BBC correspondent Short, formerly stationed in Peking and Moscow, presents comparative profiles of the two big communist states: a not-so-good idea--the two don't otherwise have much in common--that virtually guarantees that the author has little regard for either. Both nations, Short points out, had imperial pasts that weigh on the present: the Chinese, despite the cultural and social backwardness they inherited from the emperors, still maintain their own form of racism and sense of superiority; the Russians, who took over a somewhat more advanced country from the tsars, have recreated their own version of a secretive police state. Among the differences, Short notes that the Chinese have a less ubiquitous police (who often punish the Chinese while deferring to foreigners during clamp-downs) and don't have the everyday Soviet experience of lining up to buy scarce goods. The reason, he hastens to add, is that there's even less in China to go around. The picture he paints of both countries, indeed, is uniformly bleak: from the materialistic Russians, pursuing the goods they cannot produce (and ignoring the KGB), to the tradition-ridden Chinese, who still, he says, drown infant girls. (Short claims that a lot of infant drowning is going on--to deal with illegitimate pregnancies, which he also thinks are common.) And when he cites the existence of homosexuality in China, despite official claims to the contrary, that too becomes an example of decadence. With Hedrick Smith available on the Russians, and now Fox Butterfield on the Chinese, this kind of jaundiced reporting can easily be dispensed with.