Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip

Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip

by Peter Hessler


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One of The Economist's Best Books of the Year

From the bestselling author of Oracle Bones and River Town comes the final book in his award-winning trilogy on the human side of the economic revolution in China.

Peter Hessler, whom the Wall Street Journal calls "one of the Western world's most thoughtful writers on modern China," deftly illuminates the vast, shifting landscape of a traditionally rural nation that, having once built walls against foreigners, is now building roads and factory towns that look to the outside world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061804106
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 02/08/2011
Series: P. S. Series
Pages: 438
Sales rank: 226,789
Product dimensions: 7.82(w) x 5.28(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Peter Hessler is a staff writer at The New Yorker, where he served as the Beijing correspondent from 2000 to 2007, and is also a contributing writer for National Geographic. He is the author of River Town, which won the Kiriyama Prize; Oracle Bones, which was a finalist for the National Book Award; and, most recently, Country Driving. He won the 2008 National Magazine Award for excellence in reporting, and he was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2011. He lives in Cairo.


Beijing, China

Date of Birth:

June 14, 1968

Place of Birth:

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


Princeton University, Creative Writing and English, 1992; Oxford University, English Language and Literature, 1994

What People are Saying About This

Jonathan Yardley

“Exceptionally moving. . . . Hilarious. . . . An absolutely terrific book, at once highly entertaining and deeply instructive. . . . Country Driving is a wonderful book about China that also happens to be a terrific book about the human race.

Dwight Garner

“Delightful. . . . Epic. . . . The reporting in Country Driving is impressive in its scope. . . . Hessler delivers eloquent disquisitions on everything from how to buy a used car in China to the history of the Mongol conquest.”

