Friday, November 24, 2017

Two good books

  As I become older, I realise that I have also become more and more skeptical of opinions that, not only economically but also militarily, China would soon become the world's greatest power. Being ethnically Chinese, I would seem to be very un-Chinese to many, especially who are ethnically also Chinese.

My pessimism is premised on a number of concerns, chiefly revolve around behavioural weaknesses in what I see in many Chinese and in China - self-centricity and self-exultation, casualness to details, tendency to short-change customers, and elephant's memory on atrocities committed by Militarist Japan during the Second World War. The last is perhaps the most formidable mind-set for many to overcome. It also shuts out a source of emulation and learning for many Chinese and China. Japan has many great cultural strengths to offer to the world, among them: the way they bring up their children, which translates into a life-long habit or cleanliness, orderliness, respect for seniority and loyalty to benefactors. And in the bigger scheme of things, they grow up to be totally obsessed with exactness, good tastes, and quality in anything they do. China can say that its high speed trains are faster than Japan's, but anyone with a pair of discerning eyes will tell you which one is really better. Japanese houses may be small, but everything is neat, beautiful and exquisite. Even the tiny patch of garden, if there is, is a sight to behold. And how many of us have a Chinese-made camera to show off?

China is certainly not without ability to catch up. But it needs a paradigm shift; and everything has to start at the most fundamental level. Bottom-up from early childhood and top-down from the sage leaders that China traditionally want to portray their top leadership to be.

I came across these two books recently: Asia's Reckoning by McGregor and Destined for War by Allison. The former is about China and Japan vis-a-vis the United States - the roots of hostilities between the first two, the idiosyncrasies of the players on both sides and the hands of America in handling these conflicts. The second book is about the emergence of China and the lessons that can be learned from history since it is being seen to be challenging the supremacy of the United States. Thucydides Trap is a term that is used to paint the inevitability when when a reigning power is being challenged by a rising power, i.e., WAR. The Greek historian Thucydides first wrote about this centuries ago - when Sparta was being challenged by Athens. The author who used to be the founding dean of Kennedy School of Government offers a number of steps that both China and America could adopt to avoid wars. They are quite thought-provoking.

The two authors are not the typical western variety, where everything about China is always measured against their own perceptions of democracy and other worldviews. I find the two authors' views objective and balanced. Maybe friends might want to get hold of them to see how they can help change Chinese and China!