In The Nation, Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom reviews three recent books about China: Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China’s Past and Present by Peter Hessler; China Candid: The People on the People’s Republic by Sang Ye; Geremie R. Barm√© and Miriam Lang, eds.; and One China, Many Paths by Chaohua Wang, ed.:
What kinds of conclusions do these books point toward, beyond providing ample evidence that China is far more diverse than the country we often see portrayed in our newspapers and on television? First of all, that it makes little sense to treat the PRC as an “evil empire” or “awakening giant.” While the significance of state repression and the economic boom cannot be doubted, we need to pay attention to such things as the resurgence of intense attachment to localities (the nation, but also much smaller communities), the dramatic increase in forms of mobility (the ability of people to swtich from job to job and city to city) and the divergent lifestyles of people belonging to different groups (defined by generation and ethnicity as well as region, class and religion).
The books are also a reminder that we need to free ourselves from the sense, so palpable when the Berlin wall fell, that China’s Communist Party is living on borrowed time. It will, of course, eventually lose power. No regime lasts forever. But fifteen years have passed since the Soviet Union collapsed, and the PRC is still run by a Communist Party (albeit one that accepts capitalists into its ranks). If the Party’s days have been “numbered” since 1989, the integer is not a small one. Hence one starting point for critical analysis should be asking how exactly the Party has retained control, even during an era when there is considerable popular discontent. [Full text]