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.

What Kosal Path calls the “Third Indochina War” resulted from Vietnam’s invasion of Cambodia in December 1978 and China’s subsequent invasion of Vietnam in February 1979. For Vietnam, it was a “protracted two-front war”, that drained the country’s economic resources and imperiled the ruling Communist Party. Path contends that throughout the war, the decision-making of the Vietnamese political leadership was shaped more by domestic economic factors and a realist view of national security interests than ideological abstractions. The war and its aftermath, he believes, also set the stage for Vietnam’s economic and national security reform policies called Doi Moi (renovation), and Vietnam’s improved relations with Western powers.

It somehow always feels in season to ponder when the Chinese Communist Party will have to grapple with a real challenge to its rule, and to cogitate over whether democratic governance is in China’s future. In Democracy in China: The Coming Crisis, Jiwei Ci, a philosophy professor at the University of Hong Kong, constructs an elaborate but cogent argument about how the CCP will only overcome its illegitimacy, along with other tears in the national fabric, by choosing to usher in political democracy, a change that Ci declares is “of dire necessity rather than moral luxury.”

For those of us who live in Hong Kong, the past six-eight months have been a roller-coaster. The (it is almost now universally accepted) ill-advised extradition bill—the proximate cause of the discontent that has roiled the city—has been withdrawn, but too late to stem the tide of protest, which took on a momentum of its own and which has been a matter of almost daily conversation, argument, newspaper commentary and, for no small number, involvement.

Frank Dikötter, author of the acclaimed People’s Trilogy, focuses his latest book on the special role personality cults have played in eight eerily effective 20th-century dictatorships. The wryly titled How to Be a Dictator reminds readers of the depressingly similar tactics tyrants have used throughout history to destroy rivals and win acquiescence, if not exactly adulation, of the people.