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Behind the bamboo curtain

Print Edition: May 1, 2011

China Inside Out: 10 irreversible trends reshaping China and its relationship with the world
By Bill Dodson
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons
Pages: 246
Price: Rs 1,357

Indians who visit China and see its infrastructure, or read about its trains that travel at 300 km an hour, and power generating capacity additions of 50,000 MW every year, feel envious when they compare India's dismal progress in all these respects against it. This book will help to balance the views of such people as it shows the dark side of China's development. The author is an American, who has lived and worked in China for 10 years or so, and is married to a Chinese.

China Inside Out: 10 Irreversible Trends Reshaping China and Its Relationship With the World describes the degradation of the environment in that country, the lack of freedom, the growing disparities between the urban and rural population, the suppression of Tibetan and Muslim minorities, the dismal state of health care for the poor, and the corruption and arrogance of government officials.

Many of these phenomena are part of life in India, too. The focus on them puts China's development, too, into perspective. In 10 chapters, Dodson points out 10 irreversible trends that will reshape China in coming decades. Each chapter begins with an anecdote based on the chapter's theme. One anecdote describes how a young waitress accidentally kills a government official who was trying to rape her; she is charged with murder, but is saved following a public outcry fuelled by an Internet campaign. Another anecdote tells of how hundreds of people line up from 2 a.m. at a public hospital to get a ticket to see a doctor later in the day. Only a handful get tickets.

China has controlled migration through residence permits, without which no one can migrate to the city. This creates a rural-urban divide and widely differing living conditions. While there is an India and a 'Bharat', people are free to leave 'Bharat' to go to 'India'. The book also notes China's growing hunger for natural resources and how it is securing access to such resources around the world. Will the host country of such resources allow China access in a crisis, Dodson asks. He does, however, observe that Chinese investment in African countries may have helped the people there more than the aid from Western countries or advice from the International Monetary Fund.

Dodson sees the Chinese government as having changed from a totalitarian one to an authoritarian one. But he says, Chinese society has been historically used to authoritarian rule, so a democratic revolution is not likely anytime soon. Dodson expects the Chinese Communist Party to change gradually but to retain its control. He also admires the strategy of the government to build infrastructure for fuel-efficient transport and its investment in renewable energy as sound strategies to tackle rapid urbanisation.

For Indians, this book provides some comfort: our slower growth rate in a democratic set up - with concern for the environment and human rights, with a government that is accountable to the people, with a watchful media, and rule of law - is perhaps a better way. It is an easy read, albeit marred by some careless errors.

Bookmarks

Inside WikiLeaks

By Daniel Domscheit-Berg with Tina Klopp
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Pages: 282
Price: Rs 499
Domscheit-Berg got sacked from WikiLeaks after differences with the founder. So he spills the beans on a very secretive organisation.

S.U.M.O. (Shut Up, Move On)

By Paul McGee
Capstone/ Wiley
Pages: 204
Price: Rs 894
No, that is not what the boss told me. It is about you and how the way you think can determine what happens to your life. The second edition, so must be doing well.

The reviewer is Chairman, Integrated Research and Action for Development

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