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What Does China Think? - Mark Leonard

Guest ajc

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This book was published 5 years ago, just before the Beijing Olympics (smart move by HarperCollins, no doubt), and is available 2nd-hand for next to nothing.

I picked up on it originally via www.thegatesnotes.com/books, where Bill Gates reviews many of the books he's read.


Basically, it's a short (only 4 chapters and 100 pages long) conversation about the current debates regarding politics, economics, social policy, military interests and foreign affairs in modern China.

Mark Leonard is a smart think-tank and policy guy who has worked in Europe, the US and in Beijing and has contributed to the Economist, WSJ, FT, etc and he writes well but at the same time keeps things measured.


I'd say it's worth picking up (especially for anyone with an interest in the Middle Kingdom).

There's nothing massively ground-breaking in what Leonard writes, but he connects various themes and gives general insights into Chinese policy that probably not very many can.

The book consists to a large degree of interviews with ethnic Chinese intellectuals, academics and policy experts from the most influential Chinese institutions and so it does give a unique view into exactly what liberal and conservative Chinese thinkers are talking about applying today (the rough timeframe covered is probably from 1975 to 2035 I'd estimate, so 98% of it is still as relevant as when it was printed).


I think the best thing about the book is that he knows his subject matter and so in between the discussion of quotes and ideas from these Beijing and Shanghai policy people, he adds his own observations and quite a few surprising pieces of information about official and unofficial Chinese attitudes to the US, democracy, war, national interests and so on.


Something I've been considering, and which this book helped crystallize in some ways I suppose, is just how big an influence China will have on the world in the 21st century.

My guess is it could be very hard to quantify.

If the US dwarfed 19th century Great Britain in the 20th with economies of scale and innovations that no-one could've dreamed of, I wonder what 1+ billion Chinese can achieve as the world progresses over the course of the next 50 to 75 years.


Anyway, "What Does China Think" helps give some idea of what the 21st century might look like as Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzen, etc start to become as economically and culturally relevant (if not slightly more so) than the New York's, Tokyo's and London's of today. 

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