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On Reading "The Hundred Year Marathon" by Michael Pillsbury

This is a really smart book by a man who has been in the CIA and the U. S. government for decades, and has met the Chinese leadership and military leaders frequently.

It has something rare: the ability to explain Chinese strategic thinking to a Western audience. The book is based on Pillsbury's experience in discussions with leaders backed up by a close reading of classics of Chinese strategy and Chinese literary classics that embody Chinese strategic thinking. This is anything but boring. It is riveting. It is fascinating. It is dynamic. It is the aerobics of strategy. It involves a study of key Chinese concepts that are unique in the world.

It is meant as a warning, the idea that the China foreign policy community has had a consensus about China's peaceful rise that may not be accurate. It is an attempt to explain the point of view of the military men at the upper reaches of the government of the PRC, those who might be described as hardliners.

As I state on the home page of this website, sometimes it is easier to tell the truth in fiction than it is in history. So I took to writing fiction.

In my forthcoming thrillers set in the strategic region of Xinjiang, a place that few China specialists write about because it is a border region, I discuss my hero, Gordon Farr, a China hand who grew up in China, in a family of missionaries and traders in the antiquities business, a man practiced in the martial arts, a fluent speaker of Chinese and a practitioner of the Chinese game, "wei qi", what the Japanese call Go.

But back to history and strategic thinking and analysis. If the military strategists are running the show in China, using economics to gain status and power on the world stage, then the average American reader needs someone to tell it like it is.

I was delighted to discover that Michael Pillsbury deals with the Chinese as they practiced warfare for millennia, rather than as the benevolent Confucian rulers.

This has always been the split in Chinese philosophy, between the so-called gentlemen scholars steeped in the classics who practiced benevolence and moral rule, the so-called "sages" and the legalists, those practitioners of ruthless politics who built the first empire and burned the books to get rid of the scholar class, so they could go about consolidating their rule over China.

Pillsbury adds a third category, the warlords. I have been writing about the Mongol conquest of China for decades. This fascinated me because after the fall of the glorious Tang Dynasty, the Golden Age of China in terms of its politics and culture, when it was the most advanced, richest and cosmopolitan country in the world, the dynasty fell. North China was ruled for four centuries by a succession of barbarian dynasties, culminating in the conquest of North China by the greatest warrior in Asia, Chinggis Khan (Genghis Khan).

I have been studying his battles for decades and I have studied the battles of his grandson and successor, Khubilai Khan, the man who put China proper together again to the borders it has to the present day. These are momentous events and the West knows nothing about them.

I follow suit after Michael Pillsbury, because everything I have written is about the mindset of the Chinese in regard to splitting apart. The reason the Chinese fear splitting apart is that they have split apart in the past, not once, but multiple times, and they have done so, not only at the hands of foreigners from the West, but from Asians, and also from their own internal rebellions, such as the Tai Ping Rebellion.

As the historian Simon Schama states in his popular PBS programs, "History matters." It does, especially to a country like China that has the longest continuous history under one people of any nation on earth. For Americans, with short attention spans, the phrase "That's history" means, "It's over."

But we had better get used to the long view, for in a future blog, I will review what Michael Pillsbury says about China's plan to outpace the U. S. as the world's greatest power by the year 2049, 100 years after the founding of the PRC.

You have to know the backstory to get where this is going. Come back to the blog, reader, and I will post more on this book.
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