How can one catch today’s China in words? It is a country in constant motion, defying the laws of economic gravity, reaching out insistently around the world for raw materials to fuel its growth, eating up its land and its past, enticing outsiders to help it achieve new levels of wealth and power, opening up class fissures that were thought to be closed, testing the limits of rapid urban growth while giving its people chances for self-exploration and intellectual transformation they have not known for over half a century.
Fortunately, Peter Hessler has not been dismayed by the challenge. Instead, after teaching English and freelancing as a journalist, he decided to give up the world of deadlines and throw himself into this boisterous hurly-burly of noise and images as the Beijing correspondent for The New Yorker. Serenely confident, he has a marvelous sense of the intonations and gestures that give life to the moment; he knows when to join in the action and when simply to wait for things to happen. Today’s China could have been made for him. If you don’t believe me, dip into the chapters in “Oracle Bones” called “Starch” and “Wonton Western,” which focus on the worlds of industry in Manchuria and filmmaking on the edge of the Tarim Basin. You will be hooked.