Written by committee.

After reading two excellent books back to back the odds were pretty remote I would end up reading a third outstanding book. So I guess none of us should be too surprised to learn that the book I finished yesterday really wasn’t that good. While it did present a lot of factual information and I hesitate to consider it a disappointment, let’s just say it won’t be making my blog’s Top Ten List anytime soon.

As part of my “China Challenge” and in an effort to learn more about our rising superpower in the East, I decided to grab the 2006 book China: The Balance Sheet: What the World Needs to Know About the Emerging Superpower from my local public library. While the title page credits four individuals as the book’s authors, in reality the book was probably authored by not one but two think tanks, namely the Institute for International Economics and the Center for Strategic and International Studies. As a result, this book has a dry, flavorless “written by committee” feel to it. While it informs and is not short on facts and figures, it has all the sexiness of an annual report. But as dry as this book can be, it is filled with information that makes a reader stand up take notice of China’s size, situation and possible potential.  For example:

  • China is the world’s second largest economy, but its per capita income is ranked around 100th in the world, making China the first “poor” global economic superpower in the world.
  • China graduates more than 800,000 student a year in engineering and sciences, but has only 120,000 certified lawyers. In addition, only 40 per cent of China’s judges have university degrees.
  • China has land borders with 14 nations, but has not fought a war since 1979.
  • 16 of the world’s 20 most air-polluted cities are in China, resulting in 300,00 to 500,000 premature deaths each year. On a related note, fewer than half of China’s cities have any type of municipal sewage treatment.
  • According to some independent estimates, China’s has as many as 25 million urban unemployed.

So, being able to convey interesting factoids like those, I guess the book isn’t without some merits. Unfortunately, since the book was published back in 2006, I’m afraid some of its contents are probably out of date. Keeping all that in mind, I might hesitate to recommend this book to the curious. It would probably be best to seek a more up to date book on China, in addition to supplementing one’s reading from other sources such as The Economist, The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times.

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4 Comments

Filed under Area Studies/International Relations

4 responses to “Written by committee.

  1. winstonsdad

    a interesting read ,China is moving so fast in some places ,the world service have been doing some interesting programms about the rise of china’s industral base ,all the best stu

  2. Wow, those are some crazy facts! Especially the one about only 40% of judges having degrees and about half the cities lacking sewage systems. Sounds like an informative book, too bad its not more interesting.

  3. China is so enigmatic! I’d like to pick up that book because I don’t know much about it. Thanks for the well-chosen factoids 🙂

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