Wilson Cheung

United States

China’s Economy: What Everyone Needs to Know by Arthur R. Kroeber

January 18, 2021

    “Restore Hong Kong, revolution of our times!”

    “Five demands, not one less!”

    As a Hong Konger, it is no longer surprising to hear these chants running through my ears. Indeed, listening to them has become a routine as every night at 10 pm people stand on their balconies and begin shouting.
    It is also common to engage in the deeper political conversations that these slogans represent with my friends and classmates. Initially, I was hesitant to join these conversations. As my friends discussed the construction of Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge to state surveillance to Hong Kong’s “full” return to China in 2047, I realized I lacked knowledge about China, and found it hard to contribute. I admired my friends’ political knowledge—some of them were like eloquent articulators in the US congress, while others were as emotional as poets—but I was afraid I might say something wrong, losing friendships. I wanted to be like them—to be an eloquent articulator! An erudite scholar! Which is how I ended up reading China's Economy: What Everyone Needs to Know by Arthur R. Kroeber. 
    What I love about this book is how comprehensive, unbiased, and detailed a history it gives on China. China's Economy: What Everyone Needs to Know analyzes China from political, social, economic, technological, and environmental aspects. The book is divided into 13 chapters, each of which discusses an aspect of China’s society, ranging from its demographics to its growth model. For those interested in knowing more about China’s dark story, there is a chapter about China’s inequality and corruption; for those wanting to know the consequence of rapid economic development, you might also read the chapter on Energy and the Environment. 
    Even when dealing with complex themes and histories like these, the book maintains a simple, easy-to-read approach throughout. This book is well-organized and easily accessible for readers like me who don’t have a solid specialized background. There are no complex theories or fanciful words that will confuse readers, distinguishing this book from other academic writing, which makes it a great introductory educational text.
    What I like most about the book is that each chapter is divided into sub-questions that engage readers. In an age of conspiracy theories, there are inevitably some unsubstantiated guesses about China, a controversial country with its human rights and political problems. Kroeber addresses these important, thought-provoking questions himself, using substantial evidence and analysis of issues from multiple perspectives. These answers will stick in people’s minds as they clear up confusion and misunderstandings through a comparison between readers’ thoughts and reality. 
    What most astonished me about this book was Kroeber’s ability to examine both sides of concepts about which most of us have heavily established preconceived notions. My favorite section of the book, for example, examines how corruption can be beneficial to society, contrary to popular belief. While agreeing with the traditional notion that corruption is harmful, Kroeber argues that corruption can also bring economic benefits. For example, government officials who buy goods at low, planned prices and sell them at market price accelerate China’s transition from a planned economy to a market economy.
    Kroeber brings his unique perspective as a foreigner who lived and worked as a journalist in China for 15 years and even ran his own global economics research firm focusing on the region. While some might question a foreigner’s ability to truly understand China, Kroeber’s extensive experience and expat identity help him write with an objective tone and explore every topic through multiple perspectives. All of his claims are backed up by substantial evidence, and he gives equal weight to both China’s merits and problems.
    This book is around 40 dollars, but the knowledge that it contains is worth a prestigious education—it can make you a “little erudite scholar” on China. Its easily accessible language, well-organized structure, unbiased perspective, and massive amount of knowledge all make it worthy to spend your time and money on, making it a handy book for beginners to delve deeper into China.
    After reading this book, my understanding of China moved up several notches; I can now finally understand the topics my classmates and friends discuss, and even join in the conversation to voice my perspective. However, I know political conversations are difficult, and I know how hard it is to sway someone’s strongly held political belief, especially when it relates to identity and homeland. When we disagree on a topic, or I find someone is misinformed, instead of trying to convince them of my viewpoint, I simply recommend this book to all my friends. I believe it will change most of their bias toward China while realizing what its problems are. Corruption, pollution, and state surveillance, the fate of Hong Kong—I won’t tell you what to think about these topics. Instead, I’ll let you read the book to decide for yourself.

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