51 Comments
Nov 19, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

The Idea Factory is GREAT. Bell Labs was basically Google several decades before Google existed, and Google probably never would have existed if not for Bell. It’s staggering how much of the fundamental technology we use in the modern world was either invented or perfected by Bell.

Expand full comment

The thing that reading Chinese history really taught me is how unlikely China is to break up.

China has huge linguistic diversity, and had even more before the CCP imposed MSM all over the country. In the 1920s and 1930s the country was divided into dozens of warlords; most of them had no realistic hope of becoming the dominant figure in China. Yet the only regions where there was any kind of attempt at separatism were the three that did become independent (Tuva, now part of Russia, Mongolia, still independent, and Tibet, which was conquered by force in 1949) plus Xinjiang/Sinkiang, where Sheng Shicai tried to Sovietise his province and align himself with Stalin against both Mao and Chang - while recognising the "nationalities", ie the Ughur people. It wasn't until Japanese occupation that any attempt was made with the Manchus, and the idea of Manchukuo as being not Chinese never took off at all.

Even in Qinghai, the three Mas never tried to set up Hui nationalism in opposition to Chineseness. Similarly, the various southern warlords never tried to build around Yue or Min as being fundamentally different from Mandarin and to identify Guangdong or Fujian as being distinct from China. The incentives to do so were very strong: an independent state could define borders in a way no warlord ever could, and might seek alliances with the Japanese or the Western powers against China. But this never even seems to have crossed the minds of any warlord. "China, once divided, must unite".

Unlike Russia which has lots of non-Russian nationalities and many of them are only in the federation by force, even the collapse of Chinese central control would result in no more than two independent states (an Ugyhur one and Tibet).

Expand full comment
Nov 19, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

2034: A Novel of the Next World War by Admiral Jim Stravidis and Elliot Ackerman should be a must read too.

Expand full comment

It should be read hand-in-hand with Ghost Fleet

Expand full comment

Yes very good call!

Expand full comment

I'll have to check out some of these, especially Middle Class Shanghai. I once lived there for a couple years. Came back to the states in 2020, so Shanghai might be very different from back then. The city, and China as a whole, changes rapidly.

Expand full comment

Bundled book review posts like this are really helpful. Thank you. I also liked Spence's The Search for Modern China.

> As Fong notes, China’s fertility rates were dropping fast well before the implementation of the one-child policy...

Did this differ based on whether the families were rural/urban? One might also compare places which were and weren't affected by famine.

> In the meantime, local governments get more money in the short term if they encourage and hype a bunch of development projects that may not be long-term viable.

During the Deng era, how did local officials, who had only encountered Maoist messaging and had never traveled abroad, first learn the vocabulary needed to hype a development project? Did they copy what they knew of Hong Kong developers, or adapt Maoist slogans? Or both?

Expand full comment

Nicely done. Useful read

Expand full comment
Nov 20, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

" ... he provoked all possible rivals into a constant state of internecine warfare. One of his favorite strategies was to elevate a favorite subordinate to a position of prestige and power, then denounce them, and carry out a major campaign designed to purge the manufactured rival’s supposed influence ..."

Hmm. Reminds me of someone similar in the U.S. Elon gave him back his Twitter account, too.

Expand full comment

If you a looking for a good survey of Chinese history try “China: A History” by John Keay. I thought it was very informative. What I liked about his method was his intentional effort to avoid focusing solely on near modern and contemporary history. Thus, Chinese history of the past 200 years is given treatment in proportion to the timeline (i.e. 5,000). Bit of a long read though.

Incidentally, he also has an excellent one in India as well.

Expand full comment
author

Thanks!!

Expand full comment

The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm an America at War

By: A. J. Baime

I study the auto industry, along with the Japanese and Chinese economies. Arsenal is the company level story of wartime public-private efforts, focused on the Willow Run plant, with lots of useful detail on managerial and political issues, and also internal Ford challenges.

For China, I assume you know Barry Naughton's text. For basic structures, see China’s Great Economic Transformation, edited by Loren Brandt and Thomas G. Rawski, New York: Cambridge University Press. While seemingly dated (2008) you'll find that virtually all of today's issues were already apparent. It is comprised of thematic chapters, and brings a comparative perspective, eg., J Vernon Henderson contributed to the "spacial issues" chapter.

I had my students read anthropology & reportage, there are likely several new out there. The last time I taught the class, I used Alec Ash, Wish Lanterns and Dinny McMahon, China's Great Wall of Debt.

Expand full comment
Nov 20, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

I like these brief reviews of several books on the same subject; I hope you keep doing them. They are just the right length. Tyler Cowen is uselessly brief and Scott Alexander is exhaustingly long.

Expand full comment
author

Thanks! I aim for the Goldilocks zone.

Expand full comment
Nov 20, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

China’s crisis of success by William Overholt. Controversial and maybe a bit outdated since it was published back in 2017. But it illustrates really well how China’s political economy works with interesting tidbits from the author, who actually lived in Hong Kong and China for a long time.

Expand full comment

Liu Cixin is a contemporary Chinese Sci-Fi writer who is close to the CPC, as such matters go. His The Three Body Problem is, on its own in translation by Ken Liu, the first in a trilogy entitled Remembrance of Earth’s Past. The second volume The Dark Forest might be read as a metaphor for Chinese nationalist basic apprehension of foreign affairs. Worth reading on its own as Sci Fi, but even more so if it reflects some strands of contemporary Chinese geo-political thought metaphorically.

Expand full comment

for your industrial policy series, I recommend Power Failure, the new history of GE by William D. Cohan. GE what is the biggest company in the world for many years and arguably the most successful. Its downfall is an emblem of the 21st-century -- financialization, bad, M&A, shortsighted, leader, ship, etc.

Expand full comment
Nov 20, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

I highly recommend “On China” by Henry Kissinger

Expand full comment
Nov 19, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

Have you read 'Factory Girls' by Leslie Chang? It's a little more about the specifics of one subset of migrant workers, but I really enjoyed and I think it gets at some of the underlying trends of China's developemnt - at least, the pre-pandemic, pre-third-Xi-term trends.

Expand full comment
author

Yep. That was the best book out of the whole 13!

Expand full comment

In retrospect I almost certainly read it based on your recommendation, should've checked the earlier list!

Expand full comment
Nov 20, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

He recommended it in his earlier list of six books on China, which has a link near the top of this article.

The audiobook is also available on hoopla.

Expand full comment
Nov 19, 2022Liked by Noah Smith

Some book recommendations on industrial policy and public-private collaboration:

Christian Parenti, “Radical Hamilton: Economic Lessons from a Misunderstood Father”

Mariana Mazzucato, “The Entrepreneurial State”

Mazzucato et al, “Public Purpose: Industrial Policy’s Comeback” (anthology of shorter writings published last year by the Boston Review)

Dani Rodrik, “One Economics, Many Recipes”

Bolling and Bowles, “America’s Competitive Edge: How to Get Our Country Moving Again” (written in response to the 1980s rise of Japan)

George Cabot Lodge, “Perestroika for America”

Expand full comment
author

Thanks! I've read a few of these...

Expand full comment