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Culture Books

China in three views


China in three views

The country is the new riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma

How China Sees the World, by John Friend and Bradley Thayer (University of Nebraska Press, 2018), stresses the troubling growth of Chinese racism, which first emerged as pushback against dominance by European nations and Japan. Then Chinese intellectuals channeled Darwin and argued racial groups were “either superior or inferior, modern or primitive, with the yellow and white races more advanced and civilized and the brown, black, and red much less so.”

Friend and Thayer note, “Within the Han-centric perspective, the Chinese are more cunning and virtuous than the rest. The United States, in contrast, is easily manipulated, although strong and violent just like an adolescent.” They quote Sun Yat-sen, who spoke of “the Han or Chinese race with common blood, common language, common religion, and common customs—a single, pure race.” Now, Xi Jinping’s “China Dream feeds into the narrative of Chinese exceptionalism.” 

Gideon Rachman’s Easternization: Asia’s Rise and America’s Decline From Obama to Trump and Beyond (Other Press, 2017 and 2018) assumes China will succeed, even though some of its new elite major in gambling in Singapore and Macao. Rachman advocates retreat and asks why the United States, no longer dependent on imported oil, should “maintain massive naval and air bases in Bahrain and Qatar, [and] insist on naval dominance in the Pacific, when the oil that sails through the Strait of Malacca is bound for China, not California.”

I read an “advance reader copy” of China’s Invisible Crisis by Scott Rozelle and Natalie Johnson, which Basic Books was scheduled to publish this month. The authors do not portray China as an unstoppable force: Chinese cities impress them, as they’ve impressed me, but Rozelle and Johnson say the countryside (where two-thirds of Chinese live) more resembles Africa, with millions of children suffering from anemia, intestinal worms, and uncorrected myopia.

Mysteriously, the book had a last-minute delay to publication: That is highly unusual, so I emailed Rozelle, who wrote back, “With China’s rural environment changing as fast as it is, we realized there were aspects of the book that require updating.” Hmm. China no longer is known for producing cheap products through repetitive factory work. Such manufacturing is moving to Vietnam and other lower-wage areas. Invisible Crisis asks a crucial question: Will China develop the better-educated, high-tech workforce needed to yield wider affluence? I’ll let you know what the authors eventually report. 


Three thin books and three big ones supplement the list of books about Judaism that I presented in the last issue. Elan Journo’s What Justice Demands (Post Hill, 2018) shows why those who value human life and freedom should be on Israel’s side. Evan Moffic’s First the Jews (Abingdon, 2019) explains the evil longevity of anti-Semitism. Kirt Schneider’s The Lion of Judah (Charisma House, 2018) shows how Jesus completes Biblical Judaism and why Judaism and Christianity separated.

The big books are from Princeton (2018): A multi-authored Hasidism: A New History, Marcin Wodzinski’s Historical Atlas of Hasidism, and the entertaining Autobiography of Solomon Maimon, translated by Paul Reitter. Maimon explored Hasidism but then made his way to Berlin: Immanuel Kant called Maimon his “sharpest” critic.

Louise Shelley’s Dark Commerce (Princeton, 2018) shows how legitimate corporations and governments facilitate illicit trade in narcotics, sex, weapons, and more. Some legitimate psychiatrists also facilitate harm to the desperate: Alisa Roth’s Insane: America’s Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness (Basic, 2018) depressingly shows almost no light at the end of the tunnel. Beating Guns by Shane Claiborne and Michael Martin (Brazos, 2019) lays out the case for gun control.

Mark Vroegop’s Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy (Crossway, 2019) explains how to lament Biblically when hard providences shake our faith. Philip Ryken’s The Love of Loves in the Song of Songs (Crossway, 2019) is good exegesis of the Bible’s most romantic (and sexiest) book. The 13 chapters in Abby Hutto’s God for Us (P&R, 2019) explain the gospel message that Christ is for those who are: distant, skeptical, desperate, wandering, ashamed, afflicted, lost, grieving, captive, betrayed, wounded, hopeless, and failed. Namely, everyone. —M.O.