Here at our CUSEF blog, we share news, updates and stories about China and the United States – the two most important nations of the world. We provide more than a cursory glimpse of what’s going on between the two powers - here, we offer an in-depth look into their current state of affairs.

What We’re Reading

What to do during self-isolation? Top 10 Books and TV Shows to Explore the Most Important Bilateral Relationship

2020-04-16
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Quarantines have kept many of us inside and looking for additional activities to keep our minds occupied while we stay safe. What is better than reading? Now is a great time to learn more about the complex relationship between China and the United States beyond the latest headlines. With this in mind, here are our top recommendations for the books, movies, and television shows that provide an excellent foundation to understanding the world’s most important bilateral relationship.

Top 5 Books on China-U.S. Relations to Read Now

1. Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos

    Beijing correspondent for The New Yorker Evan Osnos works to expand the global perception of China, beyond the reports of decisions made by leadership and its actions on the world stage to the cities, villages, and people who make up the Chinese nation. Osnos surveys the biggest clashes impacting Chinese life, from questions on the role of the individual in a collective society to the influence of Western popular culture in a nationalist youth? Revealing these broader societal themes and questions for the soul of China, Osnos engages in compelling narrative with the stories of everyday people.

    2. To Change China: Western Advisers in China, by Jonathan D. Spence

      Originally published in 1980 from well-established China scholar Jonathan D. Spence, who spent decades as a Professor of History at Yale University, To Change China examines the desire of Western leaders, advisers, missionaries, doctors and others to reform China in their own image. While their Chinese counterparts were more than happy to learn about Western developments and take technical advice, they maintained a steadfast commitment to Chinese cultural principles and religious traditions. Themes of transformation and the tension between West and East prevail today, and Spence’s evaluation maintains truth into the new millennium.

      3. U.S- China Relations: Perilous Past, Uncertain Present, by By Robert G. Sutter

        In this extremely comprehensive survey of the Sino-American relationship, Robert Sutter, Professor of Practice of International Affairs at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, illustrates the highly complex history of the two countries. His analysis shows that despite underlying mutual suspicions of each other, China and the U.S. have made active choices to cooperate when pragmatism calls for such collaboration. The volume serves a vital foundation for anyone seeking to understand the long and entangled history of China’s relationship with the U.S. throughout numerous changes in leadership, technology, industry, and politics on both sides.

        4. ‘A Contest for Supremacy: China, America, and the Struggle for Mastery in Asia,’ by Aaron L. Friedberg

          Aaron Friedberg, Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University, offers a more positive view of the China-U.S. relationship, positing arenas and theories on ways the countries can cooperate rather than clash. Check out CUSEF community’s thoughts and impressions on this book in our past What Are We Reading article.

          5. The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom: America and China, 1776 to the Present, by John Pomfret

            Award-winning long time Washington Post correspondent John Pomfret draws on his extensive in country experience to create this expansive historical overview of the China-U.S. relationship. Exploring the two countries’ shared history, Pomfret explores the events that have had the most profound influence on the path this bilateral interaction has taken, from the Boxer Rebellion and the influx of Western missionaries into China to ascendancy of Chairman Mao to the participation of both nations in World War II. His ability to cultivate a flowing narrative out of highly significant historical events produces a distinctive understanding of the China-U.S. relationship to assess modern times upon.

            Top 5 Shows and Movies on China-U.S. Relations to Watch Now

            While stay-at-home regulations provide time to explore new intellectual paths, we all still need a mental break and diving into television and movies are a perfect way to escape! Jump into new worlds with these five shows and movies on the China-U.S. relationship, Chinese history, and more.

            1. American Factory

              Produced by Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company Higher Ground Productions, the documentary American Factory explores China-U.S. relations through the lens of Chinese company Fuyao’s locations in Moraine, Ohio, and Fuqing, China. Navigating the murky waters of different cultures and work ethics, American Factory explains what the American dream means to both American and Chinese citizens, providing a behind-the-scenes look at the workers behind the machines. New York Magazine described the documentary as “a great, expansive, deeply humanist work, angry but empathetic to its core. It gestures toward the end of the working world we know – and to the rise of the machines." Adopting a human approach to a big business, American Factory is available on Netflix today. Learn more about our thoughts and impressions of this documentary in our past What We Are Reading article.

              2. Story of Yanxi Palace

                Set in the Qing dynasty during the Emperor Qianlong’s reign, Story of Yanxi Palace follows life in the royal palace and the women that become entangled in love, power dynamics, and dynastic politics. It follows the life of Wei Yingluo, an intelligent and bold maid who enters the Forbidden City to uncover the truth of her sister’s death. From there, Wei gets involved in palace intrigue as she wins the love of the Emperor and attains the highest position in the palace. Full of gripping storylines, breathtaking acting, and exquisite costuming and sets, Story of Yanxi Palace enraptured viewers almost immediately. Debuting in August of 2018 on streaming service iQiyi to more than 70 markets worldwide, the series streamed more than 15 billion times. American audiences can watch Story of Yanxi Palace on Amazon Prime as well as its spinoff series Yanxi Palace: Princess Adventure on Netflix available now.

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                3. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

                A award-winning movie directed by Ang Lee about a young Chinese warrior steals a sword from a famed swordsman and then escapes into a world of romantic adventure with a mysterious man in the frontier of the nation. The movie has won over 40 awards, and was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, receiving the most nominations ever for a non-English language film at the time, until 2018's Roma tied this record. This legendary film is available to stream now on Netflix.

                The Grandmaster (2013) - IMDb

                4. The Grandmaster

                Set in the 1930s against the backdrop of the war-torn Republic after Second Sino-Japanese War, The Grandmaster is an action packed martial arts drama film inspired by the heroic kung fu master Ip Man, the legend who trained Bruce Lee. During a time of chaos and conflict, this film tells the story of Ip Man fighting for his place as the Wudang Boxing martial arts grandmaster from northern China Gong Yutian declares Ma San as heir in the North after Gong announces his retirement. This doesn’t sit well with various masters who decide to retaliate by challenging Gong, ultimately thwarted by Ma San. When Ip represents the South and challenges Gong to a philosophical and physical battle, Gong has no choice but to partake. With a looming friendship between the two adversaries on the rise after a time of tumultuous agitation, Ip Man establishes himself as a prominent martial arts teacher. This harrowing yet breathtaking tale is an exploration of opposing forces that cohesively illustrates a portrait worthy of the glory of martial arts during this era. Now available on Netflix, viewers can be transported to a time and place full of adventure and novel romanticism.

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                  5. Air Strike

                    Opening during the drought confusion and violence of World War II, Air Strike (also known as The Bombing and Unbreakable Spirit) shares the story of an American pilot sent to Chongqing to train Chinese pilots as the city faces a barrage of bombing from the invading Japanese. Starring Liu Ye, Bruce Willis, Song Seung-heon and William Chan, the film illustrates the power of cooperation in the face of great trials. This 2018 film is available to stream on Amazon Prime as well as Hulu with subscriptions.

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