Questions about China

I’ve been spending a lot of time reading China Wakes by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. It’s an easy read–lots of stories about how they got the job done as New York Times correspondents and stories about how people are living in China. All of those stories are used to illustrate the point that all is not well in China. Interspersed with the stories is speculation about the end of the Communist Party, because of corruption, peasant uprisings, various other disasters. The book was written around the time of the Tiananmen Square massacre, certainly reason to think about these kinds of things. But it hasn’t happened yet, and the Party is probably as strong as ever. To give Kristof credit, he says it could take a very long time.

It’s a scary book to read. He makes the point, and I know this from my study of Chinese history, that sometimes dynasties have fallen because of natural disasters, such as that earthquake. He was actually talking about a previous earthquake. The book was published in 1994. My inner voice of gloom is speculating about what might happen if the Olympics are not a huge success. I was left with lots of questions about China’s stability, and also about Kristof.

In his most recent column about China he is much more optimistic and tempers his criticism in ways he did not do in the book. Have things improved, or is Kristof older and wiser?

My biggest question is why the book is on the reading list I got from CCS. If their concern is that we might all be starry-eyed idealists then a better and more recent book with more narrative and less prognostication is Confessions: An Innocent Life in Communist China by Kang Zhengguo. His terrifying picture of life in Communist China comes from his own experiences and reads less like propaganda, although I had to wonder about his naivete. So I am not going to China because I think I will change anything. I am going because I had a Chinese pen pal, Laura, when I was 13 or 14, who had to stop writing because of the Communist take-over. I am going because my interest in Japan constantly leads back to China. And more than anything, I am going, as I used to tell my mother, because it is there.

4 thoughts on “Questions about China

  1. I spent some time in SE Asia,…about 8 months. Never went to China, but I was with many Chinese people…The effects will be life altering, but in a good way. I think the thing that struck me most was the different way of thinking. The people that I met and the general way of thinking was not as an individual…more as a group. That is 180 degrees different from the way we think. You will find many different expressions of this…something as simple as walking down a sidewalk will be different…when you get back you will understand what I mean…if not already, since you have traveled so much. The Japanese still think in groups, but they value individual accomplishment more I think then the Chinese do that are still communist. It will be an informative trip, and when you get back to the States…the obscene consumption of our lifestyle will most likely be repulsive…it was to me.

  2. “Because it’s there” is a very valid reason to go anywhere, anytime. If all goes well, Hubby and I will make it to Peru and Thailand next year for just about the same reason, plus a family excursion to parts of India in 2010. I find I like travel much better at this age than when I had lots of responsibility like children and animals, and as long as health and money holds out, we’re up for it!

  3. Mage, I know about the book (not so new) and will probably read it after I get back. I’m reading enough terrifying stuff right now. The author, Jung Chang, wrote an earlier book, Wild Swans about her family and life in China, which became a best seller. Also, not a comfortable read. What bothers me about Kristoff’s book is not the terrible things he portrays, but his confidence, fifteen years ago, that these things will bring an end to the Communist regime in China. Of course, my 20-20 hindsight is wonderful.

  4. There was an interesting segment on the CBS Sunday Morning program that highlighted a new book that uncovers uncomfortable truths about Mao. It certainly was an uncomfortable listen.

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