johnwsaunders

Country Driving, Peter Hessler

In Book reviews on May 27, 2011 at 3:14 am

Hessler has lived in China for years, many of them as the Beijing correspondent for the New Yorker. His book is split into three sections: an exploration of northern China (by car), to see the various ‘Great Walls’ (there isn’t a single wall – many small ones were built over hundreds of years); an account of his life in a village just north of Beijing; and a description of life in the boom-cities of the south. It’s worth persevering through the first section, which contains quite a lot of the wall’s history, and tells of the effects of the rapid urbanisation on Chinese villages (basically: they’re emptying out). It’s interesting, but pales in comparison with the second and third sections. In part two, his life becomes increasingly entwined with those of the villagers he lives among. There are moving episodes, particularly regarding a family he gets very close to (I won’t spoil them by detailing any), but there is also a great deal of insight into the way China is changing, and the particularities of living with the legacy of communism. I didn’t think the final part would interest me as much, but some of the statistics are simply jaw-dropping. The genesis of the factory cities in the south is such that many end up producing a single good – be it playground equipment, buttons or (as in the case of a factory he follows from its fruition) components of bras. Having disparaged the beginning of the book somewhat, I should say that the accounts of Chinese drivers in it are absolutely hilarious. A truly eye-opening book.

Fun fact: one third of all the socks manufactured in the world are made in a single city in southern China

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  1. Am sharing your fun fact!
    littleowl

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