A bunch of stories about China that personify the country’s rapid development into the modern age. The author Peter Hessler is an American journalist for the New Yorker magazine, who speaks Chinese fluently and spent a lot of time in China. There are various story arcs and the book switches back and forth between them, including:
- Polat, an Uighur middleman living in Beijing, decides to emigrate to the US and seek political assylum and settles in Washington DC.
- Willy, a migrant worker from Sichuan who studied English under Hessler and became an English teacher himself.
- Emily, a strong-minded migrant worker who works in a factory outside of Shenzhen.
- The discovery of oracle bones, excavations by archeologists, and investigating the mysterious suicide of scholar Chen Mengjia during the Cultural Revolution.
Together, the stories paint a picture of what China was like during the early 2000s, as it was in the process of rapidly transforming into a modern economy. This was during the middle of the explosive growth curve, but a lot has happened since then, so China today is very different. The stories were a bit too long-winded for my taste, I think the same information could’ve been conveyed more concisely like in the book “China’s Economy”. Initially I stopped reading after 100 pages, but found the audiobook more tolerable.