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China Road: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Power

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 21, 2008

    Best recent audiobook on modern China

    Some of the most compelling nonfiction audiobooks produced for American listeners today are about China. They tend to fit into two categories -- the personal memoir, such as Peter Hessler's 'River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze,' and the fact-driven, such as Ted Fishman's 'China Inc.' Both of these are excellent works filled with fascinating nuggets for anyone with an interest in China. But one audiobook that outdoes them both is Rob Gifford's 'China Road' (Blackstone, 9 CDs,2007), which combines the best aspects of memoir and news reporting. I liked it so much that I listened to it twice, a few months apart. Before writing the book, Gifford had been visiting China for 20 years and working there for six years as a journalist. Planning to leave China for Europe, he decided to make one long last journey, a two-month trip of 3000 miles from east to west along China's route 312, the 'people's road.' He did it the slow way, by hitchhiking on trucks, taking local trains, and sometimes hiring a driver. With his fluent Mandarin and his in-depth knowledge of Chinese laws, customs, history and geography, he becomes an imbedded observer who reports accurately and thoroughly, but always with a touch of humor. As he quickly points out, China is not a country but an empire. It encompasses one-fifth of humanity, with a multitude of ethnic groups and languages. Because the setting changes so frequently throughout the journey, you could listen to the CDs in any order without losing much. Gifford says there's hardly anything about China that isn't interesting, then proves it. He meets enthusiastic and successful Amway sales reps in the middle of the Gobi Desert. He sees a truck broken down by the side of the road, but his driver keeps going because of 'the first rule in China: don't get involved.' Horse races are popular but betting is illegal. No problem: you can place your money on a 'guess.' Cell phone salesmen do a thriving business all along the old Silk Road route because there's perfect reception, and everyone wants a phone. China, says Gifford, is 30 years behind the U.S. militarily it spends $50 billion a year compared to $400 billion. But far more significant, he says, is the speedy change that is shaking up Chinese society. Up to 200 million Chinese have left their home towns in search of a better life -- the largest migration in history. The greatest danger to China's future, he believes, is pollution: of the world's 20 most polluted cities, 16 are in China. There's a chronic water shortage, and many of China's rivers are dangerously contaminated. Other negatives: Chinese women have the highest suicide rate in the world it's the leading cause of death for Chinese women age 18 to 34. There is an AIDS crisis, especially in Hunan province, stemming from the extraction and sale of blood. But the authorities simply try to cover it up. The whole society, according to Gifford, is shot through with corruption, which comes from local officials, not big politicians. For example, trucks are often stopped for speeding, but the fines can range widely, so that police officers can pocket most of the money without needing to report it. The author says that China cannot be both an empire and a democracy. That might explain some of the contradictions that he confronts by questioning his subjects to the point of discomfort. He interviews a woman who performs abortions on other women who are eight months pregnant, and asks how she can reconcile her role as a mother and a health professional by killing fully formed babies. He interviews a young Tibetan whose parents forced him to grow up speaking only Mandarin at home in order to improve his job prospects. He now teaches Chinese to Tibetans, and the author probes to find how the man feels about aiding the conquerors. Near the end of his journey, Gifford lands in Urumchi, a very modern, high-tech capital, which is farther from the ocean than any other city in the world. A

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  • Posted May 6, 2010

    more from this reviewer


    This is one of the best books I've read in recent years and truly a great read for anyone with the slightest interest in seeing inside other cultures. I never had much of an interest in China and knew little about the history, culture, or people before reading this book, but it completely changed my view and attention to China-related news stories. Not only is it a collection of compelling human stories, but the writing is captivating, I could not put this book down. It invites you in with the smart, witty writing style and keeps you interested with the vivid imagery, dynamic interviews, and thought provoking conversation between the writer and his readers as he makes sense of his experiences.

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    Posted August 9, 2011

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