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Book Notes by Paric Digan updated May '13




China’s New Confucianism: Politics and Everyday Life in a Changing Society. Paperback ed. 2010.


By Bell, Daniel A


The author’s self-identification is “a Western-trained scholar living and working in China” as a professor in Tsinghua University in Beijing. As such he claims a distinctive perspective on this new phenomenon – an officially Communist government officially sponsoring a revival of its former ideological enemy, the dominant culture of China’s past.


He takes it seriously – both the Confucianism and the government’s sponsorship of it. He sees merit in this “new Confucianism” and benefit for its sponsor. As to China’s Marxism, in the paperback preface he says bluntly that “everyone knows” it is “basically dead as a ruling philosophy”. As to the new mix, provided it is practised rather than merely preached, he claims that “progressive and humane Confucian values” can “promote China’s soft power” and even supply a beneficial balance to Western liberalism.


The case is argued separately under the headings of politics, society, and educating. An interesting illustration is given in the case of what is seen as the humanizing effect of “karaoke-style prostitution”, a regular Oriental pattern in which there is group socializing before pairing off.




Factory Girls: Voices from the Heart of Modern China. Picador, 2010


By Chang, Leslie


This American Chinese author is the wife of Peter Hessler, already introduced in this book notes series as the author of other recent China studies. The voices she undertakes to transmit to us are those of young female migrant factory workers who have “gone out” from their villages as teenagers to ease the burden of their families, to overcome the boredom of village life, and to find means of support for those families and for themselves.


The picture is conveyed mainly through the lives of two of these “factory girls”. It is the picture of an arduous existence, with its own quota of comedy and tragedy. Through it we catch vivid glimpses of what has been “the driving force of china’s economic boom”, and of its human cost. For perhaps this reason one China expert commends the book as “head and shoulders above almost all other new books about China”.






The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers.   Penguin, 2011.  


By McGregor, Richard


The author reports for The Financial Times, having formerly been its China bureau chief. His closing comment is that “China is easily the most exciting country in the world”. Like Factory Girls, this book also carries an extravagant recommendation from a China expert: “If you read only one book about China this year, it should be this one”.


The emphasis is on the secrecy. “Brittle triumphalism” is the author’s term for the official face China has been showing to the world outside since 2009, after China had weathered a new global financial storm that had left that outer world begging for China’s help. All the more remarkable, then, is how, in his words, “communism came to be airbrushed out of the rise of the world’s greatest communist state”.


Such seems to have been the winning formula China’s rulers have come to swear by: keep a lock-hold on the commanding heights of personnel, propaganda and the military, but do all that with a Party hand that sets a premium on invisibility. Even in the Constitution there is only a brief reference to the Party’s “leading role” – but that is all the Party wants or needs. It is the Party’s warrant to override the law, without apology, whenever and wherever it chooses to do so.


The effects are spelled out separately in chapters on the state, business, personnel, corruption, the regions, capitalism, and history. “At the same time as China has got rich,” we are told, “its society has become more unequal than even the US and Russia.” Its progress had been punctuated by the 1989 crackdown in Beijing, a violent exception proving the rule that violence is an option held in reserve, but best used only as a last resort. Ruthlessness short of violence has been found sufficient to maintain control even in major corruption scandals. History has been rewritten as needed to keep the Party image clean; but even a monumental expose in 2008, titled Tombstone, of the scale of the Chinese famine of 1958-61, which found tens of millions of fatalities, left its Chinese author free even to lecture about it in Beijing.




Soul Mountain. Flamingo, London, 2001.


By Gao Xingjian


Gao is the winner of China’s first Nobel Prize for Literature, awarded in 2000. This key work of his, published in Chinese in Taiwan as Lingshanin 1990, took the form of a political fugitive’s journey of 15,000 kilometres down the Yangtze. From there he fled to Europe, where he has since lived in France, gaining recognition as a painter, playwright, novelist, and philosopher. Like Liu Xiaobo, winner of the first Chinese Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, he has paid a price in official Chinese hostility for his stance in favour of individual rights and freedoms.





China’s Creative Imperative


By Kunal Sinha


In mid 2006, Ogilvy & Mather China embarked on an ambitious journey to understand how Chinese society and business are being transformed by creativity. It is, as concluded, a Creative Imperative. Whether it is a student attempting to be noticed by a recruiting company in class, or a small clothes store-one among the scores of businesses in the underground “Fashion Lady” market in Nanjing, or a poor migrant labourer with only 25 square feet of space to live in, or a Vienna-bound music composer – it is essential for them all to unlock the creative potential that lies within. When you have to compete with another 1.3 billion people to make yourself heard and recognized, the only way of doing it is by being creative. This book will make you rethink China’s creative potential. (Business Wire)




Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China


By Jung Chang


Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China is a memoir of three generations of Chinese women from Imperial China through and beyond the Cultural Revolution. Chang’s grandmother was a warlord’s concubine. Her gently raised mother struggled with hardships in the early days of Mao’s revolution and rose, like her husband, to a prominent position in the communist Party before being denounced during the Cultural Revolution. Chang herself marched, worked, and breathed for Mao until doubt crept in over the excesses of his policies and purges. (read more here)





1421 – The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance


By Gavin Menzeis


What if this Greek and Roman origin was a lie? What if the Renaissance was totally field by something or someone else? What if Leonardo da Vinci was NOT the scientist and inventor everyone says he was? How ill you react? With Shock? With Horror? Will you call me a Heretic? Will you call me a Liar?


What if Leonardo never actually dreamt up and created these inventions: Yes, he drew them, none denies that, but they were not his original ideas. He was just redrawing them, and making better drawings of someone else inventions. Whose inventions was he redrawing, you ask? Why, the Chinese of course. (read more here)





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