Wednesday, 3 October 2012

On China

Just finished reading the 2011 book by Henry Kissinger, titled On China. Since I lived in China I wanted to read it to see what he had to say. Kissinger is a great believer in China and has many friends in the leadership of China. Whenever he travels there he gets the Head of State treatment with all that it entails. Kissinger had a great deal of influence many years ago in the original opening of the USA to the People's Republic of China. First secret meeting between himself and Premier Zhou En Lai in 1971, followed by the Official visit of President Nixon in 1973. Formal recognition did not come before 1979 for various reasons of internal USA politics and because of the War with Vietnam and the official recognition the USA government had granted Taiwan back in 1949.

Kissinger gives a lot of details on the personalities and character of each person he met, Mao Tse Tung, Zhou En Lai, Deng Xiao Ping and others. Mao the philosopher king, Zhou the cultured Mandarin and skilled diplomat and administrator, Deng the rough pragmatist. He described how the meetings went and how they were received and many more details on how the entire relationship evolved. For history all these details are important as a first person account. Kissinger stresses how the Chinese are master of the detail and are fully prepared with great seriousness for each encounter, nothing is left to chance or haphazard. He does not say it but the reader guess that the other side is not as well prepared and this is the Chinese advantage in any encounter.

Kissinger also looks at historical precedent in China and how Confucius influences the way of thinking of the Chinese leadership through the ages, he does spend some time in his book guiding the reader through the various phases of thinking which guide Chinese reaction to events. He also goes into what were the expectations and fears of the USA in the first meetings in the context of domestic American politics of the late 1960's. Past events like the victory of the Communist in China in 1949 against the Nationalist, the Korean war, the toll of the Vietnam war on the American public opinion, the Cold War and the difficult relations with the USSR. Though Kissinger never criticize past US Administrations he served and treats his Chinese counterparts with much courtesy in his book,  he does point out several times how many American thinkers made mistakes in their evaluation of China and its leadership, in the process delaying or impeding the relation between the USA and the PRC.  Kissinger gives the impression that he had to fight several battles with an entrenched bureaucracy at the State Department correcting what he considered wrong evaluations based on misunderstandings of history and events. What he considered to be too many assumptions, confusing Communism in general as an ideology and then believing that the way it was practiced in the USSR was the same in the PRC or that the new giants worked hand in hand against the West.

Kissinger also explains the concerns of the Chinese Leadership and their own problems with the USSR in border disputes which went back centuries to the time of the Emperors in both China and Russia. Of the rivalry between Stalin and Mao and then successive Soviet leaders who often failed to understand that the Chinese did not want to be dominated by them or even guided. The reader understand how the USA came to play a balancing act between the two great Communist powers in the world.

Then Kissinger guides us through the post-Mao period and the great changes brought about by Deng Xiao Ping. The internal fights within the Chinese leadership with two camps, one, the gang of four, for continuing the Mao doctrine and Deng's approach to go down a different path. It is clear that China today remains a Communist dictatorship and a police State but has a commercial, capitalistic components important to improve the material conditions of the people if the Communist party is to survive in power. Kissinger points out the great realizations under Deng, such as the eradication of hunger for the first time in China. Providing for basic health care, schooling and housing for all and most important quadrupling in a matter of a just a few years the wealth of individual Chinese who could see a net benefit under Communist rule.

In the last paragraph and epilogue, the books meanders as if Kissinger was at a lost on how to conclude his book and that part is less interesting, probably because the writer himself is retired and does not travel as much now as he did in the past.

A good read.

1 comment:

  1. we just finished a long history course titled 'The Fall the Rise of China"
    it was fascinating and i didn't know a fraction of this history.