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Wealth and Power: China's Long March to the Twenty-first Century Paperback – 16 Jul 2013

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Product details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown (16 July 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408704978
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408704974
  • Product Dimensions: 15.4 x 3.6 x 23.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 341,523 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Wealth and Power offers everything readers might expect from its two eminent authors. It is both sweeping and specific, authoritative and lively, sympathetic and critical, offering the perspective of both the hedgehog and the fox. The hardest challenge in writing about China, or finding things to read about it, is perceiving significant patterns while remaining aware of the chaos and contradictions. Orville Schell and John Delury meet that challenge in exemplary form. I only wish that they'd written the book years ago, so that (along with other readers) I could have been taking advantage of its insights all along (James Fallows, national correspondent, The Atlantic)

A brilliantly original and essential book: the road map to China's quest for national salvation. This is a story of ideas and the vibrant figures who shaped them: rebels, thinkers, and rivals, united by the quest for reinvention. It is required reading for anyone seeking to understand China's motives and the future of global competition, and is, quite simply, a pleasure to read. Vivid, literate, and brimming with insights, Wealth and Power deserves to become a classic (Evan Osnos, staff writer, The New Yorker)

In Wealth and Power, their crisp and comprehensive introduction to the history of modern China, historians Orville Schell and John Delury present us with the historical background we need to understand the driving mechanism that lies at the center of China today. By no longer presenting China's past two centuries as a record of recurrent failures and humiliations, they give us a portrait of a nation in the making, and of leaders with the skills and determination to redirect China's energies on a global scale. The change of perspective is valuable and challenging (Jonathan D. Spence, author of The Search for Modern China)

Book Description

A series of lively and absorbing portraits of iconic modern Chinese leaders and thinkers, Wealth and Power is a panoramic narrative of the nation's ascent from imperial doormat to global economic powerhouse.

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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By FictionFan TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 16 July 2013
Format: Paperback
"From 'Our technology is not as good as other people's,' to 'Our political system is not as good as other people's,' and on to 'Our culture is not as good as other people's,' Chinese reflections on our own defects probed ever deeper. But the primary mind-set that guided the probing was neither 'liberation of humanity,' nor even 'enriching people,' but rather a sense of shame at China's loss of sovereignty and other national humiliations."

These words of Nobel Prize winning dissident, Liu Xiaobo, give a rather neat summary of the arguments put forward in this fascinating and thought-provoking study of the Chinese psyche over the last 150 years or so, as evidenced and influenced by its greatest intellectuals, writers and leaders. The aim of the authors is to shed some light on how, in the last three decades, China has risen out of the poverty and political turmoil of the preceding century to become one of the richest and most powerful nations in the world.

The authors show how the encroachment of the Western empires and defeats at the hands of enemies within and without led, not just to the fall of the empire at the beginning of the twentieth century, but to the creation of a national mind-set that has kept the aim of achieving 'wealth and power' at the heart of Chinese politics ever since. The succession of military defeats and subsequent 'unequal treaties', which forced China to pay punitive reparations and give territory and access to foreign states, led to a spirit of 'national humiliation'. Far from allowing this to become a negative factor, however, successive intellectuals and leaders used it as a spur to galvanise China into a process of 'self-strengthening'.
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A brilliant history of the intellectual and cultural origins of China rise from national humiliations to world first economy.
The book leave little hope for a democratic China.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 65 reviews
41 of 47 people found the following review helpful
"When the country is humiliated, its spirit will be aroused." Wei Yuan, 1842 16 July 2013
By FictionFan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
"From 'Our technology is not as good as other people's,' to 'Our political system is not as good as other people's,' and on to 'Our culture is not as good as other people's,' Chinese reflections on our own defects probed ever deeper. But the primary mind-set that guided the probing was neither 'liberation of humanity,' nor even 'enriching people,' but rather a sense of shame at China's loss of sovereignty and other national humiliations."

These words of Nobel Prize winning dissident, Liu Xiaobo, give a rather neat summary of the arguments put forward in this fascinating and thought-provoking study of the Chinese psyche over the last 150 years or so, as evidenced and influenced by its greatest intellectuals, writers and leaders. The aim of the authors is to shed some light on how, in the last three decades, China has risen out of the poverty and political turmoil of the preceding century to become one of the richest and most powerful nations in the world.

