May 01, 11
Read on April 30, 2011
James Mann vs. Straw men. In this wisp of a book, Mann argues that China watchers in the U.S. blindly argue that China will eventually democratize, either because they underestimate the barriers to democracy, or because they have financial incentives that encourages them to advocate that China will eventually change.
The problems with this book are numerous. First, in my observations of China watchers, few actually have the beliefs he superficially describes here. Most academics, lawyers, and gov't officials who have dedicated themselves to the study of China have nuanced views which take into account the complexity and contradictions of modern China. Second, he doesn't offer any alternatives. If we should not hold out hope that trade and engagement with China will lead to political reform, what are the policy alternatives? What is the alternative to engagement? Should we treat China like North Korea or Burma? Our restrictions in engagement with those countries have stifled political change, not encouraged it.
The best thing I can say about this book is that if you are college freshmen taking a US-China Relations class, and you have not attended any lectures or done any reading all semester, and you only have an hour to study before your final exam, then read this book. It might give you enough of an overview to get a passing grade.