Kissinger explains the purpose of his book in the prologue:
"This book is an effort, based in part on conversations with Chinese leaders, to explain the conceptual way the Chinese think about problems of peace and war and international order, and its relationship to the more pragmatic, case-by-case American approach."Kissinger begins his study by laying a framework that he uses throughout the rest of the book. He goes into great depth explaining the basics of Chinese strategic theory using Sun Tzu's The Art of War and the board game weiqi (or, in English, "Go") as his main examples. Kissinger argues that Sun Tzu's work, which is about "the means of building a dominant political and psychological position," and weiqi, which is focused on "strategic encirclement," are and have been the guiding principles of China's thinking and action for centuries.
Although more modern history is the main focus, this foundational section - the first fifty pages or so - may be my favorite part of this 500+ page book. It really crystallizes the Chinese ethos and its leaders' decision-making processes.
By page 100 or so, the reader has entered the 20th century. I'm going to highlight a few of the most memorable sections from the heart of the book:
- Kissinger's analysis of the relationship between Mao and Stalin is fascinating. The dance between two of the most ruthless and conniving rulers of the twentieth century is, as you'd expect, something to behold. Reading Kissinger's inside baseball analysis of the two leaders' maneuvering and manipulation of each other makes for great drama.As you can tell from this gushing review, I really enjoyed On China. The only criticism I can give is that the pacing felt off at times. Hundreds of pages were given to certain time periods and other eras felt skimmed over. I suppose that is to be expected, though, given the amount of information covered and Kissinger's own experiences.
- The lengthiest section and the climax of the book is the preparation and execution of Kissinger and Nixon's opening up of China to the United States and the rest of the world.
From Mao changing his tone towards the US in the 1960s to Kissinger feigning sickness on a diplomatic trip to Pakistan so he could sneak away for his first visit to Beijing to Zhou Enlai and Kissinger hammering out the technicalities of Nixon's invitation to visit China, the reader takes in history from the man who created it.
I'm going to highlight a particularly nice passage from this section - the moment that Kissinger and Nixon first were introduced to Mao at his residence. From page 257:Mao's residence was approached through a wide gate on the east-west axis carved from where the ancient city walls stood before the Communist revolution. Inside the Imperial City, the road hugged a lake, on the other side of which stood a series of residences for high officials. All had been built in the days of Sino-Soviet friendship and reflected the heavy Stalinist style of the period similar to the State Guesthouses.- Although Kissinger had officially been out-of-office for years by 1989, he played a critical role in mending US-China relations in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Square massacre. He describes being invited to Beijing in November of that year to try to help out with the very rocky situation.
Mao's residence appeared no different, through it stood slightly apart from the others. There were no visible guards or other appurtenances of power. A small anteroom was almost completely dominated by a ping-pong table. It did not matter because we were taken directly to Mao's study, a room of modest size with bookshelves lining three walls filed with manuscripts in a state of considerable disarray. Books covered the tables and were piled up on the floor. A simple wooden bed stood in a corner. The all-powerful ruler of the world's most populous nation wished to be perceived as a philosopher-king who had no need to buttress his authority with traditional symbols of majesty.
It is during this section of the book that Kissinger's ideas on the policy of realpolitik are discussed in great depth. I'd love to share several pages of heady prose from this chapter here on my blog - they are some of the best blueprints for US/China relations I've ever seen - but I'll just recommend reading the book instead.
Henry Kissinger On China is a must-read for anybody interested in better understanding China, its people, or the relationship between the China and the United States. I can't recommend it highly enough. It goes on sale May 17th.
This review is part of a TLC "Virtual Book Tour." Below is a schedule for upcoming reviews of On China. I want to thank TLC Book Tours for including Mark's China Blog on this tour.To read more of my China book reviews, click here.
Henry’s Tour Stops
Wednesday, May 11th: Man of La Book
Thursday, May 12th: Mark’s China Blog
Monday, May 16th: Hidden Harmonies China Blog
Tuesday, May 17th: Inside-Out China
Wednesday, May 18th: Lisa Graas
Monday, May 23rd: Divided We Stand United We Fall
Tuesday, May 24th: Bookworm’s Dinner
Wednesday, May 25th: Pacific Rim Shots
Thursday, May 26th: Asia Unbound
Tuesday, May 31st: Wordsmithonia
Wednesday, June 1st: Lit and Life
Thursday, June 2nd: ChinaGeeks
Tuesday, June 7th: booker rising
Wednesday, June 8th: Power and Control
Thursday, June 9th: Marathon Pundit
Friday, June 10th: Rundpinne
Date TBD: Rhapsody In Books