Good Reads: US-China relations, 'Lean In,' ballet's whodunit, Ireland's Downton

This week's round-up of Good Reads includes a look at the complex Chinese-US relationship, a response to Sheryl Sandberg's 'Lean In,' an acid attack linked to the Bolshoi Ballet, and a memoir about an ancestral home in Ireland.

Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP/File
Bolshoi dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko is accused of plotting an acid attack.

The United States has two clear choices in dealing with China: Engage or isolate the world’s most populous nation. “You cannot have it both ways,” argues Lee Kuan Yew, prime minister of Singapore for more than three decades, who led his tiny Asian nation to Western-style prosperity despite being in the shadow of its giant communist neighbor. “You cannot say you will engage China on some issues and isolate her over others. You cannot mix your signals.”

Competition between the US and China is inevitable, but conflict is not, Mr. Lee argues in an excerpt from his new book in The Atlantic.

“This is not the Cold War. The Soviet Union was contesting with the United States for global supremacy. China is acting purely in its own national interests. It is not interested in changing the world.”

The complex Chinese-US relationship is underpinned by an essential truth: Each side needs the other.

“Chinese leaders know that U.S. military superiority is overwhelming and will remain so for the next few decades,” he writes. “[T]he Chinese do not want to clash with anyone – at least not for the next 15 to 20 years.”

The best outcome, he writes, would be for China and the US to arrive at “a new understanding that when they cannot cooperate, they will coexist and allow all countries in the Pacific to grow and thrive.”

Get back to feminism’s roots

Women have risen to prominence in business and academia, but don’t look for private enterprise to finish the job of ensuring equal rights between the sexes.
In a new book called “Lean In,” Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg says women are responsible for their own lack of progress in the workplace, notes Judith Shulevitz, writing in the New Republic. But the recent directive from Yahoo chief executive officer Marissa Mayer that bans telecommuting shows that women executives hold business success above feminist goals. “Yahoo employees now understand that, when unregulated market forces go head-to-head with policies that facilitate gender equality, the policies stand down,” Ms. Shulevitz writes. “It doesn’t matter who runs the company.... Competent female executives run better companies than incompetent male executives, but they’re no more likely to make universal day care the law of the land.”

Where lies progress in gender equality, which seemed to halt three decades ago with the defeat of the Equal Rights Amendment? It’s time to get back to changing laws, she says. “What we are not talking about in nearly enough detail, or agitating for with enough passion, are the government policies, such as mandatory paid maternity leave, that would truly equalize opportunity. We are still thinking individually, not collectively.”

The Bolshoi’s dark side

The bizarre acid-tossing attack on Sergei Yurevich Filin, the artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet, would seem to have come only from the fetid mind of a writer for a fictitious “CSI: Moscow.” Mr. Filin was severely injured when an assailant confronted him at the door of his Moscow apartment building late one evening and splashed sulfuric acid in his face.

Who did it? As David Remnick unravels the tale in The New Yorker, the suspect list grows and grows into a confusion worthy of Agatha Christie. Did an angry ballerina or danseur or, more likely, one of their wealthy oligarch patrons, order it? Or maybe a bitter rival eager to replace him?

Mr. Remnick takes his time to reveal the not altogether conclusive answer, first weaving his way through the history of the celebrated ballet company from its charter in 1776 under Catherine the Great. (Stalin loved the Bolshoi, but President Vladimir Putin is indifferent.)

Perhaps no result would satisfy a jaundiced Russian public. “Russians, in the contemporary version of their fatalism, see their country as a landscape of endless bespredel, lawlessness, a world devoid of order or justice or restraint...,” he says. “After witnessing so many phony trials – most recently of [the feminist rock band] Pussy Riot – the Russian public has developed a general distrust of the country’s legal system.”

Saving the Irish manor

“Downton Abbey” has nothing on the autobiographical tale of Selina Guinness and her sometime desperate efforts to hang on to her ancestral home in Ireland.

“Houses for the middle classes are just places to live in, but for the gentry they are evolving organisms, repositories of cherished memories, full of treasured knick-knacks and wrinkled old retainers, as much living subjects as physical sites,” writes Terry Eagleton in the Dublin Review of Books. “Individuals come and go, but the grange or manor house lives on, more like a transnational corporation than a bungalow.”

He continues: “Like a slightly dotty but much-loved relative, the house has its own quirky ways, its distinctive aura and personality. One almost expects to encounter it settled on one of its own sofas, granny glasses perched on its nose, knitting and crooning.... Such houses are more sacred texts than bricks and mortar.”

The home Ms. Guinness is trying to keep in the family is known as “The Crocodile” for the stuffed animal that greets visitors at the front door. Like Lady Mary Crawley in “Downton Abbey,” she confronts the problem of how to save her beloved estate without ruining its essence and character. All she can do is muddle on and hope for the best.

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