The authors show how the encroachment of the Western empires and defeats at the hands of enemies within and without led, not just to the fall of the empire at the beginning of the twentieth century, but to the creation of a national mind-set that has kept the aim of achieving 'wealth and power' at the heart of Chinese politics ever since. The succession of military defeats and subsequent 'unequal treaties', which forced China to pay punitive reparations and give territory and access to foreign states, led to a spirit of 'national humiliation'. Far from allowing this to become a negative factor, however, successive intellectuals and leaders used it as a spur to galvanise China into a process of 'self-strengthening'. At the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century, the main thrust was to borrow what was needed from the West in terms of technical and scientific knowledge, while maintaining the existing Confucian culture. But the authors show how, as that failed to make China strong enough to defy the many circling predators, gradually some intellectuals began to believe that there must be a period of 'destruction' of cultural sacred cows before 'construction' of a new and stronger state could begin.

Each chapter focuses on one man, a leading intellectual or politician, taking us gradually through the decades from the end of the Opium wars to the present day. The emphasis is not on the events of any given period, although of course they are referenced and highlighted. Rather, the authors concentrate on the writings and speeches of each man, showing how each generation of political thought adopted, rejected or built on the ideas of the one before. Many of the people who are discussed were entirely unknown to me, especially those prior to WW2, but the authors create a continuous chain of intellectual development, clearly showing how and why ideas were influenced by, and adjusted in reaction to, events at home or abroad.

The authors take a sympathetic approach to their subject - in the afterword they tell us that the book is part of a project undertaken by the Center on US-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York to examine China's reform movement and transition to modernity. They attempt, successfully in my view, to explain to a Western audience the cultural differences that have enabled China to follow a path that seems, to our eyes, doomed to fail - to build a society that values the acquisition of 'wealth and power' above things that we see as essential for progress: intellectual freedom, human rights, democracy. While in no way condoning the horrors of the era of Mao Zedong and the Cultural Revolution, they suggest that this period of destructiveness may in fact have cleared the way, culturally, for the creation under Deng Xiaoping of the 'Leninist capitalist' system that has enabled China to become the powerhouse it is today. An unequal society, yes, and with repression still at its core, but a country governed largely with the consent of its people nonetheless.

They end with some informed speculation about where next for China - having gained 'wealth and power' will they use that power to bully other nations as they were bullied in their nineteenth century weakness? Or will they, from a position of strength, continue to open up their society and perhaps gradually move towards an intellectual position and political system more closely aligned with the West?

I found this a lengthier read than its size would necessarily suggest, since after every few pages I would discover that I was staring at a wall and thinking. It has challenged and changed my pre-existing assumptions, certainly about China's culture and system of government but perhaps also about our own. It has gone a long way towards answering the question why China, alone of all the major states that adopted authoritarian non-democratic systems during the twentieth century, seems eventually to have made a relative success of it while retaining the support of the majority of its citizens.

Apologies for the length of this review, but I still feel I've given the merest glimpse into this highly illuminating and thought-provoking read. I can't recommend it highly enough to anyone who is interested in understanding the psyche of a nation that seems destined soon to be the wealthiest and most powerful of all.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher.
27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
An Intellectual History of Modern China 16 July 2013
By H. P. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
Wealth and Power follows Chinese history from the Opium Wars to today. Modern Chinese history is generally considered to have begun with the Treaty of Nanjing at the close of the first Opium War. Schell and Delury see special significance is using that first great humiliation of China at the hands of the modern world as the starting point, central to a thesis they use to explore Chinese history through its intellectual history. Roughly, that thesis is that modern Chinese history is best understood as a reaction to its modern humiliation, the desire to strengthen itself and overcome that humiliation by achieving "wealth and power," and the tension that created with traditional Confucianism. The underlying intellectual tension in modern Chinese history then, is between conservative family-centric thinking and conservative state-centric thinking. It's thinking that dates back to the old conflict between Confucians and the Legalists, philosophical adversaries to the Confucians whose mantra was Wealth and Power. It's a conflict that predates and leaves precious little room for classical liberalism or even Marxism.

