largest carbon market in furtherance of its “dual carbon” goals of peak emissions in 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060. That same year, China set a  new record for coal production, extracting over 4 billion tons. How any country could  reconcile such output with rising environmental standards remains to be seen. But whatever else one can say about China’s Communist Party, they’re not averse to grand projects. Their ambitions in this case extend far beyond engineering better solar panels or retrofitting power plants: Chinese energy policy will affect everything from business investment and household consumption to climate change and international agreements. And while today’s challenges seem unprecedented, fossil fuels have long preoccupied China’s rulers. Victor Seow’s new book Carbon Technocracy offers a valuable perspective on current dilemmas by exploring three 20th-century regimes that made Chinese coal central to their plans.