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by Terence Halliday

Whither China?

Three scenarios.

Like a giddy debutante ball, the Olympic Games mark China's long-delayed coming out into Global Society. At once a moment of international recognition where China can display its modernity and maturity, 2008 will be the symbolic event when the humiliations of 19th-century Western tutelage, the slaughter of millions by the Japanese, the Cold War isolation of China from the non-Communist world, the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, the bloody pavements of Tiananmen Square, will all be forgotten in a blaze of national glory and international acclamation. The world's eyes will be on Beijing, and neither China nor the rest of the world will be the same again. Or that ostensibly is the hope of China's leaders and the aspiration of its people.

In the aftermath of the catastrophic Sichuan earthquake, there will be considerable international sympathy for China, perhaps defusing some of the criticism that built in the months leading up to the games, as the Olympic torchbearers ran gauntlets of foreign protesters. But which China will follow the Beijing Olympics? The hot China of spectacular economic growth or virulent anti-Japanese demonstrations? The warm China of pandas and cultural exchanges? The cool China of military build-up and hard-headed Communist Party rule?  Or the cold China of Tiananmen Square and support for the genocidal Sudanese government?

 Answers to these questions diverge sharply. Three significant books display strikingly incompatible interpretations of China's present and prognostications about its future. From their respective angles of orientations, these China-hands position themselves along a rough continuum from bright optimism to dark skepticism. In so doing, they effectively caution that this vast and exceedingly diverse country belies any naïve characterizations or glossy snapshots. They also exemplify how easy it is to allow faulty methodology and incomplete theory to produce flawed historical extrapolations.

Certain facts about China are unassailable. ...

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