Battle Lines

In the Washington Post, Andrew Nathan reviews “Out of Mao’s Shadow: The Struggle for the Soul of a New China,” by Philip Pan, the former Post Beijing bureau chief:

Part of the book’s poignancy is that Pan has joined the chain of transmission: He earned the documentary filmmaker’s trust and promised to tell his story, just as the filmmaker had earned Zhang Yuanxun’s trust and promised to preserve Lin Zhao’s legacy of pain and endurance. Out of Mao’s Shadow is a work of reporting, but it is also a work of conscience.

From 2001 to 2007, Pan was The Washington Post’s bureau chief in Beijing. The 10 or so intersecting stories he tells here are gritty and real. This is not a big-theme book about the “true” China but a concrete, closely observed encounter with particular people, places and events. He puts the reader on a stool in the small shop of laid-off steel worker Yao Fuxin as Yao and some colleagues plot a doomed demonstration against corrupt local officials in the rust-belt city of Liaoyang. We run through cornfields with blind activist Chen Guangcheng as he escapes from government thugs in his home village, hoping to carry a petition for justice all the way to Beijing. Other protagonists include a land developer, an army doctor, a local party secretary, a crusading editor and a passel of feuding “rights protection” lawyers (as they call themselves). Pan seems to have been all over each incident, watching before, during and after it happened, getting long interviews with participants who initially did not want to talk, copying quotes from secret documents, hiding notes from a trial in his socks.

Read also an excerpt of the book, via the Washington Post.

Update: Read reviews of the book from the New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor.

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