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China Underground Paperback – March 1, 2009

4.6 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Collected through intimate encounters over an impressive range of travels, Mexico's menagerie of voices tell the unique story of contemporary China's seismic social shifts from the point of view of the marginalized and disaffected. A musician and writer, Mexico is a remarkably eloquent and perceptive participant-observer. Focusing on and dissecting broader cultural, political and economic issues in episodic chapters, he puts faces and names to the staggering statistics. We learn about the government-estimated 5 to 10 million active homosexuals, through the story of a closeted graphic designer. We meet an infamous photojournalist who chronicles China's mining disasters, corruption, car accidents and environmental degradation. We encounter bohemians—80-year-old women selling marijuana on the side of busy streets and slackers whose indolence is a protest against the frenzied consumerism that surrounds them. One such self-proclaimed social parasite opened a bar in a trendy area of Beijing to sell drinks at cost and only to his friends. The overall effect is a seamless portrait of a complex modern society in which an ancient culture persists in spite of lightning-speed economic changes. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

Through encounters with sundry artists, musicians, students, bar owners, gangsters, prostitutes, and slackers, Mexico assembles a compelling portrait of China�s contemporary youth culture and the limits of Communist control. The book�s subjects include a twenty-seven-year-old self-taught disaster photographer from the coal country in Shenyang; a twenty-nine-year-old mobster in Qingdao; a twenty-two-year-old Hendrixian Uighur guitar player making a splash in Shanghai; a Beijing university student who wishes that the system encouraged less rote memorization and more original thought; and an investigative journalist who no longer publishes himself, instead leading Western reporters to controversial stories. Mexico, a musician and poet who was a student in Beijing and subsequently managed a night club, has assumed a pseudonym to avoid trouble with the Chinese authorities. While occasionally anxious about his youth and his lack of credentials, he is a good listener and knows how to tell a provocative and illuminating story.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Soft Skull Press; Original edition (March 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1593762232
  • ISBN-13: 978-1593762230
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.9 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,130,026 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Lynda Lippin VINE VOICE on February 21, 2009
Format: Paperback
Having recently read and reviewed Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven, in which two women travel to Communist China in the '80s, I was fascinated to read Zachary Mexico's riveting portraits of "underground" artists, musicians, and intellectuals in the newer, more open China of the 21st century. I actually had Zachary Mexico's father as a guest Pilates client for several days here at Parrot Cay. I always ask guests about the books they are reading while on holiday, and he actually gave me his copy of the book just before he left so that I could read it for review.

Having lived in Kunming, China from 2002-2004, Mexico found that he really missed China. As he says, "it is hard to imagine a more exciting place than China." With a growing economy and more personal creative freedom, people at every level of Chinese society are changing and growing in ways nobody would have imagined 10 or 20 years ago. So he decided to return and write "about the crazy people I'd met in China and the even crazier people they'd introduced me to."

China Underground takes us from the mountains of Dali, where green marijuana grows freely and is smoked freely by just about everybody, to Linfen, the most polluted city in the world, where everyone wears masks to filter the obvious particles out of the air. He visits with prostitutes (known as chickens), with minority Uighur musicians, with filmmakers, writers, homosexuals (rabbits), and academics.

I must admit that I was at first shocked by the amount of drug use among the younger Chinese. Pot, black hashish, ketamine, cocaine... many are stoned all day every day.
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Format: Paperback
>> I just finished Zachary Mexico's book. I'm amazed by his
>> eloquent story telling, the clarity of his observations and his
>> proficiency in the subtleties of the Chinese language. I was struck by his
>> bravery to travel alone throughout China following leads, exploring the dicey
>> underbelly of an enormous, complex country and exposing his findings.
>
>> The writings show an avid interest in people's stories, a gift of
>> conversation, a true non-judgemental ( my spell checker is telling me that is not a word) compassion for how people deal with their lot in life.
>>
>> The book was captivating because of the fascinating, real people interviewed and because of Zachary's youthful yet wise reactions to his surroundings. In addition to character descriptions and life situations he fleshed out his studies by writing about their living spaces, food choices, clothing fit and interestingly, brand names of their cigarettes as if that too reflected upon one's character. He sees China as a worldly, yet objective, young outsider, free to express what is often not sanctioned in China. His inclusion of historical contexts was extremely helpful.
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Format: Paperback
Zachary Mexico has written a series of 16 character studies of people that we rarely hear about in newspapers, magazines or books. These are not the uber entrepreneurs or super-students, but are all an intriguing lot. Mexico in his introduction says that he wrote this book because it was the one he wanted to read, but no one had written. Mexico demonstrates himself to be a gifted story teller who engages the reader.

His subjects range widely from a Uighur rock guitarist to a role playing gamers to Nigerian drug dealers. Mexico dives beneath the tourist and business worlds and shows a China that is fascinating. Some stories, such as the journalist who broke the blood bank HIV crisis, do not give us hope as he laments the dearth of investigative journalism. Others, like the chapter on the thriving punk rock scene in Wuhan, show us a lively culture that is thriving.

This is a fantastic read, and will introduce you to a China that does not get enough exposure.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Maybe the best book on what life can be like in China. Like Mr. Mexico, I lived in China for several years and couldn't find anything to read that told the story of the actual Chinese people and experience. Even though this book is a decade old, it is still true.
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This book arrived just at the right time. Having resided in China for three months, I was just getting to grips with the 'lay of the land' and wanted answers to questions about what really goes on under the surface of this bewildering, fantastic country. China Underground holds no punches, it is seen through the eyes of a writer who 'got down amongst it all' and gained the confidence of a handful of characters who were prepared to speak out. It was an easy, racy read and made was totally believable - in fact, I crossed paths with one of the musicians Mexico talks about in one of his later chapters. It is a fascinating, revealing exploration into the lives of some colourful characters caught up in contemporary China, a country struggling to work out what it is and where it is going. I am surprised it made it throught customs but very glad it did.
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Great look at the other side of China - - artists and others who share their story about doing just what they want, even in a repressive society. It turns out that around the world, people will be people. They cannot always be ruled by government -- even in China.
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