Thursday, May 26, 2011
Tide Players: The Movers and Shakers of a Rising China
There are other books that illustrate contemporary China through a series of portraits: John Pomfret's Chinese Lessons, in which the author tracks the amazing paths of his Chinese classmates, and Zachary Mexico's China Underground, which profiles a series of scenesters and fringe characters. Jianying Zha's Tide Players is slightly different in that she doesn't profile ordinary people, but those she says in the introduction are "at the forefront of the tide of reform, they might be called the movers and shakers of a rising China."
Dividing the book into sections on businessmen and intellectuals, Zha, who's Chinese but lives part-time in the States and works as a correspondent for the New Yorker, offers six portraits with the perspectives of the person (or people) profiled as well as their allies and detractors. We meet the man who once ran the largest electronics-store chain in China and who now wants to fix his mother's Cultural Revolution–tarnished record. There's also the couple (one local and one returnee, a Chinese person who comes back after living or going to school overseas) behind the hyper-modern—or monstrous, depending on your perspective—SOHO office and apartment complexes.
The second half of Tide Players deals with academics at Beida (Peking University, the most important university in China), writers, and dissidents—including the author's own brother who spent nine years locked up as a political prisoner.
Unlike a lot of China books, this one goes well beyond just describing the author's personal experiences with the country, offering in-depth analysis of different aspects of contemporary life. Reading about these extraordinary figures, you find how much people fall in and out of favor according to the current political winds—or the tides of the book's title—and the compromises and negotiations people engage in while seeking out futures without precedent in China.
Labels: China Books Posted by JC