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On China
Cover of On China
On China
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Fascinating, shrewd . . . The book deftly traces the rhythms and patterns of Chinese history. —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“No one can lay claim to so much influence on the shaping of foreign policy over the past 50 years as Henry Kissinger.” The Financial Times
In this sweeping and insightful history, Henry Kissinger turns for the first time at book length to a country he has known intimately for decades and whose modern relations with the West he helped shape. On China illuminates the inner workings of Chinese diplomacy during such pivotal events as the initial encounters between China and tight line modern European powers, the formation and breakdown of the Sino-Soviet alliance, the Korean War, and Richard Nixon’s historic trip to Beijing. With a new final chapter on the emerging superpower’s twenty-first-century role in global politics and economics, On China provides historical perspective on Chinese foreign affairs from one of the premier statesmen of our time.
Fascinating, shrewd . . . The book deftly traces the rhythms and patterns of Chinese history. —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“No one can lay claim to so much influence on the shaping of foreign policy over the past 50 years as Henry Kissinger.” The Financial Times
In this sweeping and insightful history, Henry Kissinger turns for the first time at book length to a country he has known intimately for decades and whose modern relations with the West he helped shape. On China illuminates the inner workings of Chinese diplomacy during such pivotal events as the initial encounters between China and tight line modern European powers, the formation and breakdown of the Sino-Soviet alliance, the Korean War, and Richard Nixon’s historic trip to Beijing. With a new final chapter on the emerging superpower’s twenty-first-century role in global politics and economics, On China provides historical perspective on Chinese foreign affairs from one of the premier statesmen of our time.
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  • From the book  
    Chapter 1
    The Singularity of China  
     
     

     

    SOCIETIES AND NATIONS tend to think of themselves as eternal. They also cherish a tale of their origin. A special feature of Chi-nese civilization is that it seems to have no beginning. It appears in history less as a conventional nation-state than a permanent natural phenomenon. In the tale of the Yellow Emperor, revered by many Chinese as the legendary founding ruler, China seems already to exist. When the Yellow Emperor appears in myth, Chinese civilization has fallen into chaos. Competing princes harass each other and the people, yet an enfeebled ruler fails to maintain order. Levying an army, the new hero pacifies the realm and is acclaimed as emperor.1
    The Yellow Emperor has gone down in history as a founding hero; yet in the founding myth, he is reestablishing, not creating, an empire. China predated him; it strides into the historical consciousness as an established state requiring only restoration, not creation. This paradox of Chinese history recurs with the ancient sage Confucius: again, he is seen as the “founder” of a culture although he stressed that he had invented nothing, that he was merely trying to reinvigorate the prin- ciples of harmony which had once existed in the golden age but had been lost in Confucius’s own era of political chaos.
    Reflecting on the paradox of China’s origins, the nineteenth-century missionary and traveler, the Abbé Régis-Evariste Huc, observed:

     
     
    Chinese civilization originates in an antiquity so remote that we vainly endeavor to discover its commencement. There are no traces of the state of infancy among this people. This is a very peculiar fact respecting China. We are accustomed in the history of nations to find some well-defined point of depar- ture, and the historic documents, traditions, and monuments that remain to us generally permit us to follow, almost step by step, the progress of civilization, to be present at its birth, to watch its development, its onward march, and in many cases, its subsequent decay and fall. But it is not thus with the Chi- nese. They seem to have been always living in the same stage of advancement as in the present day; and the data of antiquity are such as to confirm that opinion.2
     