In service of this thesis, Schell and Delury dispense with a traditional narrative history in favor of focusing on 11 "iconic intellectuals and leaders, reformers and revolutionaries." The 11 are: Wei Yuan (born in 1794, died in 1857), Feng Guifen (1809-1874), the Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908), Liang Qichao (1873-1929), Sun Yat-Sen (1866-1925), Chen Duxiu (1879-1942), Chiang Kai-Shek (1887-1975), Mao Zedong (1893-1976), Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997), Zhu Rongji (1928-), and Liu Xiaobo (1955-). They are a mix of scholar-official civil servants (sharing the experience of failing at least one examination), writers, dissidents, and leaders of the Republic of China and in the Nationalist and Communist parties, as well as one (and, tellingly, only one) member of the royal family. They share much in common. Each argued that China needed to seriously change in some way. Most reverted to less radical and more Confucian positions in their later years. Their arguments tended to be utilitarian rather than rooted in natural rights (of the 11, only Liu can fairly be said to be a true proponent of natural rights and liberal democracy). When liberalism or democracy are advocated for, it tends to be not as an end but as a means to the end of Wealth and Power (the same could probably be said for Marxism). Unsurprisingly then, the need for an authoritarian prelude to self-government is common. Little if any respect is shown toward the Chinese people, even while the Chinese nation is viewed worshipfully.

As is to be expected, Communist China gets a great deal of attention. Mao and Deng are the only 2 of the 11 to get double chapters. It's interesting to both see how traditional Chinese culture and philosophy influenced the Chinese brand of Marxism and how the Chinese Communist Party differed from its counterpart in Moscow, both favorite topics of Schell and Delury. Mao had a belief in the power of the Great Man, influenced by the great Chinese classical novels, that was at odds with Marxism's economic determinism. He also recognized that rural China was better primed for a Communist revolution than urban China. We hear about the Long March, the Hundred Flowers Movement, and the Great Leap Forward, among others. The authors are perhaps too kind in dealing with Mao's commitment to disruptive change and cultural destruction.

Early on the authors describe their works as a "historical reflection on China's `economic miracle.'" I think the scare quotes are fairer than the authors probably do: I'm not convinced there is any economic miracle. In the final chapter they suggest that the incredible destruction wrought under Mao weakened traditional Confucianism--a force against progress--sufficient such that true reform was possible. I think the basic logic of that is fine, but what results at what cost? Tens of millions died, and the "economic miracle" looks like a miracle in large part because Mao's policies led to such incredible poverty. Yes, China now has the second largest economy in the world by GDP, but its per capita income still lags the US, Japan, Taiwan, and even the world average. Dramatic growth is easy when the simplest reforms are available because a country is doing virtually everything wrong. And this growth has come without any attendant real political freedom. Asia for whatever reason has produced several success stories of moving from authoritarianism to constitutionalism, but the intellectual history that Schell and Delury so richly illustrate, China has a deep, deep tradition of nationalistic utilitarianism and no serious tradition of classical liberalism.

I was initially put off by the authors' sometimes tortured metaphors and the format, which is difficult to follow without a good base in Chinese history, but by the end of the book I felt I had an understanding of the "mind of China" I never had before and, more importantly, a grasp on what I still don't know (more known unknowns and fewer unknown knowns). The centrality of national humiliation and the tension between Confucianism and the Legalists is pretty straightforward, albeit necessary to any real understanding of China. More nuanced, and so well explained by Schell and Delury, are the differences between Russia's brand of Marxism and that of China, and differences between party-founder Chen, Mao, and later party leaders. It's also enlightening to see how readily Chinese leaders--including Nationalist leaders--were to adopt Marxist-Leninist principles where they thought useful while discarding others.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary advance e-copy of Wealth and Power via NetGalley.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Good Understanding - 16 July 2013
By Loyd E. Eskildson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
In the 19th century, efforts to efface national humiliation (until then, China had one of the world's largest economies) and restore China to wealth and power had largely focused on how the West's military technology and economic techniques might be harnessed by China. The early 20th century brought questioning of the wisdom of maintaining its traditional Confucian culture. Mao then pursued destroying China's old core with violent and total resolve (his Cultural Revolution), but also stubbornly squelched anything resembling the practice of capitalism. Nonetheless, the authors contend he may have helped prepare the way for successor Deng Xiaoping to usher in a spectacular new kind of economic growth. The authors also tell us China's leaders were totally pragmatic (it was not ideology driven) about choosing their way, and democracy has not appeared to be the most effective route forward.

