Saturday, February 16, 2013

What Does China Think? and The Beijing Consensus

I've purchased a number of cheap used books on over the past couple years. Access to low-priced titles on very niche topics - like Chinese politics - is one of the many wonderful benefits of the internet. I've found some really nice gems doing this. What I'm finding often times, though, is that there's a reason books are available for a dollar or two.

What Does China Think? by Mark Leonard and The Beijing Consensus: Legitimizing Authoritarianism in Our Time by Stefan Halper are a couple cheap books that were misses for me. They're not really about the same thing, but I'm going to discuss them together since I don't have much to say about either.

Leonard's What Does China Think?, published in 2008, is a survey of intellectuals spanning China's ideological spectrum. Leonard, the executive director of the European Council of Foreign Relations, thinking that the balance of power was moving east turned his attention towards China around the turn of the millennium. Over the course of several years, he developed an impressive rolodex of relationships with influential Chinese thinkers and profiled those thinkers' ideas in his book.

Halper's The Beijing Consensus, published in 2012, is about how China is creating a new world order that eschews traditional western notions of democracy. Halper, a Henry Kissinger acolyte, like Leonard, has an impressive resume that spans academia and government service.

Leonard and Halper both know their stuff. Their books are intelligent, well-researched, and full of information. I didn't enjoy reading them, though.

What Does China Think? and The Beijing Consensus are too wonky and theoretical for me. I took away little from them. All of the talk in them about the "new left," the "Washington/Beijing Consensus," think-tanks, soft power, etc. wore on me. I was simply bored as I read page-after-page and chapter-after-chapter. I struggled getting through both of these books (even though they aren't particularly long), was happy when I finally finished them, and couldn't remember much about either after having just finished them.