    When Chinese written characters first evolved, during the Shang Dynasty in the second millennium B.C., ancient Egypt was at the height of its glory. The great city-states of classical Greece had not yet emerged, and Rome was millennia away. Yet the direct descendant of the Shang writing system is still used by well over a billion people today. Chinese today can understand inscriptions written in the age of Confucius; con- temporary Chinese books and conversations are enriched by centuries- old aphorisms citing ancient battles and court intrigues.
    At the same time, Chinese history featured many periods of civil war, interregnum, and chaos. After each collapse, the Chinese state reconstituted itself as if by some immutable law of nature. At each stage, a new uniting figure emerged, following essentially the prece- dent of the Yellow Emperor, to subdue his rivals and reunify China (and sometimes enlarge its bounds). The famous opening of The Ro- mance of the Three Kingdoms, a fourteenth-century epic novel treasured by centuries of Chinese (including Mao, who is said to have pored over it almost obsessively in his youth), evokes this continuous rhythm: “The empire, long divided, must unite; long united, must divide. Thus it has

     
    ever been.”3 Each period of disunity was viewed as an aberration....
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    April 18, 2011
    In this canny, engaging historical study, the ex-secretary of state examines China's foreign policy for insights into its statecraft and soul. Kissinger (Crisis) recaps China's geo-strategic wei qi match—his ubiquitous metaphor for the subtle positioning characteristic of the national board game—from the Korean War to today's trade disputes, emphasizing the relationship with the U.S. as it moved from bitter enmity to cordial interdependence. He grounds his narrative in a penetrating analysis of age-old features of Chinese policy, emphasizing the Middle Kingdom's hauteur, wariness of encirclement—to the Chinese, he argues, America is just another barbarian horde to manipulate—and dread of domestic disorder. As an architect of Nixon's opening to China and a freelance go-between for later administrations, Kissinger is a major figure in the story, and the text often revolves around exegeses of his cryptic dialogues with Chinese leaders. The book therefore oozes Kissingerian realism, with its stress on great power machinations, international balance, and high-stakes summitry and its impatience with human rights strictures; a deadpan wit and cold-blooded candor flash out from clouds of diplomatic euphemism. Though it sometimes feels like a mind game between mandarins of many stripes, and Kissinger's generalizations about Chinese national character can also sound outmoded, this insider's account sheds a revealing light on the contours of Chinese-American relations.

  • Kirkus

    Starred review from April 15, 2011

    From the eminent elder statesman, an astute appraisal on Chinese diplomacy from ancient times to the fraught present "strategic trust" with the United States.

    Former Secretary of State Kissinger (Crisis : The Anatomy of Two Major Foreign Policy Crises: Based on the Record of Henry Kissinger's Hitherto Secret Telephone Conversations, 2003, etc.) brings his considerable scholarly knowledge and professional expertise to this chronicle of the complicated evolution and precarious future of Chinese diplomacy with the West. Traditionally, Chinese foreign policy as practiced by centuries of emperors was marked by appeasement and generally overwhelming their barbarian enemies with Chinese largesse: the "five baits" included clothing, music, slaves and food to "corrupt" the opponent into seeing things the Chinese way. In their supreme self-containment, the Chinese disdained the importunate advances of the barbarians until the aggressive incursions by the West to force open the barriers to trade in the late 18th century. Foreign threats by the West, Russia and Japan and the series of "unequal treaties" imposed on China impelled it into a period of "self-strengthening" that was finally achieved by the Communist consolidation of power under Mao. From Mao's declaration in 1949 that the Chinese people "have stood up," the Chinese practiced a modern form of pursuing the "psychological advantage," rather than the military (shades of Sun Tzu), in confronting the superpowers. However, a new era commenced under Deng Xiaoping, who was bent on reform and open to travel and new ideas, and normalization of relations with America was finally established under President Carter. Kissinger wisely considers Tiananmen, Taiwan, the elevation of Jiang Zemin and the new era of "cooperative coexistence" maintained by President Hu Jintao. The author warns, however, that despite China's commitment to a "peaceful rise," the U.S.-China relationship will continue to contain an underlying tension.

    Sage words and critical perspective lent by a significant participant in historical events.

    (COPYRIGHT (2011) KIRKUS REVIEWS/NIELSEN BUSINESS MEDIA, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

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