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Country Driving 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 61 reviews.
Vermillion_Bear More than 1 year ago
I've read all of Peter Hessler's books and this one is by far my favorite. I wish I was able to do like Hessler and drive through China, encountering newly paved highways and dirt roads leading to long forgotten places. There is a small detour where the author makes a home in a village for a number of months, but he continues his journey on the road to encounter ordinary Chinese citizens trying to make a living in a continuously changing China. There are corrupt Chinese officials, honest village leaders, artists, simple country folk, factory workers, and entrepreneurs both in factory towns and small villages. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in learning about China and how its citizens and a foreigner may perceive the progress of China in different ways.
janet52 More than 1 year ago
Highly humorous, informative, and entertaining, there are three stories in this book. Each offers glimpses into the evolving world of the Chinese. The 1st is really about driving in the country and exploring the Great Wall. 2nd is a story about a country family as they learn to adapt to their rapidly changing/urbanizing world. 3rd is a story about one factory and the people whose livelyhoods depend on it. This is very well written and my favorite Peter Hessler book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I've read three of Peter Hessler's books on China, and this one was my favorite. It gave a great feel for what things were like during the major economic boom in China and how it impacted different parts of the population in both good and bad ways. Mr. Hessler does a good job of building relationships with people in China and gaining valuable insights. The book was written in an entertaining fashion as well, and made it an easy read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A wonderful book about travel and the state of China today.
BrianGriffith More than 1 year ago
I think Hessler is the best kind of journalist, and the opposite of a sensationalist. He just hangs out with local people and conveys their struggles as they try to completely change things. He must be a friendly guy to be allowed such access to people's family and business lives. They let him listen in as they conduct job interviews, discipline kids, handle tax inspectors, plan factories from the ground up, or have dinner with their families. Part of the book concerns road trips. But most of it is about getting to know groups of ordinary people. Their intense pragmatism and determination to improvise give Hessler his opening to learn. We see how development zones are funded, how factories are thrown together, how police buy shares in speed traps, or how traveling circus shows operate outside the law. Mostly, Hessler shows us common people taking huge risks, flying by the seats of their pants, making mistakes that are both dangerous and hilarious, clawing their way to a slightly better day. --author of A Galaxy of Immortal Women: The Yin Side of Chinese Civilization
SylviaMD More than 1 year ago
Our book group tackled this, some of us read only one or two of the three sections. I liked the human portraits best, scattered among the three sections. some of book group laughed at the driving parts in the first section while others were appalled. The village and factory sections, 2 and 3, drew me in the most, especially when children or adolescents were in focus. Very well written, lends itself to selection among the three parts depending on your own personal priorities.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lots of first hand info about an important and, for many of us Americans, obscure part of the world. Well researched and enjoyably written.
bezoar44 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the author's third book, after River Town and Oracle Bones. The three parts of the book describe two driving tours in northern China, life in a rural village north of Beijing, and life in a new factory zone in Zhejiang province, in southern China. One of Hessler's gifts as a writer is his ability to keep the focus on the people he meets, on their worldviews and the rhythms of their lives, without artificially removing himself from the story. The book is never sentimental, but it is both poignant and funny, and offers a nuanced and intimate view of two rapidly evolving Chinese communities (in the second and third sections). Hessler consistently provides context, so the book works both on the level of character sketches -- it is amazing how his interlocutors open up to him -- and as a broader explanation of how many different aspects of Chinese society work: transportation, education, religion, medicine, employment, local government, family. The superb craft of the book shows up in the way that no detail is wasted: information that Hessler shares in passing turns out to be central to the way a conversation or conflict plays out later, and when you get there, you feel the story emotionally, as well as understanding it intellectually. Hessler respects Chinese society without overlooking its flaws; he seasons his judgments with humility and a wry sense of humor. Reading this made me wish I could find such a cogent and revealing book about my own community.
jcbrunner on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Peter Hessler's New Yorker articles are one of the highlights of this stellar magazine. He is one of few keen anthropological observers who reveal other people's lives without stripping them of humanity. Even hostile characters such as the "shitkicker" in this book's second part are depicted with charm so that even the "shitkicker" might approve of his own portrait. Hessler practices deep immersion reporting, living with and among the peoples in the periphery, rural China. His Missouri roots probably help in understanding country life as does his perfect command of Chinese.This book is divided into three parts. The first part "The wall" collects Hessler's efforts to get a Chinese driver license, rent a car and travel along the Great Wall (a red herring). The most interesting and hilarious elements are what the Chinese authorities consider important driving test topics. The Austrian driver license test, for instance, is obsessed with mechanics. Its ideal candidate would be an engineer who relishes in dis- and re-assemblying his car. The Chinese focus on civilizing candidate behavior: "If another motorist stops you to ask directions, you should a) not tell him. b) reply patiently and accurately. c) tell him the wrong way." Hessler's account of the first generation of Chinese mass car ownership is a form of time travel. The short history of the Chinese automotive industry, based on a true communist interpretation of property rights to achieve capitalist means, warrants a fuller exposé.Part II is the heart of the book. Hessler and a friend rent a country village home, and Hessler is adopted into a rural Chinese family as "Uncle Monster". He shares their ups and downs, their scares, frustrations and successes. One of the little marvels is how the Communist Party extends its tentacles into the last nooks and crannies of China, but in contrast to the destructive influence in most African nations, they seek to provide their people with services big and small. Corruption reigns, but at least more than a trickle falls down to the poor and the old. Roads, electricity, medicine, education - the Chinese government is slowly but surely reaching out to these destitute rural areas.Part III in contrast shows the greed of both capitalists (family entrepreneurs) and local kingpins. Hessler observes the rise and fall of a fringe bra ring factory. We meet the factory owners and managers, its skilled mechanics and the factory girls as well as the people who provide the infrastructure and services around the factory. I am a bit puzzled why he didn't integrate the presence of his wife Leslie Chang and her research about the same topic into the text. Did she travel with him on these journeys or not? Her non-existence during a reporting period covering multiple years is strange, a bit Victorian where the spousal unit's help was assumed but unacknowledged. After three books about China, we can look forward to his adventures in the American fly-over country.
lucas20 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I thought this book was ok, but the first part is definitely the weakest. I almost put it down and missed out on the strongest parts of the book.
Faradaydon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Great insights from a shrewd observer
flyear on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This might be the best non-fiction book I read this year. After so many years living in China and investigating Chinese people, Peter Hessler obviously knows China much better than most of us, domestic Chinese. To me, he's also much more "friendly" than other western authors when encounters China nowaday issues. As most foreign journalists, he looked through the surface of society and pointed out the real problems. But most of time, he gave much understanding or "tolerance" to these issues because of his long stay in China and his profound knowledge of Chinese history, which makes his story and feelings in this book are very true even for a Chinese. In most of his story, Peter stayed very objectively and in a distance showing a good professional quality as a journalist. However, in some cases he reveals his emotions. One of them is when he sent his landlord's kid, Wei Jia, to the hospital. Another is when he talk with a painter girl in "art village". I like these personal moments here and there in this book very much. I also like his dry humor in his commence. And as a Chinese, it's fun to see how he translated some Chinese term into English, like "length of the dragon, from beginning to end", only a Chinese knows what it means, lol.
nemoman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Hessler, a long-term China resident , takes driving trips throughout China, while observing both peasant life ( which is being transformed) and the new entrepreneurs who are transforming city life. His writing is excellent - William Least Heat Moon meets John Mcphee., with a softened Paul Theroux. This is travel writing at its best.
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