What do the Chinese want that we Americans take for granted?
And why is China far more interested in Bill Rehnquist than Bill Gates?
The evidence is in from Amazon China: Herman "Obe" Obermayer's biography of the late U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist has been a bestseller in China for months now, easily eclipsing sales of books about Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, or even Billy Crystal.
Which raises a fascinating question: Why would a country with practically no respect for the rule of law be so intrigued by the life and times of a conservative American jurist?
Maybe the next aspect of manufacturing capacity China intends to borrow from the United States is the ability to manufacture legitimate legal decisions. It sounds farfetched, because China's attitude toward the West has always been one of utter disrespect for our ideas, religions, and shiny baubles.
But you never know. Maybe a book about Rehnquist scratches a deep itch on the part of China's massive, 300-million-member middle class, for the one thing they cannot buy in their homeland--a day in court and a fair trial.
Or maybe it's the fact that Obermayer covers, in delicious detail, the Paula Jones scandal and Rehnquist's role as chief judge in the impeachment trial of the aforementioned Bill Clinton. To the extent that Chinese leaders have sex scandals involving underlings and cigars, they certainly don't make the front page of the People's Daily.
A third possibility is that the Chinese are notorious lovers of gambling, as was Bill Rehnquist. Not to the degree that former education secretary and social scourge Bill Bennett was, dropping tons of dollars at the craps tables while urging Americans to be more "moral." Rehnquist's gambling was much more limited and subtle than that.
Rehnquist and the author, who were personal friends for decades, engaged in smaller bets--a dollar here, a dollar there--typically on the outcomes of presidential elections. Obermayer's book details the gambling ties between the two men. At any rate, this is the reason the author believes the book is so popular behind the Bamboo Curtain.
Obermayer himself is an intriguing link to history. A robust 88 years of age, Obermayer is the last living participant in and witness to the Nuremberg Trials, in which the leadership of the Nazi party was hanged after the conclusion of World War II.
Obermayer is not letting age get in the way of a good story. He's currently working on a book about the Nuremberg hangman, John C. Woods, a Midwestern lowlife and scoundrel with a long arrest record, who found a home for himself in the U.S. Army as the go-to guy for hangings.
The book, "Ghoul of the Gallows," recounts Woods's botching of the hangings, so as to make the Nazi leaders hang longer and suffer more. Intriguingly, Woods himself was murdered under mysterious and never-fully-explained circumstances on a South Pacific island a few years after the war. His name means little in the United States, but he is still a subject of huge discussion and debate in Germany. Proof of Woods's relevancy to the modern reader can be found in the fact that his Wikipedia page is the subject of an ongoing battle among German and American editors, who keep wiping out one version of events regarding the hangings and replacing them with another.
Obermayer suspects that this new book will be an even bigger hit among the Chinese, because no country on earth enjoys a good execution as much as they do.