The first takeaway from Gilles Kepel’s new book Away from Chaos is the immense complexity of Middle East politics.
There will, one imagines, be quite a few books written about Hong Kong’s year of protests, from journalistic retellings from the front-lines, memoirs from influential figures, and attempts to tie the protests to a broader “New Cold War” narrative. There have already been a few.
Eugenia Cheng, author of the cleverly-titled x + y: A Mathematician’s Manifesto for Rethinking Gender, is—goes Wikipedia—“a British mathematician, concert pianist, and an honorary fellow of pure mathematics at the University of Sheffield. Her mathematical interests include higher-dimensional category theory, and as a pianist she specialises in lieder and art song.” Her current gig is Scientist in Residence at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Even more daunting, her website features a stint on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
China’s National Day is a carefully orchestrated occasion. Each year on October 1st, rigorously rehearsed celebrations take place nationwide, with those on Tiananmen Square broadcast live across China. On the decadal anniversary years, the display of pageantry is ramped up further, though these commemorations of Mao Zedong’s announcement on October 1st 1949 that the Chinese people had “stood up” have often been marred by events outside the careful control of the party leadership.
In a 1975 review of Marius Jansen’s Japan and China: From War to Peace, 1894-1972, Chalmers Johnson wrote, “One of the long-standing defects of Western scholarship on eastern Asia is its compartmentalization. China and Japan are usually studied in isolation from each other.” An accomplished scholar of both countries’ histories by then, Johnson knew of what he spoke, and praised Jansen’s exception to the academic rule. Were he still alive and reviewing, Johnson would surely similarly praise China and Japan: Facing History, the most recent work by another eminent scholar of east Asia, the soon-to-be-90 Ezra Vogel.
There’s much to be said for attempting to develop social and political theories, models and philosophies based on something other than Western lines of thought and datasets; the latter’s universality and applicability to the wider world is something which, if not taken merely on faith, that needs to be demonstrated. China, with intellectual, political and social histories of its own, offers both alternatives to, and tests of, prevailing Western conventions.
Geopolitical analysis is partly based on geographical perspective. Writers on geopolitics tend to view the world from their home country’s perspective. Australian national security expert Rory Medcalf in his new book Indo-Pacific Empire uses classical geopolitics and an understanding of modern geoeconomics to survey the current struggle for power in the most contested and consequential part of the world. And he does this from an Australian perspective—an Australian, moreover, whose diplomatic postings included India. That said, his book is a tour de force of 21st century geopolitical analysis that should be read by strategists and statesmen throughout the region and the world.