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“Wealth and Power”—talking with Orville Schell

Monday, July 29th, 2013
Orville Schell at Kellogg

Orville Schell at Kellogg

I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Orville Schell, Arthur Ross Director at the Center on U.S.-China Relations of Asia Society, during his recent trip to Chicago. He was in town to talk about his new book Wealth and Power ()—China’s long march to the twenty-first century, co-written with John Delury.

After his talk to a group of Kellogg’s alumni at Northwestern University, he signed a copy of his book for me and chatted with me about his view on China’s extraordinary rise from the “sick men of Asia” not that long ago.

“Westerners often misinterpret what China wants,” he said. “China doesn’t want Western democracy, but to be strong.”

Orville looked to China’s history to illustrate his point that since the Opium War, China was weak for centuries. It was humiliated and beaten (“落后” “挨打”), and has therefore associated power with wealth.

DSC01343Over the last 30 years, China has developed rapidly and accumulated extraordinary amount of wealth and a wealthy class of people. He addressed in his book how China has emerged from the weak to the strong, and moving forward, why China needs to go global and “integrates itself to the rest of the world.”

He addressed the problems China is facing, including corruption, environmental degradation, disparity between the rich and the poor, health care and welfare, but hailed China’s unprecedented development.

One thing he particularly pointed out, however, was the “victim mentality.”

“It’s a very deep and very powerful force,” he said. He cautioned that China should be careful not to overuse it. Nationalism over conflicts with other nations can make China sacrifice recent development, he said.

I look forward to reading Wealth and Power, which examines the lives of eleven important people who made great contributions in creating the China today.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning feature-length documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset.

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