About the Book: Tiger Head, Snake Tales
A complete and coherent picture of China by a world expert on the subject
There have been a plethora of books on China in recent years. Authors have forecast the coming collapse of the People's Republic or looked to the day when it will rule the world. So why another book on the most heavily populated country on earth which has emerged in the last three decades to occupy a central position on the global stage? Because, despite the stream of publications, there is no single book which pulls together the whole of the China story linking its very disparate elements to present a coherent portrait that explains to the general reader what China is and why it matters so much.
With its expanding economy (already the third largest in the world), its population of more than 1.3 billion, its place at the core of the G20, its $2.4 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, its trade surplus, its nuclear weapons and modernising military forces, its permanent seat on the UN Security Council and its ability to dispense cash without conditions to poor countries in return for the raw materials it gobbles up, China will become steadily more important in the world. It will not collapse. It is not the great exercise in smoke and mirrors depicted by some writers or a giant Ponzi scheme as posited by hedge fund bears. But neither will it rule the world for reasons that lie in its inner complexity, and complexes.
In this compelling and lucid account base on years of research and first-hand experience, rooted in on-the-ground reporting, interviews, observations, analysis of data and a viewpoint that sees the country from the inside out, Jonathan Fenby links together the myriad features of today's China. The binary approach so often applied to China - the country is either good or bad, set to reach the stars or collapse in chaos - often boils down to the prejudices of its authors. Only by seeing China as a whole and joining the dots does Jonathan Fenby arrive at a coherent picture of its nature and depict its future, both internally and in its impact on the rest of the world.
China was not a factor for India (though it was for Singapore and Lee), which explains Fenby's comment that little has come of the 1990s promise to meld Indian soft-ware with Chinese hardware. Though India is no more than a footnote in the chapter titled "The World and China", a more astute political analyst would have noted the implications of China's studied ambiguity over Sikkim in the 2003 Declaration on Principles for Relations and Comprehensive Cooperation between India and China.
Looking ahead, the next chapter, "The Unfinished Revolution", speaks of the new middle class and argues that China won't realise its promise unless "basic economic, political and legal reforms left undone since the 1980s are addressed." This is a modern Western view. The Wukan rising and Bo Xilai controversy don't mean Chinese masses are yearning for liberal reforms will strengthen China's ability to project power.
Domestic enlightenment was not a precondition of Britain reaching the zenith or her imperial glory. The benevolence of the welfare state was the fruit of British decline. Whether a powerful China will be a force for good at home or abroad is another matter.
One last point. The book's title Tiger Head, Snake Tails apparently adapts a Chinese phrase to suggest that while a giant tiger's head amazes the world, the snake tails are the down-to-earth factors that could make everything go wrong. Somehow, the allegory misses its mark. Fenby is better describing than interpreting what he sees.
About the Author: Jonathan Fenby
Jonathan Fenby is the author of the Penguin History of Modern China, the Economist and Financial Times book of the year. He is China director of the research service Trusted Sources.
|Book:||Tiger Head, Snakes Tails|
|Publisher:||Simon & Schuster India|
|Number of Pages:||432|
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