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Book Review: Henry Kissinger’s “On China”

Posted on May 18 2011 3:15 pm
Lisa Graas has covered politics and religion at her blog since 2008. She has served as a crisis pregnancy counselor, youth speaker, mental health advocate and legislative consultant.
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When Nixon went to China in 1972, I was a very impressionable and inquisitive five-year-old who was captivated by the news reports about the leader of our country visiting this distant and fascinating land. Understanding that America and China had long experienced tension with each other, and alienation, Nixon’s visit had as great an impact on me as the moon landing had for children three years previously. Because the China visit was all I knew of him, Henry Kissinger, the man with the German accent who had facilitated the trip on behalf of our country was, to me, as marvelous as many schoolchildren deemed the astronauts of Apollo 11 to be. So it is that I did feel quite honored to receive an advance copy of Kissinger’s new book “On China“, a thorough overview of China’s relationship with the world from ancient times through today based on Henry Kissinger’s studies of Chinese history and his personal experiences in fifty visits to the country.

Though Kissinger was something of a hero to me all those years ago, that was then. This is now. Today, the world seems smaller geographically, but even larger in its difficulties, some of which may or may not be attributed to the diplomatic mechanisms of Henry Kissinger. Certainly, Kissinger left a large footprint in the area of American foreign policy, particularly in our dealings with China. That is precisely why his book is such an important contribution to the study of history. Certainly, it is a book that should be read by anyone who desires to have a good understanding of China’s place in the world, regardless of what one thinks of Mr. Kissinger.

One of the most important things I learned from the book was the insight given on how the people of China have viewed their nation and its place in the world over the centuries. We are certainly remiss if we do not take into account their points of view as we continue to engage in the important task of contributing to peace and stability in the world. Kissinger, however, is an icon of Realpolitik, and this shows through not only in how he handled relations with China, but also in how he wrote the book. It lacks condemnations of evil, but thankfully, also lacks support for evil. The thoroughly amoral nature of the book left me feeling very uncomfortable at times. Treating things like the Opium Wars, the Boxer Rebellion and Mao’s intent to destroy all things Confucian (not to mention his disregard for human life) as mere data for our consideration of how things were, as if they had no moral dimension, was rather shocking to me. An exchange between President Gerald Ford, Chairman Mao, and Henry Kissinger, left me utterly bewildered as it indicated to me that Mao — who ruled by terror and murdered millions — was more interested in God than Kissinger was.

MAO: Your Secretary of State has been interfering in my internal affairs.

FORD: Tell me about it.

MAO: He does not allow me to go and meet God. He even tells me to disobey the order that God has given to me. God has sent me an invitation,yet he [Kissinger] says, don’t go.

KISSINGER: That would be too powerful a combination if he went there.

MAO: He is an atheist [Kissinger]. He is opposed to God. And he is also undermining my relations with God. He is a very ferocious man and I have no other recourse than to obey his orders.

In regard to readibility, the book is a quick read in places and laborious in others. Kissinger does a good job of leaving nothing unsaid when it comes to the cold, hard facts of China’s history of foreign policy, and the book flows easily from topic to topic, with short chapters packed with information. I have no doubt that “On China will be widely considered as one of the most important books on foreign policy ever written.

For more reviews of this book, visit TLC Book Tours.

This article is cross-posted at

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