11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars
Very mixed, 5 Jun 2011
It should be noted firstly that the title is a bit of a misnomer, as the book is not 'on china' as such, but only really about Chinese foreign policy. Nor will you learn much about present day China, as the focus is predominately historical.
Presumably due to the fact that it was during Mao's time that Kissinger had most personal involvement, the book is also quite Mao-heavy, with relatively less space given to the current generation of leaders.
However, where you would expect it to be good (such as on cold war realpolitik, or the characters of China's leaders), it is at times fascinating. It also gives a good insight into the the Chinese worldview, and makes their point of view on issues such as sovereignty and human rights much clearer.
However, as mentioned in most reviews (e.g. Chris Patten's for the FT), this more understanding view of China unfortunately shades into Mao-apology. While devoting whole chapters to Mao's foreign policy, the Great Leap Forward is skipped over in a few brief paragraphs. This is quite remarkable considering it was one of the worst man-made disasters of the 20th century, if not all human history. He also gives the lowest estimate of the number who died (20m), whereas the consensus seems to be around 40m.
While his agenda may be to paint a better picture of China (something I am also in favour of), this method is surely counterproductive. It is perfectly possible to have a positive view of China, but still acknowledge the mistakes that have been made. Trying to gloss over these is intellectually dishonest. It also makes his argument harder to take seriously once you know what you are reading is closer to propaganda than objective fact.
Mao and Deng took China on opposite paths, so to give them equivalent praise is contradictory. That Kissinger spends the vast majority of his Mao chapters on foreign policy, but gives significatly more time in his subsequent chapters to internal policy, shows that he knows Mao was a domestic failure. Kissinger just can't bring himself to be openly critical, and the self-censorship does the author and the reader a disservice.
This dishonesty unfortunately mars what would otherwise have been an interesting tour of the history of Chinese foreign policy.