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Inside the Red Mansion: On the Trail of China's Most Wanted Man Hardcover – July 18, 2007
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Top Customer Reviews
The use here of one specific corruption case is an excellent device to show the shadowy ambiguities of the striking political, social, and economic transitions that have been underway in the PRC over the past two decades.
The author gives a very good picture of the tension between the needs of modernization and the country's still highly authoritative government: it being no surprise that since Mao's death the stunning economic expansion in China has been propelled in no small part by massive official corruption.
Since it appears Mr. August is now working in the Middle East, I expect another enlightening (and even better written) book in the years ahead on that troubled area.
To those of us familiar with Fujian Province and the city of Xiamen, this is especially fascinating, as it shows an inside of Xiamen that academics, official visitors, and tourists never contact. To those unfamiliar with Xiamen it gives a very representative in-the-trenches picture of ways in which contemporary Chinese people creatively deploy entrepreneurial serendipity and governmental laissez faire to accrue wealth and construct social identities in a runaway economy.
August is a good storyteller, and travelers and China hands alike will recognize the way in which "inscrutable" encounters often eventually reveal themselves to be utterly rational - once you know "the other side of the story". Students of Mandarin, or those with some knowledge of the language will appreciate the way August brings to bear popular phrases and metaphors that connect to broader facets of Chinese culture.
As a cultural anthropologist and scholar of China, I have a few dissatisfactions. I wished for a more precise chronology of when August was in Beijing presumably doing what the Times was paying him to do, versus when he was in Xiamen. More problematic is the ambiguity of his facility with Chinese language.Read more ›
Instead the story of this book is a metaphor about how the Communist Chinese party has adopted to recent economic change and all the logical incongruities involved.
The main character is Lai Changxing, a self-made billionaire by means of smuggling and shady enterprises before the Chinese government went after him. Why did the government let his illegal activities go on for so long? Because modern China is not a country ruled by law (despite what they say). The government allows laws to be bent/broken so long as there are plenty of bribes all along the way. At any stage the government feels free to reign in the relaxed laws and kill off the people behind them as criminals. This way the Party never has to say they made any mistakes or they changed their minds. They turn a blind eye to illegalities so long as the bribes continue lubricating the breaks, and if it gets out of hand at any point, the perpetrator can be punished without regret.
The book is very readable and makes many of the seemingly illogical actions of the Chinese Government more understandable. There is also a very good feeling of place because the descriptions of the people and places are superb.
I read this book from the library and then bought a copy from Amazon because I wanted to own it. I can recommend it to anyone who has the slightest interest in Modern China.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Oliver August was a correspondent for the Times of London in China. Based in Beijing, he traveled the country and was drawn in to a story that would take seven years to fully... Read morePublished 17 months ago by A. Silverstone
Journalist Oliver August spent nearly seven years primarily in the southern port city of Xiamen, China tracking down the elusive, self-made oligarch, Lai "Fatty" Changxiang. Read morePublished on April 26, 2013 by James Denny
Too many people are still carrying around the image of China as a monolithic communist menace from the days of Mao, so this book helps people see how the Chinese are like people... Read morePublished on July 25, 2010 by Vincent J.
Oliver August's book is ostensibly a straight-forward narrative to try and follow the trail of the (in)famous Chinese Smuggler, Lai Changxing. Read morePublished on March 11, 2009 by Thom Mitchell
This is a meandering, though interesting, account of a journalist's observations of boom-time China and its now disgraced robber baron, Lai. Read morePublished on May 21, 2008 by CJA
Interesting book about the new China.I think it's possibly dated already the way the country is growing and changing. But never the less it's worth reading.Published on December 17, 2007 by Gary A. Friedman
I enjoyed reading this book because I am interested in learning about modern day China. The author, a young reporter for an English Newspaper goes to China on assignment. Read morePublished on September 8, 2007 by Corey Nahman