File Size: 1499 KB
Print Length: 561 pages
Publisher: HarperCollins e-books (January 21, 2010)
Publication Date: February 9, 2010
The book is divided into three distinct, not related sections: "The Wall", "The Village", and "The Factory". Each of these areas could be read independently. It is like about three books or stories in one.
In "The Wall" he describes his activities driving the entire length of the Great Wall, from the ocean in the East to deep into Xinjiang and Qinghai Provinces. This constitutes several individual trips in rented automobiles. Along the way this individual visits many small towns along the ancient Excellent Wall. Like Gifford, Hessler speaks Chinese having been a long-term resident of Beijing as a correspondent for The New Yorker. His ability to speak Chinese allows him to interact on a close personal level with many regular Chinese people who live off the beaten monitor. Many of the individuals and towns that this individual describes in this segment of the book seem to have been remaining behind the rapid modernization and development in the more populated areas of Tiongkok. In fact , in almost every small town he runs into he rarely finds young people. They have all left the small towns to find work in the cities. This work ranges from doing work in production facilities to beauty parlors. In these forgotten small towns he only finds the actual old and the very young.
In the next section of the guide, Hessler finds a tiny village on the Northern outskirts of Beijing and rents a farmers house. This individual befriends a family in the village and recounts his rather intimate connections with these over the course of several years. This individual discusses the development and modernization efforts in this small village (less than 300 individuals) and how that impacts this family and their neighbors. Among other things, he discusses the Chinese education system, the world of small , private businesses in China, the health care system, Chinese tourism, real estate and development, and so on. Via Hessler's eye for details you really gets to know this peasant family, their joys, struggles, and triumphs.
The final section describes Hessler's many trips to Zhejiang Province and the factory towns springing upward along a new highway. He meets two ambitious men who open a factory that makes the tiny fabric covered metallic rings used in brassieres. He describes in details how these men start and run their business, from building and outfitting the factory to employing employees. Along the way we meet a migrant family that work in the factory. There are huge amounts of migrant workers in our factory regions of China's East. Hessler helps the reader understand how this huge migration of folks is impacting China, on the bigger scale as well as at the individual level.
I enjoyed this book for the personal portrayals of people living on the edges of society--particularly peasants and migrant staff. It is not easy to possess access to these classes of folks in Tiongkok. Undoubtedly, Hessler would never have been able to approach and get close to these individuals without a noise understanding of Chinese behavior culture and good facility with the language. I admire him for being able to do that.
I think this book is a lot better that his previous book, Oracle Bones. I felt that book came and lacked focus. Although interesting in parts, I found it more difficult to follow the large number of overlapping and sometimes not related stories., Hessler's most recent tome takes the Excellent Wall as its theme. He spends the first section of the book covering much of the extent of the Wall along nearby roads by rented car. In the second part, he shacks up in a village outside Beijing to have an extended stay with a peasant community hemmed in by rapid social change. Inside the 3rd part, he hangs out in a tiny factory in Zhejiang Province that makes bra parts in order to observe the mindset of startup entrepreneurs. Hessler has many virtues as an author. Instead of pronouncing generalities he tends to concentrate on what is immediately at hand, on the particular, and the cliché depend celebrating the Communist Party's achievements and condemning its excesses and outrages is kept to a minimal. He is usually engaging and at the same time very thorough, sampling deeply into all facets of each new topic that comes his way, saved by much homework (with I suppose financial backing for his research needs from Harper, his heavyweight publisher). On the subject of amusingly inaccurate Chinese road maps, for instance, this individual switches into engrossing detail on a brief history of Western and Chinese cartography - something a lesser writer would shortage the curiosity or endurance to pursue. And there is always something totally new to learn, like the "strange stones" (soft rocks that have been carved into various objects) market Hessler unwittingly chances upon. The shops are all scams, set upward to entrap customers into believing they are at fault for destroying the rocks and forcing them to pay for them.
This attention to details also the actual book a long one (a smaller publishing firm could have hacked off substantial passages to reduce printing costs), and there are more than a few longueurs, notably in the somewhat static and uneventful middle section in Sancha village. Page after web page of the minutiae of several peasant families' lives may be fresh for the average reader unfamiliar with the country, but as a longtime China citizen my own reading experience is obviously different and admittedly more jaded. I found myself putting the book down a lot, until the pace selected back up in the 3rd part of the book, with the attention focused on the pros and cons of the bra elements business - though Hessler's notorious lack of sensual interest in Chinese women should forewarn readers not to expect much discussion of the object bras are designed for., I lived in China for one 5 years while I taught English. This is the second Peter Hessler book I have read. The first, River City, was obviously a considerable emotional experience that reminded me of my own experience and the great Chinese students I knew. Country Generating was no less captivating and took me to villages and people similar to those which I visited and met during my China travels. Each page was obviously a human being interest story or session in China's vast location or fascinating culture. Peter knows how to invite on the trip and make it personal. Completing the book was like saying goodby to a close friend., Wonderful. A great tour of China on a curious man's budget. Eye-opening to say the least. Eye-popping even. You will understand that China is worth the trip. But I'd stay off the beaten path, like Mr. Hessler did. Good stuff. I lost my first copy and replaced it to continue to keep it on my shelf for another read.
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