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Selling China Short

The flow of doom-mongering books about China has lately become more like a tidal wave. Whatever their strengths, recent contributions also tell a compelling – and seemingly timeless – story about how Western observers’ assumptions shape their conclusions, leaving one to wonder how China ever got to where it is today.

NEW HAVEN – The dark side of China is a source of constant inspiration for authors. The appearance of books filled with Sino-gloom is usually predictable – ebbing and flowing with the tide of global angst. The storylines are different, but the conclusions almost always end up roughly in the same place: China is poised to fail.

Today, the profusion of negative books on China is more like a tidal wave, certainly more than I have ever seen. Three recent additions to the genre are particularly noteworthy. Each is the work of a seasoned and thoughtful China watcher, and each tells its tale of China woe from a slightly different perspective. Elizabeth C. Economy’s The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State is true to its title and focuses on President Xi Jinping. Nicholas R. Lardy’s The State Strikes Back: The End of Economic Reform in China? emphasizes the shift back to a state-centric economy. And George Magnus’s Red Flags: Why Xi’s China is in Jeopardy, examines four traps that have ensnared China.

Each book makes a solid case that stands on its own. Taken together, they tell an even more compelling – and seemingly timeless – story of Western doubts about China. It’s enough to make one wonder how the Chinese ever got to where they are today.