“We hear, in the media and in comments by politicians, a lot of very glib statements that oversimplify China, that suggest all of China is one thing or one way,” says Michael Szonyi, a professor of Chinese history and director of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University. China, of course, is as complicated as — if not more complicated than — any other country, and misunderstandings about it among Americans are both common and consequential. The relationship with China is “arguably — in anyone’s estimation — the most important bilateral relationship that the U.S. has,” says Jennifer Rudolph, a professor of modern Chinese political history at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
Jennifer and Michael edited a book to address 36 questions that ordinary people, especially Americans, ask about China. The book is titled The China Questions: Critical Insights Into a Rising Power, and it draws on the expertise of the Fairbank Center and prompts these accomplished academics to write 2,000-word essays for a general audience that they typically never aim to reach.
View the entire list of questions on the Harvard University Press website. A sampling:
- “Is the Chinese Communist Regime Legitimate?” (by Elizabeth J. Perry)
- “Is There Environmental Awareness in China?” (by Karen Thornber)
- “Will China Lead Asia?” (by Odd Arne Westad)
- “What Does the Rise of China Mean for the United States?” (by Robert S. Ross)
- “Can China and Japan Ever Get Along?” (by Ezra F. Vogel)
- “Will Urbanization Save the Chinese Economy or Destroy It?” (by Meg Rithmire)
- “Why Does the End of the One-Child Policy Matter?” (by Susan Greenhalgh)
- “Why Do Classic Chinese Novels Matter?” (by Wai-yee Li)
Jeremy: Drawn Together: The Collected Works of R. and A. Crumb, by Robert Crumb and Aline Kominsky-Crumb. The husband-and-wife pair became known for their funny, vulgar comics in the late 1970s, though Robert’s zany work goes back a decade earlier.
Jennifer: Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo. A work of creative nonfiction about a young boy and his family, and how the system is stacked against them.
Michael: The Fairbank Center website, which features a blog and a podcast. Also, Michael’s new book, titled The Art of Being Governed: Everyday Politics in Late Imperial China. And The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World, by Greg Grandin.
Kaiser: The North Water: A Novel, by Ian McGuire. A dramatic tale that includes whaling, murder, and brutality, and whose overall flavor Kaiser describes as Joseph Conrad meets Cormac McCarthy meets Herman Melville meets Jack London.