In On China the author, Henry Kissinger, provides a complete, high level overview of the history of China in a form very few can provide. His ability to form facts into a grand narrative and people into hyper rational actors is totally engrossing, you feel as though every proclamation contains crucial insights driven from hard facts.
Starting from the history of Chinese dynasties through the Opium Wars Kissinger lays a foundational description of the Chinese people who, as an ancient group used to weathering hardships, have a self assured view of themselves and their place at the pinnacle of the world. The Chinese civilization has existed almost continuously for two thousand years having persevered through troubled times, conquering others, and being conquered themselves. Kissinger uses an analogy with the game of Weiqi (aka Go) as a lens for how Chinese leaders approach the world throughout the book.
This game analogy is perfect for Kissinger, one of the great proponents of Real Politic in the modern era. Just as he has viewed the world in terms of countries’ moves and counter moves he sees China’s actions in terms of the Weiqi strategies of parallel actions, encirclement, and long term plays. Every leader is a master tactician rationally acting after deeply thinking and considering every option. This is a very engrossing way to see the world but can be hard to buy after a while.
The deep insights of an obviously brilliant man are worth the read alone, but Kissinger’s key position in the highest levels of every interaction with China by the US in the last fourty years, his personal knowledge of and interactions with all of China’s leaders since Mao, and his game like approach to every situation make the book an absolute must read.