Thursday, January 29, 2009

On the Road

If you listen to NPR at all, you have probably heard the distinctive voice of Rob Gifford. He is now the London bureau chief, but for many years he was the Beijing correspondent. Before he left he wrote China Road, a travelogue and study of China based on a trip along China's Route 312. This road, which Gifford calls China's Route 66 begins in Shanghai, moves into the central farm country, to the historic city of Xi'an, and then through the desert to Central Asia.

There are many books about China, but this is an excellent introduction to country, as well as a great read for those more familiar with the Middle Kingdom. It's Gifford himself that makes the book most worth reading. His writing is lively, witty and self-deprecating. He also takes a balanced view of China, being generally sympathetic, but not afraid to point out flaws.

A main theme of the book is how the rise of China is affecting the daily lives of ordinary Chinese. Gifford is mostly positive about this, noting the incredible range of opportunity now available to the people. In the far West, he stumbles upon a local Amway salesman and is swept up in one of their sales meetings. There are plenty of sad stories as well, including the AIDS villages he encounters where government ignorance and cruelty has led to high incidence of AIDS with little if any treatment.

One of the principal questions about China is whether it can manage its transition to a more developed country or whether internal tensions will tear it apart. Gifford is optimistic, but he points to the death of traditional Chinese culture, tensions in the west and rural unrest as potential pitfalls for China.

China is one of the places (which include India, Iran, Russia...) that Americans need to know better. This book is an easy and entertaining way to learn more.


Anonymous said...

Totally agree - I read China Road while on my first trip to China a year ago and it was full of "yes!" and "you're so right!" and "aha" sort of moments for me while reading. A great book for those interested in knowing more about contemporary China. He's just so right on.

Tripp said...

My China experiences enriched the read as well. That isn't to say that someone who has never and will never go to China won't get anything out of it. You just get a bit more.