Now, after weathering a century and a half of domestic rebellion and foreign aggression, China has learned how to borrow effectively from the West. Deng Xiaoping struck the spark that lit China's rejuvenation by telling his people in the 1980s that it 'to get rich is glorious' and it was 'all right for some people to get rich first.' Hu Jintao (handpicked by Deng, among others) reinforced that progress when he told visitors from Taiwan in 2005 that 'Backwardness incurs beatings by others,' and 'the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation has become the unswerving goal that each Chinese generation has striven to realize.' More recently, President Xi Jinping's first speeches as General Secretary in 2013 once again referred to this period of Chinese history.

The authors address the question of why China's economic dynamist began when it did, and has been as successful and durable as it has. They accomplish this by examining the lives of eleven influential officials, activists, and leaders who helped create modern China, beginning with the first Opium War. Why start there? Many Chinese date the start of their modern history to the date when the Qing Dynasty signed the Treaty of Nanjing and capitulated to Great Britain to end the disastrous First Opium War (1839-42). Every Chinese high-school student is expected the know the official narrative dividing Chinese history neatly into pre-Opium War and post-Opium War periods, China's counterpart to Americans learning the preamble of the Declaration of Independence. That began China's questioning the fundamental assumptions of their culture and governance.

Paradoxically, the authors find that one of the most interesting and paradoxical explanations originates with the person deemed to have had such a destructive effect on China's earlier progress - Mao Zedong. His movement to standardize oral language and simplify written language helped unify the nation, while his Cultural Revolution was so great a disaster that it provoked an even more profound cultural revolution - institutionalizing a key element Mao intended to stamp out.

Westerners need to rethink whether democratization was always an essential partner to market-driven growth and national development. Turns out China's painful historical experience has made nationalism a stronger sentiment than democracy or constitutionalism. Many Chinese have made an implicit bargain with the party - as long as they are allowed to enjoy growing wealthier and to pursue a better life, and as long as their country edges closer towards a modicum of world greatness, they will not seek to challenge authoritarian rule.

Yet, the confidence levels of many Chinese lag behind actual achievements in curing the nation's recent historical sense of inferiority. This is perhaps partly because the CCP finds perpetuating the victim culture to be in its interest. Another reason is that the West still regularly criticizes its fundamental values and does not emulate its example; the Chinese are learning that to win that outside respect they first have to treat their own people with respect. Nearby Asian, post-Confucian, and post-colonial societies such as Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea have all moved from authoritarianism to constitutionalism, while new leader Xi Jinping recently warned party leaders about the dangers of following the dreaded footsteps of the former Soviet Union. Perhaps instead China will begin enforcing its own constitution.

Meanwhile, there is also increasing worry that the country will flex its new economic and military muscles. Schell et al see its various South China Sea territory disputes as another dimension of nationalism, of 'payback time.' U.S. presence in the area (including spy flights along its coast) don't help either. And it does have legitimate security concerns about protecting access to various raw materials and trade outlets around the world.

I most enjoyed the section on Deng Xiaoping, the man who led China's turnaround after Mao. He'd seen how Mao's idealism had driven China to the brink of civil war and weakened its economy, as well as how other nations were far ahead of China (Deng admitted in 1973 that China was 40 years behind - both in economic and technology terms. He worked for economic development, undistorted by either Maoist mass politics or individualistic liberal democracy. His writing and speeches largely ignored the subject of traditional Chinese culture and Confucian ideology (Mao's last focus), seeing those topics as distractions from what really was needed - improving material conditions and making China a global powerhouse, while preserving the Party's monopoly on power. Looking at the U.S., Deng saw democracy as creating indecisiveness, inefficiency, instability (one branch of government holding back another; politicians constantly changing positions), and unable to deal with serious problems in a timely manner.

