There are so many books on modern China that it’s hard to know where to begin. My method? Grabbing whatever and praying it’s a good starting point. Not exactly the most logical of options, but effective.
I picked up three books on modern China recently and thought I’d share with you some of my thoughts.
Paper Tiger: Inside the Real China is a collection of short essays by Xu Zhiyuan. This isn’t something you want to read if you want a neutral account of China (…although, I suppose even the most neutral of authors have their biases). Either way, it is very negative.
By the time you’ve hit the halfway point, the essays do become a little bit repetitive. However, I do think he has some real gems in this collection. My favourite of the book was the essay in which he talks about his father. Unlike most of his other essays, it brought in a personal element that was nice to see.
I also picked up Chinese Whispers: Why Everything You’ve Heard About China Is Wrong by Ben Chu. Despite its title, this book mostly focuses on Chinese people rather than China as a nation. It’s probably a neat read if the only exposure you’ve ever had to Chinese culture is of the stereotypical kind. If you truly believe that all Chinese folk are good at maths and have impeccable work ethic, then this might be the book for you.
I mean, I find it hard to believe that people in this day and age are so oblivious to the failings of stereotyping. That being said, Ben Chu does present some pretty unique arguments to counter some of the most popular stereotypes.
The last book I want to talk about is One Child: The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment by Mei Fong. Of all three, this is my favourite by far.
I remember some of the teachers and students from my high school discussing the One Child Policy and thinking only one thing: do any of these people have any idea what they’re talking about? All they seemed to do was screech It’s bad! It’s bad! over and over again. It wasn’t very convincing, to say the least.
This book? This was what I’d call convincing. Mei Fong looks at the policy from many different angles. It’s also a very emotional account, taking the stories of a number of people and villages. Beautifully written and an informative read, I’d recommend this to anyone who is even vaguely interested in the policy and how it transformed people’s lives.