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The Chinese Paperback – April 25, 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
In this ambitious work, Becker, a veteran chronicler of China (Hungry Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine), explores the impact that a quarter-century of economic reform has had upon the Chinese people. In a wise attempt to avoid generalizationsDall too easy to use when writing of a population of 1.25 billion peopleDBecker reports on how the various sectors of Chinese society have fared. He is after contrast, not continuity, conundrums rather than convenient answers, and he succeeds admirably. While entrepreneurs in China's coastal cities grow wealthy, he explains, millions of peasants in the hinterland remain mired in the deepest poverty. While privileged Communist Party members parlay their positions into lucrative business deals, countless numbers of laid-off state industrial workers fear for the future. Farming communities battle, usually unsuccessfully, against corrupt local officials who are taxing them into ruin; intellectuals battle with themselves over whether to ally with the regime or defy it. And over it all preside the elite few at the very top of the Party, aloof, out of touch, and determined to remain in power by any means necessary. Becker's stories, and the wealth of data and historical references he also provides, support his contention that, while the market may have made China richer, it has not necessarily made it a fairer or more just society; there may be more losers than winners in China's race toward wealth. (Dec. 8)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
As most everyone knows, China has the largest population in the world and one of the most ancient cultures. Becker, a journalist currently living in Beijing and the author of Hungry Ghosts: Mao's Secret Famine (1997), which was banned by the Chinese government, delves into the intricacies of the Chinese people. He breaks down the population of 1.25 billion people by using social, ethnic, and economic methods. Beginning with the illiterate peasants who live along the borders of Vietnam, he introduces the reader to people of various statuses from all over that massive country. Becker has spent 20 years touring through China and meeting people in order to understand this vast and mysterious land. His vignettes on government types, shamans, and businessmen join to present a revealing look at China over time. The Chinese is a captivating and enlightening read for anyone interested in Asian or cultural studies. Julia Glynn
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
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Through a combination of journalistic anecdotes and well-documented research, Becker makes convincing points in each of his descriptions.
All in all, a definite go-to book for all scholars in China-related topics or persons interested in one of the oldest, most successful cultures and states in the world.
In THE CHINESE, Becker dissects the how and why of the modern "people's Republic," which is of course, not a republic, and does little good for the people.
I will preface my review by noting that I speak Mandarin, and lived 17 years in East Asia, including in the PRC and Taiwan, and that I had many interactions with PRC officials at many levels and in many regions.
First, I am in almost complete agreement with Becker's descriptions of the PRC, a nation where every data point is suspect and virtually every official a crook.
Second, I think Becker is dead-on about so many of the problems that face China. Imminent or extant crises in health care, environment, clean governance, banking, and foreign policy. We in the West somehow look at a crooked, demagogic cadre of self-aggrandizing time-servers and preceive a patient and wise authoritarian caretaker government. Becker exposes the truth.
I cannot believe that some reviewers, who apparently have never spent any significant time in China, have stood up for "achievements" of Chairman Mao. For instance, one claimed agricultural triumphs under the Great Helmsman, without explaining how millions starved to death simultaneously, and cannibalism resurfaced.
Please ignore these sort of critics and DO read this book.
It is a breathe of fresh air for those who believe the PRC is a coming superpower, responsible member of the world community, or well-governed.
I've just finished living in China and have found that many of the things that he says are correct. For example: He mentions that the cities are among the most prosperous places and that the rich people live there as they always have. The further one goes from the city centers, the more obvious the real picture is.
He makes some very prescient observations about the affinity of the Chinese for tyrants and their love of all-controlling, authoritarian regimes. If the CCP collapsed tomorrow, the citizenry wouldn't know what to do with itself if history is any guide.
Everyone also seems to think that China is going to take over the world in the near future. After reading the details of the book, one wonders: "Is this really consistent with what you would expect from such a situation as he describes?"
One or two things that are missing that were covered in later publications--by different authors: What happens in the case where there is a large peasantry that feels that their taxes are being extracted to support the wealthy? What happens when there is a huge excess of men to women in a particular country? At the beginning of the book, he said that he was not going to offer a book about political ideology. But it would have been nice if he had drawn just a few more parallels between what happened in other places under similar circumstances. (This story has been told many times before; Only the players are different.)
Actually, there are too many good observations to even address within the word limit of the reviews. One other that is too good to resist noting is the Chinese concept of "race," as it was taught many years ago by Sun Yat Sen (Chinese and White are superior and all others are inferior, thus the Chinese race must regenerate itself or risk extinction) that is still very much believed in Taiwan and colors certain notions/ statements that one hears in every day life there as well as in the Mainland.
Lastly, he could have shaved about 75 pages off the book and it would not have been diminished in any way. When dealing with such large amounts of factual information as he put in the book, shorter is always better. In any case, there is very little that I disagree with in this book and most people (especially Sinophiles and other romantics) would do very well to read this book and understand what it demonstrates.
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