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Reading list - The Rise of China and the New Global Order

In the past half a century, China has transformed from an underdeveloped and inward-looking country to a major player in world politics. The country asserts itself more boldly on the world stage; not only in relation to nearby countries and places such as Taiwan, Japan, and other countries that share the South China Sea, but also towards the US and the EU. How is China challenging the global political and economic order, and if so, how should others respond? This Reading List, compiled from the Leiden University Libraries’ (UBL) collections, introduces seven prominent analyses of China’s changing place in global politics.

Since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976, changing government policies have prompted immense economic growth, making China one of the largest exporters of consumer goods in the world. This has also caused China to engage more with global trade and politics – which has both raised concerns and interest. Trade wars and projects such as the Belt and Road Initiative (‘New Silk Road’) affect economic development in developing countries. They primarily serve economic and geopolitical goals, while human rights and democratic values are disregarded or even suppressed. All these developments have inspired a vivid academic debate on how to interpret the rise of China, its government’s motivations and its effects on international relations.

All books on the list below are available for loan or digitally available via the UBL by following the link under the title or by searching our Catalogue.

Clay Shirky, Little Rice: Smartphones, Xiaomi and the Chinese Dream


Almost unknown in Europe, Xiaomi has become the world's third-largest mobile phone manufacturer, behind only Samsung and Apple. Through the success story of Xiaomi (which means "little rice" in Mandarin), Clay Shirky investigates how Chinese society, economics, and politics have changed in recent times. The story of this innovative start-up that has grown into a major player on the international market of mobile devices links personal success and national greatness, and so appears to be the embodiment of the Chinese Dream, closely associated to Xi Jinping’s political ideology. To Shirky, Xiaomi’s history however is not only a story of changes in Chinese society. Its quick conquest of the world market is also an invitation to assess the global forces currently at play.

Sulmaan Wasif Khan, Haunted by Chaos: China's Grand Strategy from Mao Zedong to Xi Jinping


How can China’s assertive and at times even aggressive stand on the world stage be understood? Khan holds that although China seems very powerful, its leaders are haunted by a past in which China was subjugated by colonial forces and torn apart by internal chaos. Above all, they are driven by an urge to protect China from foreign aggression and internal division, and to ensure it will never again experience the powerlessness of the late Qing and Republican eras. Economic growth, political cohesion, a strong and sizable army and growing international prestige have brought the country power and stability. However, at present China is confronted with new challenges such as an aging population, environmental change, and discontent. According to Khan, President Xi Jinping is powerful but deeply insecure.  His fear that China’s problems could lead to disaster has led to a massive centralisation of political power and a tightening up on all other centres of power.

Stephen Rolf, China's Uneven and Combined Development


How is China’s role in the world economy to be understood? It is one of the world’s main exporters of consumer goods, while at the same time the state plays a far larger role in the economy than in the US and other Western countries. Both facts lead to increasing tensions with the US. Is there a struggle going on between ‘Chinese’ and ‘American’ capitalism? Steven Rolf goes beyond the view of competing economic systems to explain China’s economic development and changing role on the world stage. Acknowledging the strong links between geopolitics and the economy, trade wars with for example the US are explained through conflicting political and economic goals. Instead, he mobilizes detailed empirical analysis and the Marxian theory of uneven and combined development to reconstruct and explain China’s economic policies and development that helps to explain how and why China and the US clash.

Leta Hong Fincher, Betraying Big Brother: The feminist awakening in China


Although media censorship has blocked much news about women’s movements abroad, the #MeToo movement has also resonated in China, where feminists use social media to communicate, mobilize and subvert. The government in return responds with repression and in 2015, on International Women’s Day, five female activists were arrested and detained for over a month. This action, however, backfired and only served to reinvigorate the movement. Leta Hong Fincher takes the story of the Feminist Five as a starting point to her investigations of the broad-based women’s movement in China, the causes that they champion and the opposition they face. Based on extensive interviews, she describes a movement that may form the greatest challenge to the Chinese regime.

Ching Kwan Lee, The Specter of global China: Politics, Labor, and Foreign Investment in Africa


China has become one of the main economic actors in Africa, aggressively pursuing its raw materials and developing its infrastructure through the Belts and Roads Initiative. This development has caused both concern and hope. While some fear for a new form of colonialism, others hold that China holds a major promise for African economic development. Moving beyond political rhetoric, Ching Kwan Lee makes extensive field research the basis of his analysis as he asks the critical question: Is Chinese capital a different kind of capital? Lee has spent six years in Zambia, investigating how Chinese mining and construction companies operate in comparison to other foreign companies in the same field. Based on interviews, she details how Chinese expats live and manage companies, but also how perceive and are perceived by locals. The result is a work that mixes theoretical reflection with empirical data to arrive at a much more nuanced and precise picture of the potential and perils of Chinese activity in Africa.

Yu Hong, Networking China: The Digital Transformation of the Chinese Economy


In Networking China, Hong analyses how the government has prioritized the development of the communication industry to modernize its economy, and at what cost. While the government aims to become independent of foreign communication companies and become the main exporter of mobile phones and other devises, the enormous growth and contradictory governance of this industry creates tensions between companies and government agencies, between regions competing for large contracts, and between large businesses and their employers. Hong analyses these tensions and how they influence Chinese society, economics and politics.

Thomas Fingar and Jean Oi (eds.), Fateful Decisions: Choices That Will Shape China's Future


Although China seems strong and powerful, the country faces a number of challenges, such as a slowing economy, an aging population, environmental change and higher demands and costs of education and health care. Fateful Choices explains China’s political and economic success of the past decades and the choices that its political leaders face in confronting the future. The book focuses on the state’s institutions, domestic and foreign ambitions and constraints and a comparison between China and other East Asian countries. The result is a coherent analysis of the challenges that China’s leaders face and how their choices can influence both China and the world at large.

Contact your faculty liaison

Is a book missing on this list, or would you like UBL to purchase a book about the rise of China that is not yet available in our collections? Contact our faculty liaisons.

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