Review of The Hundred-Year Marathon: China’s Secret Strategy to Replace America as the Global Superpower

Author: Michael Pillsbury

Publisher: Henry Holt and Company

I have no passion for modern China; only for Chinese-American women.

That said, The Hundred-Year Marathon presents a compelling, but not conclusive, picture of a China whose policy is dictated by its hawks and whose intentions are ambiguous at best, threatening and hostile at worst. Michael Pillsbury, a longtime quasi-intelligence analyst who is fluent in Mandarin Chinese, seeks to expose at length the economic, military, and political goals of modern China.

Pillsbury suggests that the Chinese military and Politburo are controlled by figures who emphasize the ancient wisdom of China’s ‘Warring States’ period. This wisdom focuses on how to topple and replace a tyrannic hegemon with a more benign state actor. It is easy to see how the current United States can be seen as such a hegemon, and it is easy to see how these lessons might be used by the Chinese in ways that are not favorable to the U.S. Methods include the use and abuse of benign ‘concessions’ (a term I use tentatively because the larger power generally offers these voluntarily and without ulterior motives) to build strength before a final, deadly encounter. Pillsbury suggests that the United States has already made several such concessions, and that China is trying to avoid provoking the United States by keeping its military personnel small while building up its technological and financial infrastructure and capabilities in preparation for that fatal encounter.

However—-Pillsbury falls into an old trap wherein the Chinese are blessed with super-human wisdom, while the U.S. is filled with stupid white people. This is a bastardization of Rousseau’s famous concept of the ‘noble savage,’ and it carries with it a patronizing view that Asians–not just Chinese–make up for physical deformity (small size, unusual eye and facial structure) by having godly intelligence. I find it offensive both to them and to me as a brilliant–no, THE most brilliant–white man. I have met plenty of stupid Asians. Thus I have a very hard time conceding that they are smarter than we are, though I do believe that the Communist leadership can better spot talent than our leadership can. (I remain drastically underemployed.) This means that whatever advantages China does have stems from its political bearings rather than its racial, ethnic, or historical ones.

Moreover, Pillsbury admits that he failed to see this earlier, and presents himself as a recent convert to a position that should have been obvious much before. While this is one possible stance to take, it marks his judgment as somewhat unreliable, and leads to questions of how seriously we can take his interpretations of events.

The information is important to process, but it also must be parsed carefully and compared with other perspectives because I suspect it of being partially removed from its proper context. Nevertheless I would recommend this book as a secondary read alongside Kissinger’s On China and other books about the country such as China Road.


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