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Fantastic book! I have now read 3 "popular" style books written about China, this is by far the best one. (The others were Dreaming in Chinese by Fallows- pretty good from a linguistics angle and Lost on Planet China by Troost - not horrible, but there's a lot better out there i'm sure). The author of this book, Yu Hua, is a prominent Chinese author who lives in Beijing/Hangzhou. He has written a number of very successful Chinese novels. This one, is ten essays on various parts of China. It is banned in China. It's a chinese person being honest about the Chinese government and history. This is a gold mine.
Reading and Copycat were probably my two favorite essays. In the first, he talks about growing up in the cultural revolution and scrounging around for books to read. He almost never gets past Mao's little red book and Lu Xun's various writings. He does find some books that have been extremely battered, often only partially surviving to feed his literary desires.
In copycat he talks about the chinese mentality behind making copycat products. A couple of times he has had fictitious interviews of him published and he will confront a reporter on it and the reporter simply says "it's copycat" and in the chinese culture, that justifies it.
There are many good things for him to say about China as well. This book was well written, engaging and so helpful for someone living in China to understand it a bit more. I enthusiastically recommend it to anyone looking for a thoughtful, accessible, historical and contemporary read on modern China.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
This is a good overview of China and I often think of some of the words when I am walking around here now. The one that most comes to mind is disparity. I see the construction workers and cleaners who lead a hard scrabble life working all day and often sharing squalid dormitories at night, where they play cards and sit around simply constructed tables with stools playing cards or eating. This is in sharp contrast to the so called middle class guy that now has a car, an apartment, built by one of the hard working migrants mentioned above and all the trapping of success we have come to associate with a decent life.In all fairness, I live near Shanghai, so my perspective is perhaps a bit too optimistic. There are plenty of other provinces where this disparity is greater and the infrastructure isn't as modern as where I am based. Yu Hua gives us a great overview in this brief account of a large and complex country that is hurtling towards modernity. I especially liked his account of how he learned to be a dentist. A profession he took up after high school. He describes in poignant detail how a veteran dentist showed him how to extract teeth and then had him copycat the process after having only watched two times. He was nervous and couldn't even look the patient in the eye. The book is by no means an exhaustive work, but it was entertaining and provoked some better understanding of a place I have been in for nearly 5 years. Chinese people are not usually so forthcoming and so it can be a place that seems barbarous and even bizarre at times. It is always interesting and many times shocking and surprising to simply observe life in China.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful