The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
Considering how alien Chinese culture seems to many Western eyes, coherently condensing 4,000 years of its complex past into a 160-page book may seem like an unlikely prospect, particularly when the country's recent complex economic and political upheavals are factored in.
The pleasant surprise about Gordon Kerr's book is how wrong he manages to prove this assumption.
By providing a succinct commentary on the elements vital to understanding Chinese culture, one example being the influence of the hierarchical philosophy of Confucius, Kerr creates an entertaining and informative history book which never gets lost in detail while also never seeming to sacrifice it.
The book makes clear that China's apparently miraculous economic rise from its troubled recent past is a repeating theme throughout its history.
Over the centuries China has constantly oscillated between chaotic, bloody dips and dazzlingly civilised peaks as dynasties rise and fall and the country is continually fragmented and unified.
Kerr regards the growing prosperity brought about by China's current market-driven economy as a double edged sword which has moved 170 million peasants out of poverty but has led to exploitation of the poor, economic inequality, authoritarianism and corruption.
Western anxiety has grown as China begins to hold more weight in international affairs but, ironically, Kerr reveals that historically China has had far more to fear from the West.
One Qing official called the nature of Western countries "dark, dangerous and inscrutable" and in light of shameful chapters in British imperialism such as the opium wars it's hard to dispute that description.
The West's fear of China may be valid but much of it may also stem from a lack of cultural understanding and Kerr's book exposes a history similar to our own. The people of China have revolted on countless occasions to ensure their survival and fair treatment, just as ours have.
With the perspective provided by excellent books like this, we may perhaps learn to understand, rather than simply fear, this fascinating country.