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