The informed American investor or export-oriented corporate executive now knows more about the doings in Malaysia, Indonesia, and South Korea than he or she imagined possible a year ago. It's all due to the "Asian Contagion" or "Asian Flu," those snappy oversimplifications used to describe the various currency and macroeconomic woes afflicting these heretofore fast-growing Asian economies. What the problems of Asian nations ultimately mean for American businesses and financial markets remains to be seen. What is certain is that in an ever more tightly bound global economy (for better times and downturns), it's important to know what's going on on the other side of the globe.

So far, for the most part, China has stayed out of the doom and gloom headlines. It is, of course, a nation whose sheer size makes it of a different order. Its currency is still not convertible on world markets, its government is still officially Communist with a capital C, and yet this massive nation (population 1.3 billion and growing) has the most realistic chance of reordering the world's economic hierarchy in the 21st century. Big Dragon: China's Future: What It Means for Business, the Economy and the Global Order, by Daniel Burstein and Arne de Keijzer is everything you want to know about the place where such a large percentage of the world's people reside. It's also a well-informed, comprehensive, moderate, and cautiously optimistic treatise on the implications of China's growing economic liberalization and power.

The wild swings in even informed American views toward China bespeak a nation still essentially a mystery to us. From euphoria at the first signs of economic opening in China (a billion-plus drinkers of Coca-Cola), the pendulum has swung to a decidedly dark view of U.S.

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