THE TYRANNY OF HISTORY by W.J.F. Jenner

THE TYRANNY OF HISTORY

The Roots of China's Crisis
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Provocative analysis of how China's culture will affect that nation's current and future behavior; by Jenner (History/Australian National Univ.). China is China is China--that, in brief, is Jenner's well- articulated message: that the weight of history, bureaucracy, language, philosophy, and national character make real change in China--though urgently necessary for economic reasons--virtually impossible. Jenner sees Communism as largely illusory in its effect, and the Party as little more than a ``club...the collective identity of China's ruling class...a shenshi or gentry...whose members will be able to adapt themselves to whatever follows....'' Real change, the author says, has occurred only when ``alien colonial power in Singapore, Hong Kong [or] Taiwan [was able] to break the continuity of Chinese bureaucracy and to permit growth and development.'' Cultural sophistication, a solid grasp of Asian history, crisp details, and clear conclusions lend credibility to Jenner's argument as he penetrates Chinese culture to the language itself and its peculiar ability, through lack of the usual verb tenses, to create ambivalence about time--and thus about change. Jenner examines the unequaled Chinese historical record and what its limitations reveal: a fatalistic and cyclical view of human experience that's the antithesis of the Western conviction that significant change can and will occur. And from the saga of the dynasties, he discerns an overwhelming tendency for the Chinese state to re-establish itself, whatever the current vicissitudes, in remarkably similar monolithic form. A consort's uncanny description of the aged Mao living exactly like an emperor, cut off from reality and reading ancient Chinese history, drives this point home. Jenner argues persuasively that China may be largely immutable, but he never really deals with today's ultimate agent of change: the information avalanche, which buried even the Soviet Union.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1992
ISBN: 0-7139-9060-0
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1992