There are supposed to be a book in three book in three parts: China as today, how it got there, and where it is going.
The book is far strongest on the first part - where it is today. It is a compelling and vivid snapshot of China after three decades of extraordinary social and economic change. One gets a sense of the immensity of the country's achievements in eye-popping statistics but also of the commensurate social, economic and environmental challenges. He also pours some cold water on some of the inflated claims of China's imminent and inevitable rise to global dominance. The fact China finances the US deficit for example does not give China the whip hand over the US: China needs US consumers to buy its goods. China is assuming greater equality of status vis-à-vis the United States but it does not hold all the cards. Moreover, the speed and scope of the transformation have produced immense strains and it is a moot point whether the Party can continue to manage these strains indefinitely with perpetual one party rule.
It is weaker on how it got where it is. I did not get a sense of why the CCP embarked on the process of reform three decades ago. After the excesses of Mao, the Party certainly craved stability, as the Soviet Communist Party did after the death of Stalin in 1953. But why did it decide to concoct the risky formula of one party rule and vigorous capitalist growth? Was this the only option available to the CCP at the time? I felt that more discussion of the origins of the reform process might have been made.
In addition, the author appears to hedge his bets as to where China is going. He seems reluctant (understandably so) to make any bold prognoses of where China is going. Most cocksure predictions of where China is going are likely to be wrong. This is an experiment without real precedent and it is impossible to judge where it will end up. And he fights shy of trying to shoehorn his portrait into any fancy sounding idea like China as a `civilisation state' and again he is probably wise to do this. In the end we get a few sweeping admonitions that China will find it harder to maintain one party rule as economic and social advances make the country more variegated, stratified and harder to control. We shall see.
So, overall, a good book about China today rather than how it go there or where it is going. But still a very good portrayal of where it is. The ground the author does cover is covered very well. Four stars.