China today is ruled by a party-state totalitarian dictatorship. That is the conclusion of Stein Ringen’s thoughtful and careful analysis in his new book The Perfect Dictatorship. It is a conclusion that will be unpopular and challenged in Asian and other world capitals, where it is a strongly held belief (or hope) that China’s government is a “normal”, traditional authoritarian regime and can be dealt with accordingly.
Vietnam is often featured in Western media and culture as the battleground where the US actually lost a war in the 20th century. This is unfortunate because it obscures a fascinating Southeast Asian nation that is now on the cusp of significant economic growth and prosperity. Vietnam: A New History presents a more comprehensive account of the country by explaining how it came about, originating as a collection of tribal entities in the north over two thousand years ago that coalesced into kingdoms that gradually expanded, combined, and suffered colonization by the French before becoming united in the 20th century after a brutal war with the US.
The dynamics between the central administration in imperial Chinese dynasties and local levels of administration since the first unification under the short lived Qin in 220 BCE and the ways in which the shadow of these persist to this day is an enormous subject. It is curious, as Jae Ho Chung points out in the preamble to this short but intense and highly rewarding monograph, why so little attention has been paid to this subject.
Chinese Internet companies are uniquely innovative but are perceived by outsiders as mere copycats: Baidu is the “Chinese Google”, Alibaba is the “Chinese Amazon”. Yet this simple picture does not capture the reality of how Chinese internet companies have become intrinsic people’s lives. To call WeChat a messaging service, as if it is merely a WhatsApp knockoff, is to misunderstand it. WeChat is WhatsApp plus Facebook plus Instagram plus Paypal plus Apple Pay plus Wattpad plus Uber plus Visa plus Fidelity Investments.
But there may be another reason for these companies’ success other than circumstance: simply, they are Chinese.
One might be forgiven for thinking “Oh no, not another book on modern China… What could anyone possibly have left to say about it?” But Alexandre Trudeau does not simply write about what he observes, but, like all good travel-writers, shows us what effect the journey had on him. And he does so without thrusting himself into the foreground; there is no large talking head loudly proclaiming “look at me” in the foreground and with tiny buildings in the background incidentally pointing to a foreign location.
For a book targeted at children, Division to Unification in Imperial China has a ponderous title. Parents and teachers might wish to cover this over with masking tape so that young readers instead concentrate on the handsome black, white and ochre illustration that otherwise adorns the cover.
China and the United States did most of the heavy lifting in defeating Japan during the Pacific war. After the war neither was much interested in running prisoner of war camps, and most captured Japanese were quite quickly repatriated. Two groups who did not return promptly were those captured by the Red army in Manchuria as they delivered the coup de grâce at the war’s end, and a few soldiers defending Japan’s Pacific islands who were neither killed, captured nor committed suicide when the islands fell. The Soviet Union shipped its captives to work camps in the Soviet Far East and set them to work mining, logging and building railroads, releasing them only years later. Some of the holdout island defenders lived on in the jungle for decades, nominally as guerilla fighters though in fact struggling to survive.