After ten years, John Bryan Starr has thoroughly revised and updated his classic introduction to the background of, the data about, and the issues at stake in China's present and future. In the new edition, Starr seamlessly weaves in additional material on the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the Chinese government's ongoing efforts to curb the influence of the Internet, and the intensifying trade disputes between the United States and China. Succinct, modest, and refreshingly forthright, Understanding China remains a necessary guide for the uninitiated to everything from the Chinese economy and political system, to its intellectual freedoms and human rights, to its relationship with the rest of the world.
With a thorough examination of China's inadequate infrastructure, Starr (Continuing the Revolution) casts doubt on widespread opinions forecasting that the country will be the world's dominant military and economic superpower in the 21st century. "Unless it changes significantly," he writes, "the system lacks the capacity to address and resolve the many serious problems it now confronts." This book grew out of a seminar Starr taught at Yale University, and it reads like a college text. He makes an impressive case for his bleak outlook, and as a China specialist, he misses little--environmental degradation, overpopulation, rural discontent, Taiwan democratization, regionalism, the armed forces, foreign relations and other topics. But he is short on anecdotes that would keep the reader from nodding off like a student in an intro lecture course. When Starr does make a prediction, he usually plays it safe with a qualifying probably or maybe, making at times for leaden commentary. As a general overview of China entering the post-Deng era with the takeover of Hong Kong and growing foreign investment, this is a scholarly, well-researched treatise. As a mass market tract on an already highly analyzed subject, it is not very stimulating.