The China Questions, with Jennifer Rudolph and Michael Szonyi


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Two China historians discuss their new book: a collection of answers to many questions that ordinary people ask about China, written by the star team of scholars at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University.

“We hear, in the media and in comments by politicians, a lot of very glib statements that oversimplify China, that suggest all of China is one thing or one way,” says Michael Szonyi, a professor of Chinese history and director of the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University. China, of course, is as complicated as — if not more complicated than — any other country, and misunderstandings about it among Americans are both common and consequential. The relationship with China is “arguably — in anyone’s estimation — the most important bilateral relationship that the U.S. has,” says Jennifer Rudolph, a professor of modern Chinese political history at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Jennifer and Michael edited a book to address 36 questions that ordinary people, especially Americans, ask about China. The book is titled The China Questions: Critical Insights Into a Rising Power, and it draws on the expertise of the Fairbank Center and prompts these accomplished academics to write 2,000-word essays for a general audience that they typically never aim to reach.

View the entire list of questions on the Harvard University Press website. A sampling:

  • “Is the Chinese Communist Regime Legitimate?” (by Elizabeth J. Perry)
  • “Is There Environmental Awareness in China?” (by Karen Thornber)
  • “Will China Lead Asia?” (by Odd Arne Westad)
  • “What Does the Rise of China Mean for the United States?” (by Robert S. Ross)
  • “Can China and Japan Ever Get Along?” (by Ezra F. Vogel)
  • “Will Urbanization Save the Chinese Economy or Destroy It?” (by Meg Rithmire)
  • “Why Does the End of the One-Child Policy Matter?” (by Susan Greenhalgh)
  • “Why Do Classic Chinese Novels Matter?” (by Wai-yee Li)


Jeremy: Drawn Together: The Collected Works of R. and A. Crumb, by Robert Crumb and Aline Kominsky-Crumb. The husband-and-wife pair became known for their funny, vulgar comics in the late 1970s, though Robert’s zany work goes back a decade earlier.

Jennifer: Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo. A work of creative nonfiction about a young boy and his family, and how the system is stacked against them.

Michael: The Fairbank Center website, which features a blog and a podcast. Also, Michael’s new book, titled The Art of Being Governed: Everyday Politics in Late Imperial China. And The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World, by Greg Grandin.

Kaiser: The North Water: A Novel, by Ian McGuire. A dramatic tale that includes whaling, murder, and brutality, and whose overall flavor Kaiser describes as Joseph Conrad meets Cormac McCarthy meets Herman Melville meets Jack London.