Deftly expressing criticism of the past w/o risking totally rejecting a former leader and the resentment that would create, he said 'Mao was 70% correct and 30% wrong' - the same rating Mao had given himself. Deng also did not suffer from Mao's insecurity vs. intellectual, and one of his first acts was to reverse the political verdicts on nearly 3 million party cadre and intellectuals branded 'class enemies' and persecuted during the Cultural Revolution. This won him many friends among the elite and provided the government with a vast new reservoir of well-educated individuals with technical skills. 'Pragmatism' was Deng's focus - 'From this day forward, we renounce class struggle as the central focus, and instead take up economic development as our central focus' (1978, upon taking the reins), 'Practice is the sole determinant of truth,' 'Seek truth from facts,' 'Poverty is not socialism,' 'The Purpose of socialism is to make a country rich and strong.' Deng himself traveled to the U.S. and Europe, and regularly pumped foreign visitors for their ideas on improvement; one of his most effective techniques was sending officials abroad to look and study, reversing a century of Chinese resistance to and ambivalence about learning from the West. ('Only when we recognize that we are backward will we progress.') Upon return, they were looked upon as valuable assets - eg. Xi Jinping, now president, was a staff member on a military delegation to the Pentagon in 1980 and member of an agricultural delegation to Iowa in 1985. Supported incentivizing productivity, private entrepreneurialism, and decentralized economic decision-making, and hired as his architects Zhao Ziyang and Zhu Rongi who later became premiers.

Demanded local officials boldly experiment, sometimes there experiments were illegal but Deng let them proceed and succeed/fail on their own merits. One of the first, and most important, was the de-communalization of agriculture. Another was 'town and village enterprises' (TVEs) that were local public-private joint ventures allowed to side-step existing limits on the number of employees. A third was Special Economic Zones (SEZs) piloted near Hong Kong and Taiwan. The first proposal came from Guangdong Province governor Xi Zhongxun, father the current president. Xi also had hero status from the 1930s anti-Japanese resistance. Overseeing this new project was Sichuan party secretary Zhao Ziyang who had earlier encouraged marketization reform and separating party management from industrial management. He too later became premier.

1984 brought the peak of Deng's popularity. Then came inflation, party cadres exploiting the difference between state-set and market prices, softening employment, and eventually the 1989 Tiananmen demonstrations. Deng saw the latter as risking civil war and the CCP's authority and eventually ordered the PLA to restore order. Given Deng's prior reactions to eg. Fang Lizhi (high-level physics professor and official at a leading university - lost his position and was expelled from the CCP) and a much earlier protester (1978 - jailed for 15 years), the wonder is that the protests were allowed to continue as long as they were.

Concluding, the authors believe China's new leader is a Deng-type economic reformer, and that stability is much more highly valued in China than most Westerners realize - allowing foundations to become firmer. Thus, a privatized economy would be scary for CCP leadership - it would lose influence and have to contend with too much private power and influence. And the middle and upper classes, while perhaps wanting greater freedom and openness, also want government to protect their interests. As for Taiwan, they believe China would be wise to simply bide its time - Taiwan will voluntarily return when China becomes more democratic. Meanwhile, the U.S. has been unable to act on global warming, a concern that will significantly affect both nations (China probably more), that requires worldwide action that would bring the two nations closer together.

Bottom-Line: 'Wealth and Power' provides excellent insight into why the Chinese behave as they have in recent years.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant 3 Aug. 2013
By Erez Davidi - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I've had a keen interest in China for the last several years. As anyone who reads the papers would know, China is gaining more and more media attention. This has also manifested itself in a major inflation of books about China. It has become quite hard to choose the "correct" books to read about China. "Wealth and Power" is by far one of the best books I have read about China's recent history in the past few years.

"Wealth and Power" examines China's recent history dating from the first Opium War (the beginning of the humiliation of China) until recent years. It does so in a rather unusual way by examining important events through the lives of leading figures of China, such as Liang Qichao, Mao Zedong, Chiang Kai Shek, Deng Xiaoping, and more. For the most part, I was rather familiar with all the events described; however, it still helped me to better understand China and the forces driving it. This an excellent book, which every person who is interested in China will find illuminating.
17 of 24 people found the following review helpful
An apology for the unforgivable? 31 Aug. 2013
By Steinbeck fan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book lacks the freshness and feeling of immediacy present in most of Schell's books of the past three decades, but this is essentially an historical work that should be judged by other criteria. My problem with the book is the suggestion that Mao's wholesale butchery could be understood as "creative destruction." Would any Western author dare apply such a term to the mass murders of Hitler or Stalin? The last British governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, once remarked how shocked he was that some Westerners would display their Mao souvenirs in a way that they would not have done with Hitler artifacts. At one point when the late American Prof. John King Fairbank appeared to be apologizing for Mao as having been good for China, someone pointed out that Fairbank would not want his own grandchildren to live under Mao's system. Maybe there is a lesson here regarding applying the term "creative destruction" for atrocities that cost at least 30 million Chinese people their lives.
-- Steinbeck Fan, Germany
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