Monday, November 10, 2008

China Road by Rob Gifford

China has been called 'the sleeping giant'. If so, the giant is awakening, and it is unclear what effect its' stirring will have on the rest of the world. Rob Gifford, an NPR correspondent, spent six years living in China. When he decided to leave, he spent two months traveling across China on Road 312. China Road is the story of that journey, and his predictions about how the future will unfold there.

The biggest change visually is the major push for industrialization. China has 49 cities with more than a million people. Thousands of people every year are moving from the farms to the cities to work in factories. These factory jobs have long hours and wretched working conditions, but workers can make more in a month than a year's work on their farm would bring. The massive number of factories and the low worker wages means that more and more Western jobs are moving to China. Pollution is extremely high, and recent events have brought into question the safety of such products.

More interesting to Gifford is a less visible change. The Communist takeover and the subsequent Cultural Revolution wrenched the Chinese people from their moral backgrounds. Confuscism and Buddism were targeted, moral codes were scoffed at and their followers were persecuted. History was seen not as a treasure, but as a burden. Gifford sees that this has resulted in a China adrift without a moral code, and it is unclear how society will exist and emerge without a common societial background of agreed upon values. He also sees possible problems arising from the various provinces where minorities are the dominant population. Those minorities are often resentful of the Chinese rule, and that resentment could easily turn into revolution and attempts to break away. That is the major contradiction in China. In order to retain the tight control on its' people, China must employ recessive tactics. Such tactics don't fit well with the need for the technology required for growth. How this dicotomy will play out over the coming years is China's main challenge.

I enjoyed this book. It was interesting to read about the different areas of China, and the people who lived in each. From the macro level, it was fascinating to see how governmental action has changed the average life and common beliefs so completely. One example of this would be the 'one child' policy and the lengths to which the government will go to insure this policy. There were also lots of interesting facts; I would never have guessed that a large portion of the world's ketchup comes from Chinese tomatoes. I'm glad I read this one, as China will be a major player on the world scene in the coming decades.

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