China Dawn: The Story of a Technology and Business Revolution
By David Sheff
HarperBusiness, 2002, 301 pp.
China's Economic Challenge: Smashing the Iron Rice Bowl
By Neil C. Hughes
M. E. Sharp, 2002, 235 pp.
These two books, written by non-China specialists, have a fresh, wide-eyed quality to them. Although their claims are probably overstated, the two books have some value in balancing the more downbeat view of China that has become common of late. Not only are the perspectives new, but they exude wonder and enthusiasm, even when covering conventional matters. Sheff in particular is carried away with excitement over his vision of a Chinese revolution inspired by new broadband networks. As he sees it, China will leapfrog over the slow telephone-wired West and partake in massive flows of information and opinion -- which the government will not be able to control. Undeterred by the collapse of the dot-com bubble in America, Sheff is caught up in the exuberance of the friendly Chinese engineers and entrepreneurs he encounters.
Clearly something is happening in China, but whether the Internet will be the engine of change is still questioned by skeptics. Hughes' more broad-based analysis of China's economic reforms identifies where the changes are coming the fastest. His book reviews the whole range of reforms, highlighting the successes; where problems remain, he advances theoretical solutions. He ignores, however, the troublesome fact that the Chinese political system has a poor record of following the gratuitous advice of wise foreign analysts.