Sunday, June 21, 2015

Book Review: The Real China by Dr. Hong Yee Chiu

This review was first posted on Amazon.

This is a remarkable book on a number of levels. Written by a retired space scientist, ostensibly without the "right" academic training in Chinese history or any other related social sciences, Dr. Chiu writes with the passion and zeal of someone driven to explain China, his country of birth, to America, where he resides and pays taxes. Many of us Chinese Americans are sympathetic to his objective but most of us lack his depth of understanding and knowledge of China's history, culture and attitudes, especially toward religion to pull off such a book.

He obviously did a lot of research and collation of Chinese myths, religious beliefs, traditions, political systems in a context that helps the reader understand where and why China is different from America. One simple example will suffice. He points out that in America, we believe "In God We Trust." In China, the Chinese might blame god (lower case) for whatever personal misfortunes but understand that the person is in control of his/her own destiny. Instead of trusting God, in China the trust is placed in "Self Reliance." As Dr. Chiu took pains to explain, 自立更生 (usually translated into self reliance) was not just a slogan from Mao's China but had thousands of years of history behind the notion.

I found the first half of the book particularly fascinating and educational. A lot of stories he described from Chinese history were new and fresh to me. He obviously also knew his stuff about the foundation of the western civilization and he expertly interwoven Chinese thoughts and traditions with that of the West and showed where they were similar but more frequently where they were so different.

In the second half of the book, where the author made the contrast between the meritocracy based government in China versus the popularly elected leaders in America, was less interesting to me, not for lack of trying on his part but probably because I was on more familiar ground. I agreed with him and I see the same rot of western democracy that he wrote about.

There is way too much loose talk about the inevitable conflict between a rising power and a reigning one. Reading this book by the policy makers in Washington can help them understand China better and perhaps help them conclude that a conflict is not an ordained outcome.

With professional editing to improve the organization, composition and layout, this could have been a 5 star review.

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