Five Books: Orville Schell on China and the US

For The Browser’s Five Books series of recommended readings, Alec Ash talks to Orville Schell about the past and present of Sino-US relations, and asks how America can most effectively influence China in the future.

“The answer is not forthcoming. I guess I would say that pressure has a positive effect and a negative effect. One constantly has to be adjusting and recalibrating the mix. And as one can see from the books I’ve cited, China is extremely neurotic about comparison, about having its weakness, its insecurity, its lack of confidence put before it.

“That’s what happened in [the Tiananmen square protests of] 1989, and it induced a massive epileptic seizure of control afterwards. And we’re still paying for it. That doesn’t mean that I’m opposed to people exercising their rights. It’s just a simple observation that within the context of a Communist Party that’s still got a lot of chops, you have to be very careful with your judgements about what can work and what can’t work.”

Earlier China-focused installments in the series include selections by Evan Osnos, Fuchsia Dunlop on Chinese food, Victor Shih on China’s economy and Richard Baum on obstacles to politicial reform, as well as Jeffrey Wasserstrom’s choice of five biographies.