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Paperback Understanding China [3rd Edition]: A Guide to China's Economy, History, and Political Culture Book

ISBN: 0809016516

ISBN13: 9780809016518

Understanding China [3rd Edition]: A Guide to China's Economy, History, and Political Culture

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Book Overview

In this succinct, modest, and refreshingly forthright book--now revised and updated for the new century--Starr introduces to the uninitiated reader the background, basic data, and issues at stake in China's crisis-ridden present and future.

After ten years, John Bryan Starr has thoroughly revised and updated his classic introduction to the background of, the data about, and the issues at stake in China's present and future. In the new edition,...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

A Useful Handbook to 20th Century China

John Bryan Starr's UNDERSTANDING CHINA is a solid survey of modern and contemporary China. The book takes as its underlying premise that the West must try to understand China in order to deal "with it effectively in the years ahead" (p. 323). To that end, Starr, who from historical, geographical, economic, cultural and sociological perspectives treats the full spectrum of China's recent circumstances in chapters dealing with the political system, the armed forces, cities and rural life, human rights, culture, etc., makes frequent comparison with and contrasts to Western norms. The author sets out to answer the questions, "What are the principal problems confronting China today? What is the capacity of the Chinese political system to address these problems successfully? And, given the problems and the government's capacity, what is the outcome likely to be?" (p. 318). Using the topical approach outlined above, Starr attempts to answer these questions accordingly. He avoids a lot of speculation, but does suggest that China faces enormous problems in the years ahead, and posits that the Party-state will likely fail, either due to urban worker unrest or on account of the weakening of the center and the strengthening of the periphery (i.e., growth in regional strength). In either case the PLA would likely intervene, Starr believes, and the Army would probably be marginally better off dealing with urban unrest in restoring some sort of central government. Starr's prose is workmanlike; to say of a book like this that surely serves as a college textbook that its style is not too dull is to give it high praise. There are few missteps; as an example of one, when Starr begins his chapter on China's imperial past ("Patterns from the Past," Chapter 2), he overanalyzes a simple Chinese time expression meaning "before" to extrapolate from it the Chinese view of "Time" (p. 40). It's not the characterization of China's conception of time as backward-looking that is off the mark, but simply Starr's extrapolating it from the simple time expression. Any book on China that tries to deal with contemporary issues will invariably be dated by the time it appears in print. Starr's book, which first appeared in 1997, and then was revised and updated in 2001, is no exception; at the time the book was published, for instance, the Three Gorges Dam hadn't yet been completed. Hu Jintao doesn't even appear in the Index. Nonetheless, the book, now several years old, holds up quite well. It continues to serve as an excellent introduction to China, both for the serious student as well as for the reader with a casual interest in China's emerging role in the world.

Terrific Introduction

A reviewer from Bangalore hit the nail on the head when they said this book was meant to be an introduction into understanding China. This book is very easy to read and does an excellent job providing the reader a very general overview on China. If one is more interested in China's economy, something written by Nicholas Lardy or other economists with works on China would be appropriate; Minxin Pei is well known for his work on rural unrest in China, and so on and so forth. Bottom line, there are well known individuals for their work on China that can provide more details for certain areas. Mr. Starr leaves the reader to go out and deepen their knowledge.

Have a realistic expectation and you won't be disappointed.

A political science professor of mine lent this book to me when I was batting around ideas for a term paper. I enjoyed this book for what it is and it doesn't claim to be the comprehensive body of knowledge on China's culture, history, politics and contemporary society. If you want that, spend your entire life in college studying it, but don't expect it from a book of this size. This book is a wonderful tool for those who have a "beginner's interest" in China. This book inspired me to not only conduct my own research but to also read both broader and deeper into China's politics and history. What is fascinating about this book is how much the author is able to cover. It's a very dense book full of information. If you're looking for insight and analysis, you might find it scattered between the paragraphs that have been well-researched. One could easily know the necessary facts of Chinese culture and history after reading this book. It is also an accessible and well-organized book. I've used in research and it has helped to direct me to other bodies of research based on its content. You will be satisfied with how adequate and resourceful this book is. If you're interested in just reading about China, or you're a student doing research, or a professor looking to brush up on China essentials, or even if you're just curious about some of the events in China's history, this is the book I'd recommend first and foremost. This book accomplishes what it promises. It's a permanent member of my library and I have lent it to three people in the last two months, one of whom was another professor, who found it critical for her teaching of comparative Chinese politics.

For students of contemporary Chinese culture and society

John Starr's Understanding China: A Guide To China's Economy, History, And Political Culture is an impressive and comprehensive survey of mainland China's geography, political structure, military establishment, economics, and recent history. Invaluable and indispensable reading for students of contemporary Chinese culture and society, Understanding China is an outstanding compendium of current reports on such critical issues as the status of Taiwan and Hong Kong, the nature of the Chinese armed forces upon the Chinese economy; the uneven development and structure of Chinese commerce and finance; the problems inherent between autocratic governance and democratic rule; the role of the arts; and more. Understanding China is very highly recommended and informative reading for American policy makers, businessmen, journalists, students of Chinese affairs, as well as China-bound travelers.

An unusual structural approach to China studies

This book is considered an introductory overview to China. Well, I have a master's degree in East Asian studies and I still found this book enlightening. The book does an excellent job at explaining China's societal and political structures and how those structures effect the state's decisions and policies. In doing so, the author does not get much into the culture and history of the nation. In this way the book is unusual and, dare I say, unique. To some, the book may seem rather mechanical, but its structural approach serves to reduce bias and prejudice. Too many books purport to explain the entire Chinese nation culturally, but the country is simply too heterogeneous for that approach to be very effective. Other books define China as a slave to its history, but history is just one of many variables. That is why I appreciate the rather mechanical approach this book takes to explaining China's politics and society. That said, however, it might serve the newcomer to Sinology well to read other texts on Chinese culture and history as a primer to this book.
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