Be­com­ing China

Jeanne-Marie Gescher makes an am­bi­tious and valiant at­tempt to cover China's broad sweep of 5,000 years.

India Business Journal - - CONTENTS -

Au­thor Jeanne-Marie Gescher weaves to­gether the in­spi­ra­tions, ideas, wars and dreams that have shaped the way China's peo­ple have thought about or­der from the an­cient past to the re­cent present. She then re­veals a story of China as an epic and con­tin­u­ing bat­tle about or­der that strikes at the heart of what it means to be Chi­nese.

With the past in per­spec­tive, the clashes be­tween China's peo­ple and its Com­mu­nist Party come to life as never be­fore. And the im­por­tance of China's ques­tion be­comes clear for ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing eco­nomics. In a thought-pro­vok­ing con­clu­sion, Ms Gescher in­vites read­ers to make their own, in­formed views about how or­der might be found in China and then to take one step fur­ther and ap­ply China's ques­tion to the wider world.

Hav­ing spent over 25 years in China as a strate­gic ad­vi­sor to a num­ber of or­gan­i­sa­tions, from the Bri­tish Em­bassy to cor­po­rate en­ti­ties and NGOs, Ms Gescher makes an am­bi­tious and valiant at­tempt to cover China's broad sweep of 5,000 years. Through her book, read­ers are in­tro­duced to China's gov­ern­ing classes as well as the events and at­ti­tudes which have shaped the coun­try down the ages. The book is pep­pered with in­ter­est­ing ac­counts of in­di­vid­u­als who, through his­tory, have stood up to the State or warned it obliquely of im­pend­ing calami­ties, most of­ten with dis­as­trous con­se­quences to them­selves.

A rare one who got away was the fa­mous trav­eller, Xuan­zang, bet­ter known in In­dia as Hi­uen Tsang. Of­fi­cially barred from leav­ing China, he stole away to In- dia only to be wel­comed back by the Em­peror as a hero 16 years later in 645 AD for "push­ing knowl­edge of the western world of In­dia to unimag­ined heights", writes Ms Gescher.

The book also brings out how as­sid­u­ously Chi­nese com­mu­nists con­tinue to flog the gross depre­da­tions of Euro­pean and Ja­panese im­pe­ri­al­ism to mask some OF their own egre­gious wrongs, many of which have no par­al­lel in hu­man his­tory. The point Ms Gescher makes in her book is that his­tory is re­peat­ing it­self in China, and what is hap­pen­ing there to­day has prece­dents in its deep past. China, the au­thor con­tends, has al­ways been all about estab­lish­ing and sus­tain­ing an or­derly, obe­di­ent so­ci­ety.

To that end, it was prob­a­bly the first coun­try to sys­tem­at­i­cally count its peo­ple through de­cen­nial cen­sus and in­tro­duce an in­ter­nal pass­port sys­tem, Hukou, to reg­u­late in­ter­nal mi­gra­tion. The Chi­nese also estab­lished a mer­it­based bu­reau­cracy long be­fore any­one else did, al­beit on an imag­ined Con­fu­cian­ism and cre­ated vast sur­veil­lance sys­tems to man­age large num­bers over vast spa­ces.

China's ham-handed and in­sen­si­tive han­dling of its mi­nori­ties is well cov­ered in this book as also its con­stant anx­i­ety to se­cure its bor­ders, un­der­stand­able, con­sid­er­ing that the coun­try has so of­ten in the past been felled by smaller and more ag­gres­sive en­ti­ties on its pe­riph­ery.

The Asian giant's predilec­tion for grand projects, go­ing back over two mil­len­nia, is well brought out by Ms Gescher. The con­struc­tion of the Grand Canal, the long­est of its kind in the world, hap­pened un­der the Su Dy­nasty (581-618 AD). The Great Wall, run­ning over thou­sands of kilo­me­ters, was built and re­built through much of China's recorded his­tory. While nei­ther led to ma­jor en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ters, its more re­cent ones do.

The big take­away from this book is that China is not as hot as the world thinks it is. Be­neath its as­ton­ish­ing rise, the seeds of its own down­fall have al­ready been sown.

About the au­thor

Jeanne-Marie Gescher is the founder of one of the ear­li­est pri­vate ad­vi­sory firms in China. She has been an hon­orary le­gal ad­viser to suc­ces­sive Bri­tish am­bas­sadors to the Peo­ple's Repub­lic of Chian from 1989 to 2015. She is a twice-elected for­mer chair of the Bri­tish Cham­ber of Com­merce in China. She is a guest lec­turer at the Uni­ver­sity of Lon­don's School of Ori­en­tal and African Stud­ies.

Au­thor JEANNE-MARIE GESCHER Pub­lisher BLOOMS­BURY CARAVEL Pages: 784 Price: Rs 799

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