Several times a year, new books come out purporting to offer the big picture view of China, what’s going on here, what it all means, and where it’s all going. Inevitably, the book will be marketed as either predicting China’s imminent collapse or its inevitable ascension to world-wide hegemony. (Whether or not the actual books are more complex than those characterisations is not known to me. I have not actually read all of them.)
At first glance, In Line Behind a Billion People appears to be one of the books predicting doom for the Chinese economy. After all, its subtitle is How Scarcity Will Define China’s Ascent in the Next Decade. But In Line Behind a Billion People is a bit more interesting than that, and instead offers a comprehensive, clear, and concise summary of the problems China faces on a range of issues from economic, to societal, to political.
It’s also really funny. Surprisingly so. The tone of the book is breezy, with references to pop culture and internet memes (one chapter is called “All your (economic) base are belong to us”), without sacrificing facts or stats. The book is aimed at a general audience, as Ma and Adams explain rather complicated issues in a simple manner, without talking down to their readers.
Nor is the book specifically focused on economics. The book is divided evenly into sections on economics, society and politics. There is even an entire chapter on the Communist Party’s scarcity of ideology, and another one on the scarcity of freedom. As a former political theory grad student, this was glorious for me to see.
Ultimately, Ma and Adams neither predict collapse or domination. Instead, they outline the most crucial challenges China faces, and offer a healthy degree of hope in its leader’s ability to meet those challenges, while doing so in a fun, funny, fact-filled manner. What more could a China-minded reader want?
In Line Behind a Billion People is out now.
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