If the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and Russia were not enough to get Marx, Engels and Lenin spinning in their graves, then what is happening in China today most certainly will. Mandate of Heaven, Orville Schell's fascinating portrait of contemporary Chinese society, presents a strangely comic picture of a country in the midst of economic reforms that makes the United States seem almost socialist in comparison.
Drawing upon personal experiences and interviews with dissidents, rock stars and exiles, Schell carefully reconstructs the events surrounding the pro-democracy demonstration and massacre at Tiananmen Square in 1989. He shows how, in the clamp-down that followed, China's leaders, especially Deng Xiaoping, lured people away from politics with the promise of material goods. Schell's writing is consistently vivid and intelligent, and his conclusions are important. The current economic frenzy has made it impossible for China to integrate environmental, cultural and moral issues, leaving Schell to wonder if another revolution is imminent, triggered this time by economics rather than politics. (Simon & Schuster, $25)