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China Hands: Nine Decades of Adventure, Espionage, and Diplomacy in Asia

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  171 ratings  ·  15 reviews
James Lilley's life and family have been entwined with China's fate since his father moved to the country to work for Standard Oil in 1916. Lilley spent much of his childhood in China and after a Yale professor took him aside and suggested a career in intelligence, it became clear that he would spend his adult life returning to China again and again.

Lilley served for twen
Paperback, 448 pages
Published July 6th 2005 by PublicAffairs (first published 2004)
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Nov 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: china, biography, cia

Through this personal memoir, you get an insider's view on how intelligence and diplomatic communities work with and against each other and how they influence and are influenced by elected officials. It's a delicate dance of meetings, hierarchies, secrets and logistics.

I like that Lilley first introduces himself to us through his childhood in China. Unlike other reviewers, I felt that the discussion of his brother was appropriate and just enough (not too much) for us to understand him and the si
Sep 29, 2009 rated it really liked it
A fantastic memoir from a true "China hand," Lilley's vast experience in East Asia (born in Qingdao, China; later served as a CIA case officer in many Asian locales; went on to be U.S. Ambassador to China, South Korea, and Taiwan (ambassador equivalent)) makes for an engrossing and multifaceted book. It's interesting to see how Lilley leveraged personal connections (for instance, to George H. W. Bush) to garner some pretty choice assignments in the latter stages of a 4-decade career of governmen ...more
Lewis Weinstein
Jun 14, 2022 rated it it was amazing
outstanding memoir ... with lots of incidents, details and observations which will be most useful in my novel-in-process ... I am considering making James Lilley, who was the only CIA designate to the U.S. Liaison Office in Beijing, a character in the novel, and having him interact for the year 1973 with one of my major fictional characters

here is Lilley's sense of China in 1973 ... violent stage of Cultural Revolution had petered out ... political infighting continued ... pragmatists led by Zho
Dec 17, 2007 rated it did not like it
China Hands by James Lilley is a surprisingly poorly written book filled with disingenuous recollections and littered with propagandist sleights against the US Democratic Party and State Department. The prose is often times sloppy, juvenile and very cliched. It is completely uninspired writing. I would love to show example after example but it is so awful that I dont want to look at it anymore or spend anymore time thinking about it.

James Lilley comes across as a sort of genial half-wit with jus
Jan 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
China Hands: Nine Decades of Adventure, Espionage, and Diplomacy in Asia by James Lilley (with his son, Jeffrey Lilley) is a fascinating look at the author's international life from his childhood in China to working as a CIA operative to serving as an ambassador.

I find that I absorb history better when it's told in the first person. Granted, it's likely a biased view, but it's still valid. Lilley was involved in some momentous events, particularly serving as the American Ambassador to China duri
Ronald Wise
Aug 26, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A personal history of Lilley's relationship with China during his childhood, and his decades of service as a CIA agent and an American diplomat. James and his siblings were raised in China where their father worked for Standard Oil before World War II. His older brother trained Chinese forces to fight the Japanese during World War II. James himself worked as an intelligence officer for the CIA in South Korea, Laos, Taiwan, and the People's Republic of China before being "outed". He served as the ...more
Read this for one of my colleges while I studied abroad. It's very long, so I never got to finish. I wish I did, and I think when I have time I will go back to finishing it. The book is great, it really pulls you in like you are there, once you start reading you will very much enjoy it. I just wish I had more time. ...more
Jan 15, 2009 rated it liked it
interesting. i wouldn't say fabulous. but an interesting perspective on history. i thought he was myopic in his view/understanding of events in the region, there was surprisingly little understanding of how events played out from other perspectives. ...more
Adrian  Lo
This is the first book "on China" that I read. It pretty good. More about US-SINO relation during 1930 to 2000 and US invovlement in Asia Pacific. It made me understand more about the power of politics and the ways it has helped to define history good or bad.
Apr 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
Interesting to me, as he was Abassador to Beijing during Tianamen Sqaure Revolt, and traveled extensively through Asia. Well written and timely with the Olypmics on their way.
Jun 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
Great Book about an American born in China Man's life and how it developed into serving the USA in ways ranging from the Active Duty Military to the CIA to Ambassador to various Countries. ...more
May 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This was the story of my great uncle and his travels. It made me feel closer to him and reminded me of the stories he would tell me when I was younger. Thanks uncle Jim
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