China's Search for Security

Columbia University Press
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Despite its impressive size and population, economic vitality, and drive to upgrade its military, China remains a vulnerable nation surrounded by powerful rivals and potential foes. Understanding China’s foreign policy means fully appreciating these geostrategic challenges, which persist even as the country gains increasing influence over its neighbors. Andrew J. Nathan and Andrew Scobell analyze China’s security concerns on four fronts: at home, with its immediate neighbors, in surrounding regional systems, and in the world beyond Asia. By illuminating the issues driving Chinese policy, they offer a new perspective on the country’s rise and a strategy for balancing Chinese and American interests in Asia. Though rooted in the present, Nathan and Scobell’s study makes ample use of the past, reaching back into history to illuminate the people and institutions shaping Chinese strategy today. They also examine Chinese views of the United States; explain why China is so concerned about Japan; and uncover China’s interests in such problematic countries as North Korea, Iran, and the Sudan. The authors probe recent troubles in Tibet and Xinjiang and explore their links to forces beyond China’s borders. They consider the tactics deployed by mainland China and Taiwan, as Taiwan seeks to maintain autonomy in the face of Chinese advances toward unification. They evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of China’s three main power resources—economic power, military power, and soft power. The authors conclude with recommendations for the United States as it seeks to manage China’s rise. Chinese policymakers understand that their nation’s prosperity, stability, and security depend on cooperation with the United States. If handled wisely, the authors believe, relations between the two countries can produce mutually beneficial outcomes for both Asia and the world.
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About the author

Andrew J. Nathan is Class of 1919 Professor of Political Science at Columbia University. His previous books include Chinese Democracy; The Great Wall and the Empty Fortress; The Tiananmen Papers; China's New Rulers: The Secret Files; and How East Asians View Democracy.

Andrew Scobell is senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation. He is the author of China's Use of Military Force: Beyond the Great Wall and the Long March and the editor of more than a dozen books on the Chinese military and Asian security.

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Additional Information

Columbia University Press
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Published on
Sep 18, 2012
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History / Asia / China
History / Asia / General
Political Science / International Relations / General
Political Science / Political Freedom
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Eligible for Family Library

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What do the Chinese mean by the word “democracy”? When they say that their political system is “democratic,” does this mean that they share our ideas about liberty, civil rights, and self government? With the recent improvement in relations between China and the West, such questions are no longer merely academic. They are basic to an understanding of the Chinese people and their state, both now and in the future.

In Chinese Democracy, Andrew J. Nathan tackles these in issues in depth, drawing upon much fresh and unfamiliar material. He begins with a vivid history of the short-lived democracy movement of 1978-81, where groups of young people in a number of Chinese cities started issuing outspoken publications and putting up posters detailing their complaints and opinions. Apparently condoned at first by the post-Mao regime, the movement flourished; then it was crushed, its leaders tried and jailed. With quotes from many of the participants and their works, Nathan constructs—for the first time—a poignant picture of the burst of liberal activity, at the same time showing how distinctly Chinese it was and how the roots of its failure lay as much in history as in current political necessity.

To demonstrate this, Nathan investigates the nature of the democratic tradition in China, tracing it back to the close of the imperial era at the end of the nineteenth century and the works of Liang Qichao, the country’s most brilliant journalist and most influential modern political thinker. We see how Liang deeply influenced Mao Zedong, and how conflicts between party dictatorship and popular participation, between bureaucratic authority and individual rights, between Mao’s harsh version of democracy and Deng Xiaoping’s more liberal one, remain to this day unresolved and potentially dangerous. For example, as Nathan shows, there was apparently a serious move toward liberalization projected on the highest government levels in the years after Mao’s death, yet the move failed. In a tour de force of scholarship, Nathan shows through an extended study of the many Chinese constitutions put force since the 1911 Revolution that individual rights have always been forced to give away to the needs and ambitions of the state. Democracy in China has traditionally been admired mainly for what it can help accomplish, not for any human rights it may embody.

Finally, making use of scores of interviews with émigrés from the mainland, the author analyzes the extraordinary role played by the press in forming public attitudes in China, and then goes on to show what happened in 1980 when the authorities for the first time conducted direct elections to the county-level people’s congresses. It was a splendid shambles. Much of this story has never been told before.

Chinese Democracy is a highly original and convincing book on a subject of immediate concern, a rich combination of reportage and research by one of our best-informed China specialists. No one can read it without gaining an entirely new perspective on the nature of democracy as the Chinese practice it—and, incidentally, as we practice it too.
In this provocative work, an American political scientist poses the question, Why should we uphold our constitution?. The vast majority of Americans venerate the American Constitution and the principles it embodies, but many also worry that the United States has fallen behind other nations on crucial democratic issues, including economic equality, racial integration and women's rights. Robert Dahl explores the vital tension between the Americans' belief in the legitimacy of their constitution and their belief in the principles of democracy. Dahl starts with the assumption that the legitimacy of the American Constitution derives solely from its utility as an instrument of democratic governance. Dahl demonstrates that, due to the context in which it was conceived, the constitution came to incorporate significant antidemocratic elements. Because the Framers of the Constitution had no relevant example of a democratic political system on which to model the American government, many defining aspects of the political system were implemented as a result of short-sightedness or last-minute compromise. Dahl highlights those elements of the American system that are most unusual and potentially antidemocratic: the federal system, the bicameral legislature, judicial review, presidentialism, and the electoral college system. The political system that emerged from the world's first great democratic experiment is unique - no other well-established democracy has copied it. How does the American constitutional system function in comparison to other democratic systems? How could the political system be altered to achieve more democratic ends? To what extent did the Framers of the Constitution build features into the political system that militate against significant democratic reform? Refusing to accept the status of the American Constitution as a sacred text, Dahl challenges America to think critically about the origins of its political system and to consider the opportunities for creating a more democratic society.
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