A century ago China was at the height of its warlord period. The nascent Republic of China had 26 prime ministers in 12 years as one warlord after another gained ascendency in their internecine struggles.
Little wonder, then, that China remained neutral as the First World War raged, signing up with the Allies only in the last year of the conflict. The Japanese too, though formally allied with the Entente powers, provided little practical assistance. Japan invaded Tsingtao and defeated the German garrison in one of the war’s first battles, but after that Japan declined to provide much support when importuned by its hard-pressed allies. Late in the war, once the defeat of the Central Powers seemed likely, Japan supplied some war materiel under the terms of secret treaties assuring British and French support for its colonial ambitions after the war. Its aim was to be anointed Germany’s successor in control of its Pacific colonies, including continued occupation of Tsingtao.
In The People’s Money, Chatham House’s Paola Subacchi discusses the internationalization, or relative lack thereof, of the renminbi. The subject can be rather like a room of mirrors if one does not follow developments in international currencies, but for those that do, the book serves as a clear overview of the history and the issues, both in general and those facing Chinese policy-makers in particular.
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.
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.