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This book describes the lives of a half dussin or so individuals in modern China. Collectively, these individuals embody the changes that have occurred in China since they transformed their economy to become more market oriented.
China’s transformation is almost unbelievable. I recently heard on the radio that in the past couple of decades more than one hundred thousand people have exited poverty, every day!!! Yes, that's right >100.000 a day. As will become clear, if you read this book, much of this progress has happened in China. In 1978, the average annual income in China was 200 dollars; today it is 6000 dollars, a 3000 percent increase. These are just numbers. But behind the numbers there is marked improvement in people's lives. More children go to school; sick people can afford to go to the doctor, and pay for the medicine that is prescribed; people buy and read more books; people can buy computers and, through them, communicate with the rest of the world; people can afford to go on holiday to see, and be influenced by, the rest of the world.
This is the bigger picture. Yet, this book is more about the Chinese individuals and how their fates have changed within the bigger picture. We get to meet the rich and famous English teacher who teaches his students to scream out English phrases (this is supposed to result in better learning). We also meet the woman who created one of the first online dating communities in China which now has an unbelievable number of followers. We also meet less fortunate individuals who have fought injustices in the system and, as a result, were ‘handled’ by the state. There are also some humorous stories in the book. The title of this review is actually a quote from a man who got a visit from the Chinese authorities. The man had clearly been watching too many American action movies and had forgotten that Chinese authorities are less concerned with rights of individuals. The book does not tell how the story ends, but I suspect that if enough people begin to think like this man Chinese authorities will be forced to begin to respect individual rights.
The feeling I got when reading the book was that people in China are becoming more like people in the west. When your life is not a constant struggle for survival, then maybe you begin to focus more on meeting the right one, how to earn more money, and making a name for yourself. As demonstrated by the man who wanted to see the warrant, people also become less inclined to accept poor working conditions. In that sense I think that economic growth is empowering the Chinese people. One remaining difference, between China and the west, seems to be that people have kept their faith in socialism. People seem to believe in a strong state in China, and after reading this book I personally became more agnostic on this point. Would China have seen the sane development if they had not been guided be a strong state?
In summary, this is a book which I am sure will give its readers food for thought. I did however feel that the book could have been a bit shorter. Even though I have a strong interest in China and its development I still occasionally caught myself fading away while I was reading. Still a good read though.
13 of 13 people found this review helpful
After living in China for four years I didn't think I would learn much from this book, boy was I wrong!
As a journalist with insider access and as a long-time China hand, Evan Osnos is uniquely qualified to share his insights on what is fast becoming the world's most dynamic country. In this work, he provides striking insights from personal interviews conducted with Chinese from all walks of life, from movers and shakers in China, like Hu Shuli, Han Han, Ai Weiwei and Li Yang, to more obscure individuals, such as nationalistic doctoral students, corrupt officials and aspiring poets moonlightling as street sweepers. At the same time, Osnos brings the listener up to date on most of the major events in China over the past 5 years and makes a solid analysis of why the country has thus far not complied with Western expectations of Democratic reform.
For me, learning more about well-known figures like Han Han and AI Weiwei was a treat. In China, one could frequently hear conversations about Ai's conviction or Han's latest post, but rarely could I find a local who knew much else about the disidents themselves. I had no idea that Ai became a disident after the government corruption revealed by the Sichuan earthquake I was also pleased to be introduced to some I had never heard about on campus such as the editor of Caixin Hu Shuli. Now I know one more source of Chinese news when I don't feel like reading propaganda.
It was also nice to get caught up on current events, I used to watch Chinese news every night, but only had a partial picture of what was actually going on due to censorship. Osnos filled me in on all the details I missed from the Tibet protests in 2007 to the fall of Bo Xilai last year.
The Narrator for most of the book (which is not Osnos!) is a wonderful reader, but I can only give him 4 stars due to his unreliable Mandarin pronunciation. True, he's lightyears beyond most narrators on Audible when pronouncing Chinese propper nouns but he tended to botch the phrases throughout the book. He also didn't do well with some of the names of major characters, such as his annoying habit of pronouncing Han Han as Haan Haan. This could have been overlooked if only Han wasn't mentioned multiple times every chapter. In short, if you are a fluent Mandarin speaker this narrator's occasional mistakes may bother you a little, but otherwise he was a fantastic choice for this production.
16 of 18 people found this review helpful