Book Report: Dragon Rising

Pages: 10 (3209 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Junior  ·  Topic: History - Asian  ·  Buy This Paper

¶ … Dragon Rising by Jasper Becker

Explain why the history of China matters to the present. What can it tell us about modernization in China?

As one of the most ancient civilizations on earth, China's history has been of interest to and highly influential on the West ever since Marco Polo first returned with glowing accounts of the exotic architecture, interesting people and fabulous riches that could be found there. In reality, these same attributes remain salient today, but there are even more Chinese than when Polo visited and interest in the country has never been greater. For instance, Becker reports that, "The Peoples Republic of China now lays claim to all the territories conquered by the Manchus and rules over the destinies of 1.55 billion people, more even than the British at the height of their imperial glory" (p. 16). The process by which China has managed to survive while other empires have faded away therefore represents a unique success story in the annals of humankind. The interest in and influence of China on the rest of the world accelerated during the 20th century as Western nations sought to gain access to its markets, and China's experiences during both world wars were formative in shaping the country's path to modernization. For instance, Becker notes that, "All this history matters because [it] brought on an urge to learn from the West, accompanied by a sense of humiliation that continues to play a role in China's approach to modernization, trade and foreign relations" (p. 19). China's history also matters to the present because the country is clearly on its way to becoming an economic juggernaut as its path to modernization fuels expanded trade, security agreements and cultural exchanges with the remaining 75% of the world's population.

2.

What images do we get of Shanghai from the author?

The author makes it clear from the outset of the chapter on Shanghai (chapter two) that, like Hong Kong, Shanghai is a city apart from the rest of China. "Shanghai is where modern China took shape," Becker advises, and adds, "and it is still the only city in China that actually feels like a big city. Like New York, London, or Paris, it has real streets lined with trees, magnificent civic buildings, pleasant parks, comfortable suburban houses, and university campuses with lawns and ivy-covered halls" (Becker, 2006, p. 41). This pleasant description certainly belies the swashbuckling image of kidnappers that has traditionally being associated with Shanghai in the West. The description provided by Becker also creates an image of Shanghai being the equivalent to China's "New York, London, or Paris" because the city has been a driving force in the modernization of the country over the past century or so. For instance, Becker notes that, "China owes its first modern factories, banks, schools, universities, financial markets, newspapers, orchestras, and film stars to Shanghai" (2006, p. 41). Although Shanghai also suffered during the Cultural Revolution that swept China during the 1960s, the city managed to avoid being emptied of its entire professional cadre to rural areas for agricultural work (the author notes that Shanghai was the only Chinese city to do so) and retained some degree of autonomy due in part to the importance of its industrial base to the rest of the country (Becker, 2006). Recent investments by China and multinational corporations have resulted in Shanghai becoming a real jewel in the Chinese crown, with the city being completely rebuilt and modernized while salvaging some of the Western-inspired historic architecture that makes it so aesthetically appealing. Despite this progress, Becker also notes that Shanghai's future remains inextricably tied to the pace of political change taking place in China, with the city's development racing at jet speed while political change proceeds at a "snail's pace" (2006, p 57).

3.

Explain the relationship between China's northeast and the Soviet Union. How does this region illustrate China's difficulties with industrial growth?

One of the more interesting issues to emerge from Dragon Rising is the fact that China is not a homogeneous country, but rather has a several demarcated regions that differ from each other in significant ways, with the northeast being as different from other parts of China as Texas is from New York. Because of its geographic proximity to the former Soviet Union, the industrial growth of China's northeast region was based in large part on trade. Not surprisingly, the region's fortunes plummeted when the Soviet Union collapsed during the early 1990s, throwing tens of millions of Chinese out of work. According to Becker, "Huge swaths of smokestack industry collapsed into bankruptcy, causing widespread poverty in urban China" (2006, p. 70). The infrastructure that existed in the northeast was largely built with the assistance of the Soviet Union during the early second half of the 20th century, and the Chinese used this assistance to good effect and over time even rivaled or exceeded the production levels in the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, the political relations with the Soviet Union began deteriorating during the 1960s and Chinese industry in the northeast became technologically stagnated. Indeed, Becker notes that, "China missed out on the while electronics revolution" (2006, p. 75). By the 1990s, the state-owned enterprises operating in the northeast were unprofitable and unsustainable, but China rejected the so-called "shock therapy" that was advocated by free-market economists, preferring to proceed with privatization at a more moderate pace. Corruption, misstated employment figures, shoddy construction and cronyism have further hampered industrial growth in the region in recent years (Becker, 2006).

4.

Why has China's government often mistrusted the people of the south? How has this attitude affected the region-positively and negatively?

The people of the south have a lengthy history of seeking to thwart or subvert the political will of Chinese leaders to their own benefit. For instance, Becker notes that, "The Communist state had invested little or nothing in Wenzhou. This was a strategic decision because this southern coast faced a possible U.S.-backed invasion from Taiwan. And it was an ideological choice; for centuries, Wenzhou's residents had flaunted the commands of various emperors in far-away Beijing by engaging in foreign trade or sometimes piracy" (p. 105). This historic relationship contributed to a growing level of distrust between the people of the south and the Chinese government, a relationship that further deteriorated following Mao's seizure of all privately owned property for redistribution during the 1950s (Becker, 2006). In this regard, Becker notes that, "Wenzhou's residents suffered under this system. There were harsh political campaigns against 'capitalists' who secretly tried to dabble in private farming or trade. Mao treated all capitalists and landlords as incurable criminals and continually warned that the 'spontaneous forces of capitalism' could reemerge the moment the party's vigilance was dropped" (p. 106). Indeed, this turned out to be the case and entrepreneurs in the south devised ways to avoid regulations to pursue their business goals, but Chinese people living in the south have been specifically targeted by the Chinese leadership over the years in ways that have further diluted this relationship. For instance, Becker notes that, "When the party swung to the left, as it did in 1983 and again in 1989, Wenzhou entrepreneurs were singled out in political campaigns and stripped of their wealth" (2006, p. 107). Taken together, the Chinese people living in the south are victims of their own success, and what success has been enjoyed to date is largely in spite of rather than because of the political leadership in Beijing.

5.

What is "coolie" labor and why is this important to china's trade/What are SEZ's and how do they factor in China's economic growth?

According to Becker, "coolie" is "a word that entered the English dictionary from the Chinese phrase, ku li, meaning 'bitter labor' (or 'bitter strength'), when, at the height of 19th-century globlization, Chinese laborers were indentured to work abroad" (2006, p. 134). The "economic miracle" that has taken place in China in recent years is due in large part to the efforts of such "bitter labor." In this regard, Becker adds that although the term is no longer used and the work now comes to China instead of workers being indentured abroad, the essence of the term remains firmly in place for tens of millions of Chinese workers. In this regard, Becker notes that, "This time the work has come to China, rather than the other way around. Consumers around the world everywhere are benefiting from cheaper goods made in China, and profits are enriching the Chinese state in a way that no one in China quite foresaw when it started" (2006, p. 134).

The acronym "SEZ" stands for "special economic zone" which refers to the accommodations made by the Chinese leadership for Hong Kong after its return from the British as well as an additional 2,000 other SEZ around the country. According to Becker, "Many of these SEZs are really new industrial zones built outside existing urban areas. They house local village and collective enterprises or former 'third… [END OF PREVIEW]

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