Kissinger has written a sweeping new history of China, titled simply On China, that first acquaints the reader with the thousands of years of Chinese history which informed Mao’s revolution and then leads us through the details of the past 40 years of Sino-U.S. diplomacy.
“There are two slightly different purposes in writing the book,” Kissinger told me in a wide-ranging interview yesterday (transcript here.)
“One is to explain how Chinese think about international affairs to non-Chinese,” he continued. “Not to explain the Chinese point of view so much as to explain the way of thinking, the different concepts of time, and the different concepts of deterrence and defense that the Chinese have.”
The second purpose is aimed at the Chinese.
“Now as far as the Chinese are concerned, what my book might do is show them how their actions are interpreted by other countries, and therefore, to the extent that they care about what other countries think, to enable them to conduct a policy that leads to cooperation rather than confrontation, if that is the decision they have made.”
Whether this second purpose is accomplished only Chinese officials can tell us, but Kissinger’s first mission is fully achieved and the result is alarming.
Patiently and carefully arguing from history and the original documents of the last four decades, the former Secretary of State details the growth of a superpower from the rubble and the ruins of the Cultural Revolution. There is an ambiguity about the Culutrual Revolution in the book, one which Kissinger was quick to point out to my audience was not his personal view but which is emerging as a point of view in China, which holds that while devastating, the Cultural Revolution in fact allowed the modern economic behemoth to emerge.