China: The Balance Sheet differs from most other books we have been reading in preparation for our 22 province journey across China for charity and understanding. China guides to business or living become obsolete almost before they are published. And most of the “expert” commentary on China gives the reader intellectual whiplash: The data contained in strategy texts is often conflicting or out-dated. This text offers comes with online resources for continuing information and is a testament both to the wisdom and commitment of the authors.
China: The Balance Sheet isn’t so much a book as it is a project that yielded enough information for a book. It is a collection of work, information, and analyses collected by the Institute for International Economics and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, The Balance Sheet is rife with diverse demographics, like statistics about China’s graying population, as well as an informed political discussion on the Middle Kingdom’s long, curious relationship with Russia. Yes, its such dry reading that we carried an Internet canteen–interspersing the book with irreverent spoofs from Sinocidal to keep from humor dehydration–but every sentence, to drag out a metaphor, is an informational oasis for a Sinophile.
One of the more engaging elements of this book is its ability to maintain a separation from the standard strains of China fever: while the book delivers competent, clear information about mainland China, it avoids over-generalizations and makes clear the plurality and multiplicity of a country with 56 distinct ethnic groups, 200 spoken languages, and size enough to make Europe jealous. As Lucien Pye of foreignaffairs.org says of the book: “The main thrust of the analysis is that diversity has replaced the monolithic system that Mao Zedong created. There are, therefore, many Chinas — rural and urban, wealthy and poor, educated and illiterate, international and isolated.” And yes, seemingly benign statements like that one make it unavailable on the mainland, but censors should tale a second look as it is careful to avoid the paranoia about China’s growth that pervades Western news and doesn’t issue dark proclamations about China’s fearsome rise or apocalyptic fall. The book holds to tenets set forth in early pages: “Because we believe that constructive US policies toward China must rest, first and foremost, on a firm factual and analytical footing, this study’s primary purpose is to provide comprehensive, balanced, and accurate information on all key aspects of China’s own development and its implications for other nations.”
Will the Balance Sheet help you understand business culture in China and learn the secrets of guanxi, face, or how to hold your chopsticks at just the right angle to impress the Chinese delegation leader? No. Will the book arm you with a clear understanding of the economic, political, and demographic realities facing China now? Yes. You can find an overview and preview of the first chapter of the book here and a collection of 2007 published addendum’s here.
This ranks high on our list of must-read texts along with Harold Chee’s Myths.
By David DeGeest with Lonnie B. HodgeBook Reviews,China Consultants Directory,China Resources,Cross Cultural Training