GIFT Reads — August 2018

One of the pillars of GIFT's unique learning methodology is Knowledge (alongside Communication and Empathy). To encourage this in our participants, we regularly recommend articles, books and other resources through our daily bulletins in Module One.

These provide a different perspective on business, economics, politics and history than one would typically get from a traditional business education or from the mainstream media. We also try to emphasize books with a focus on Asia, or books from Asian authors.

Our participants, both during and after our programmes, say that they greatly value these recommendations. In many cases, they encouraged the beginning or renewal of a personal reading habit, and some have even been inspired to start reading libraries within their offices and teams. 

In our view, an essential aspect of effective leadership is a broad awareness of the world and how it is changing. Thus, we are pleased to announce a new initiative:

GIFT Reads

In this list, shared quarterly, we suggest a few books that may not feature in your usual book review sections but which we believe will enrich your understanding of the world and the Asia region.

These books will cover a vast array of topics, many of which are integral parts of our core curriculum during our leadership programmes. Many will focus on Asia, be it the region's history, governments, economies or cultures. Some may focus on individual people and places. Others might make grand sweeping statements. We hope that they will inspire you to further challenge yourself to go beyond conventional thinking and deepen your understanding of the wider world. 

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The Cold War: A World History

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By Odd Arne Westad
Basic Books

In The Cold War: A World History, Odd Arne Westad illuminates the broader global implications of the ideological conflict between the United States and the former Soviet Union. The Cold War shaped the development of nations, economies and institutions far beyond Europe or North America, or the places we read about in history books (i.e. Korea or Vietnam). Despite remaining a purely ideological conflict between the West and the USSR, it was a very real conflict for the global majority that lived in the rest of the world. 

The Cold War shaped much of Asia's current political and economic systems, and so, despite being "over" for almost three decades, the divisions and structures it created continue to affect our lives in Asia today. Both Asia's and the world's major powers all learned different lessons from the outcome of the Cold War, which influences the decisions they make today. 

The Cold War takes a broad view of this important period in world history, investigating how communities around the world were forced to choose sides. Westad's volume will appeal to both to the well-read student of history and the neophyte alike.

 

Dreamers: How Young Indians Are Changing Their World

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By Snighda Poonam
Harvard University Press

Dreamers attempts to take its audience into the minds of India's young population: ambitious, thirsty and competitive. India produces 10 million college graduates every year — of which only 400,000 are employed.

Poonam tries to understand the aspirations of young Indians. While ambitious, the lack of quality education and a shrinking job market has limited their opportunities. This draws students into other organisations: student politics, Hinduvta groups, clickbait journalism, and others.

Dreamers admittedly deals with only a subset of India by only talking to youths that speak Hindi. But even so, this easy read will be an eye-opener for an international audience that may have heard the line that "India is the youngest country on the planet."

 

Fixing Inequality in Hong Kong

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By Yue-chim Richard Wong
Hong Kong University Press

Wong presents an honest portrays of the whats and why of inequality in Hong Kong. "Asia's World City" is generally portrayed as one of the world's most unequal places but many of us — including those of us that live here — do not have a first-hand understanding of how the less privileged in Hong Kong live.

Fixing Inequality is a clear and concise take on the many factors behind the widening gap between Hong Kong people's aspirations and the reality they face. It also explores the complexities of managing the more porous border between Hong Kong and Mainland China, and the struggles of maintaining the city's free-market economy.  

 

Liberalism Disavowed: Communitarianism and State Capitalism in Singapore

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By Beng Huat Chua
Cornell University Press


Despite its rather intimidating title, Liberalism Disavowed is a surprisingly readable book that challenges how we think about governments and governance. 

Too often, we think that governments exist in two categories: "neoliberal", multi-party, meritocratic democracies; and authoritarian states that demand discipline and manage their economies. But Singapore does not fit into either of these categories: people wrongly apply both "neoliberal" and "authoritarian" to the city-state, despite the fact that it is neither. 

Chua argues that Singapore is something else: a city-state that prizes the community and its interests, managing the economy in order to provide good public services. Meritocracy was pursued due to its benefits for the community. Chua admits that this model might only be appropriate to Singapore and difficult to replicate anywhere else. But Liberalism Disavowed reminds us that reality does not fit cleanly into binary categories.

 

Out of China: How the Chinese Ended the Era of Western Domination

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By Robert Bickers
Penguin

People often express concern about "Chinese nationalism": a worry that nationalistic Chinese would encourage the Chinese government to be more aggressive in challenging other countries. Even mild forms of this — such as Chinese students abroad expressing more pride in their country — spark worries among Western commentators.

Out of China takes an honest and balanced view of where Chinese nationalism comes from, noting that even Chinese nationalist "myths" are rooted in very historical realities. Bickers argues that 20th Century Chinese felt "let down" by a Western-dominated system that refused to treat China as an equal: for example, despite being one of the victorious powers in the First World War, China was largely excluded from the post-war order. Today's China believes that it has broken out of this disadvantageous system on its own, without help from others.

Observers, especially from the West, sometimes ask why China is bent on creating its own system when it has benefited so much from the current one. Out of China gives us an answer: China believes it has succeeded despite this system, not because of it. 

 

 

The World in Guangzhou: Africans and Other Foreigners in South China's Global Marketplace

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By Gordon Mathews, Linessa Dan Lin and Yang Yang
University of Chicago Press

The World in Guangzhou studies the lives of African and Arab traders in Guangzhou, sending Chinese goods back to their home countries. These traders had little, if anything, in common with the massive Chinese majority: no common language, religion or culture. Yet these traders made a home for themselves in one of China's first global cities.

We often think of globalization as affecting the "high-end": the large multinational, or the high-speed internet connection, or the world-famous popstar. But Mathews and his co-authors remind us that "low-end" globalization exists as well: ordinary people in a foreign country trying to make a living for themselves and their families back home. 

The World in Guangzhou is a thoughtful account of a place that has offered the fertile conditions of low-end trade for Africans and Arabs, and the people that operate and live in this milieu. It allows the reader to understand these traders from the inside out – not just as foreigners speaking a foreign language who are often overlooked or even avoided in a busy metropolis, but as real people with families back home, religious beliefs, and romantic relationships.