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The Corruption Before Trump

We are where we are in American politics, in part, because all these big-picture projects succeeded in enriching private interests … but failed to achieve their stated public goals. The “shock therapy” delivered to Russia midwifed Putinism instead of a prosperous American ally. The war in Iraq ushered in a regional conflict that’s still burning to this day. Chimerica worked out better for the Chinese than for many working-class Americans, and far better for the Chinese Politburo than for the cause of liberty. And the self-justifying doctrine of the present elite — that you can serve the common good while in office and do well for yourself afterward — became far more implausible when the elite’s projects kept failing even as the officeholders kept on cashing in. – Ross Douthat

Great Books of China: From Ancient Times to the Present by Frances Wood

Great Books of China  by Frances Wood introduces – or reintroduces – readers to some of China’s most influential books and writings.

Here is a brief summary of the book:

Beginning with some of the Confucian and Daoist classics and ending with modern fiction, Great Books of China features famous novels including The Water Margin (Shuihu zhuan), Journey to the West (Xiyou ji), and Dream of the Red Chamber (Hongloumeng); celebrated dramas such as The Story of the Lute (Pipa ji) and The Peach Blossom Fan (Taohua shan); poetry from ancient times and the “golden age” of the Tang to the last years of imperial China; renowned historic manuals on Chinese painting, on the construction of Chinese gardens, and on a carpenter’s varied tasks; major texts describing Chinese history, the military exploits of ancient generals, and the legendary journeys of Buddhist monks; and works by a number of modern writers including Lu Xun, Ding Ling, and Lao She.

If you get anything from this book as a Western reader, it is learning about the richness and diversity of Chinese writing. Not only is the poetry very strong, but the other genres are just as strong – including fiction, history, and science.

Another idea that struck me was how influential writings from thousands of years ago still influence China today. The writings of Confucius can still be seen as an influence in modern China. Wood presents all of the books with a great summary of the content and the author.

Excellent history of the great literary works of China.

Restless Empire: China and the World Since 1750 by Odd Arne Westad

I recently completed Odd Arne Westad’s Restless Empire: China and the World Since 1750.  Although it took me a while to read it due to its length (469 pages), I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Here is a brief description of the book from the publisher:

As the twenty-first century dawns, China stands at a crossroads. The largest and most populous country on earth and currently the world’s second biggest economy, China has recently reclaimed its historic place at the center of global affairs after decades of internal chaos and disastrous foreign relations. But even as China tentatively reengages with the outside world, the contradictions of its development risks pushing it back into an era of insularity and instability—a regression that, as China’s recent history shows, would have serious implications for all other nations.

In Restless Empire, award-winning historian Odd Arne Westad traces China’s complex foreign affairs over the past 250 years, identifying the forces that will determine the country’s path in the decades to come. Since the height of the Qing Empire in the eighteenth century, China’s interactions—and confrontations—with foreign powers have caused its worldview to fluctuate wildly between extremes of dominance and subjugation, emulation and defiance. From the invasion of Burma in the 1760s to the Boxer Rebellion in the early 20th century to the 2001 standoff over a downed U.S. spy plane, many of these encounters have left Chinese with a lingering sense of humiliation and resentment, and inflamed their notions of justice, hierarchy, and Chinese centrality in world affairs. Recently, China’s rising influence on the world stage has shown what the country stands to gain from international cooperation and openness. But as Westad shows, the nation’s success will ultimately hinge on its ability to engage with potential international partners while simultaneously safeguarding its own strength and stability.

An in-depth study by one of our most respected authorities on international relations and contemporary East Asian history, Restless Empire is essential reading for anyone wishing to understand the recent past and probable future of this dynamic and complex nation.

In order to understand the book more, I think it is important to understand the author.  Westad is a professor of international history at the London School of Economics and Political Science.  He has held visiting fellowships at Cambridge University, Hong Kong University, and New York University and has published several books, including The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times.

I did not take the book as a groundbreaking study of Chinese relations with the world.  I took it as a great introduction to Chinese history from 1750 to the present.  Although the initial 50 years is a little scant, Westad more than makes up for that paucity in his discussion from 1800 onward.

Ian Morris on The Patterns of History

This week Pejman and I spoke with Ian Morris, author of Why the West Rules – For Now, about how geography helps significantly shape destiny, how it explains the rise of the China, and the possibility that it may overtake the West. Listen below.


God Is Red by Liao Yiwu

If you feel sorry for yourself, read this book. If you think American politics are bad, read this book. If you need some inspiration for your faith, read this book.

What book? you ask.  God Is Red: The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China


When journalist Liao Yiwu first stumbled upon a vibrant Christian community in the officially secular China, he knew little about Christianity. In fact, he’d been taught that religion was evil, and that those who believed in it were deluded, cultists, or imperialist spies. But as a writer whose work has been banned in China and has even landed him in jail, Liao felt a kinship with Chinese Christians in their unwavering commitment to the freedom of expression and to finding meaning in a tumultuous society.

Unwilling to let his nation lose memory of its past or deny its present, Liao set out to document the untold stories of brave believers whose totalitarian government could not break their faith in God, including:

  • The over-100-year-old nun who persevered in spite of beatings, famine, and decades of physical labor, and still fights for the rightful return of church land seized by the government
  • The surgeon who gave up a lucrative Communist hospital administrator position to treat villagers for free in the remote, mountainous regions of southwestern China
  • The Protestant minister, now memorialized in London’s Westminster Abbey, who was executed during the Cultural Revolution as “an incorrigible counterrevolutionary”

This ultimately triumphant tale of a vibrant church thriving against all odds serves as both a powerful conversation about politics and spirituality and a moving tribute to China’s valiant shepherds of faith, who prove that a totalitarian government cannot control what is in people’s hearts.

Liao Yiwu mostly lets the people he interviews speak for themselves (but offering some rather poetic introductions and descriptions along the way) in this fascinating look at the people who gave everything they had to help grow the Christian church in China.  As a result, he book reads more like a journal or series of vignettes than a stand alone book – it really is a collection of interviews – but because the underlying stories are so powerful this style and structure is easily overcome.  And it’s simplicity and straightforward witness adds to its power. Yiwu focuses mostly on rural areas and the villages that embraced the Christian faith in the early part of the Twentieth Century only to have the horrors of communism and the Cultural Revolution bring suffering and persecution in ways that are almost impossible for Westerners to imagine.

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