Summary and book reviews of The Chinese by Jasper Becker

The Chinese

By Jasper Becker

The Chinese
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  • Hardcover: Dec 2000,
    304 pages.
    Paperback: Feb 2002,
    493 pages.

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Book Summary

China's 1.25 billion people comprise nearly a quarter of the world's population. More people live in China than in North America, the European Union, and the former Soviet countries combined. But what do we really know about these millions of people? And what is the future of their frequently misunderstood, increasingly powerful country?

In The Chinese, Jasper Becker, China's premier resident western correspondent, strips the country of its myths and captures the Chinese as they really live. For nearly two decades Becker has lived in China, and reported from areas where western journalists are forbidden. His award-winning Hungry Ghosts, hailed for its brutal honesty in the west, was banned in China.

Here Becker is more candid still, reporting from all over the country: from the tiny, crowded homes of the swollen megalopolises of the southeast rim to a vast, secret network of thousands of defense bunkers in the northwest. He exposes Chinese society in layers from the bottom upward: from remote, illiterate peasants; to the rising classes of businessmen; to local despots; to the twenty grades of Party apparatchiks; to the dominant, comparatively small caste of party leaders who are often ignorant of the people they rule.

Becker lets the Chinese speak for themselves, in voices that are rich and moving. We meet such characters as Nian Guangjiu, an aspiring entrepreneur who sold melon seeds, and was arrested for "corruption," "misuse of public funds," and "hooliganism" over the course of his career, before finally being named in 1998 as one of ninety-six "Heroes of Reform"; and Li Xiaohua, the first man in China to buy a Ferrari, who was arrested for peddling watches before a hair-restoring potion made him a millionaire. He met his wife, the daughter of a senior general, when she took pity on him because he could not afford bus fare.

We also learn a great deal about the magnitude -- and the false face -- of China's vaunted economic boom. In the Guangdong province we meet Mrs. Qin, a member of the Zhuang people, just one of China's fifty-five identified ethnic minorities. Half of the children in her province are malnourished; ninety percent have chronic worm infections.

Institutionalized crime, Becker shows, is one result of this breathtaking poverty, and smuggling in China is big business; a sting in Hainan -- one of China's "special economic zones" -- revealed a single shadow company that had illegally imported 89,000 luxury cars and 3 million televisions. Another in Zhan Jiang involved the Party chief and 600 other officials. Becker reports from Shaashen, Mao's birthplace, where the failure of a plan to attract tourists forced residents and local police to invest in prostitution instead.

Long regarded apprehensively as our Next Great Enemy, Becker's China is both something very different and much greater than the stereotype suggests. The Chinese is the hidden story of the people of the world's largest nation. Not since Hedrick Smith's The Russians has a nation so poorly understood and so vital to the future been so fascinatingly laid bare.

Introduction
Through the Open Door

The Chinese state is probably the oldest functioning organization in the world, dating back more than 2,000 years. It is also possibly the most successful in history, controlling more people and more territory, and for longer periods, and exercising a tighter grip over its subjects than any other comparable government in the last two millennia.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century the People's Republic of China governs the destiny of close to 1.3 billion people, or 21.6 per cent of the world's population, making it the most populous country on earth. In describing the different groups who comprise this vast population, this book aims to provide a broad overview of the current state of China.

At the base of the social pyramid are the peasantry who constitute around a billion people, more than the combined populations of the United States of America and the European Union. The book starts with them, probably the largest ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews
Author Blurb Iris Chang, author of The Rape of Nanking
A fascinating, ambitious effort to explore each level of modern Chinese society.

Author Blurb Orville Schell, author of Mandate of Heaven and Virtual Tibet
Jasper Becker has written a fascinating book about today's China that does much to explain this great nation's contemporary dilemma. His fair but unflinching examination reveals a society that because it is caught between a revolutionary past and an uncertain future, is as unresolved and unable to see itself clearly as any other in the modern world.

Library Journal

This is a shrewd journalist's account of a precarious, transmogrifying China in the last years of the 20th century.

Publisher's Weekly

In this ambitious work, Becker, a veteran chronicler of China (Hungry Ghosts Mao's Secret Famine), explores the impact that a quarter-century of economic reform has had upon the Chinese people.... He is after contrast, not continuity, conundrums rather than convenient answers, and he succeeds admirably.

Kirkus Reviews

A remarkably thorough and up-to-date portrait of the Chinese state—probably the oldest functioning organization in the world—and the 1.3 billion people inhabiting it..... An authoritative, detailed, and non-intimidating treatment of a fascinating and often misunderstood subject. (maps and illustrations, not seen)

Reader Reviews
Peter C.

He really understand to China and allows us to find out very interesting facts, but on the other side, it's very hard to read this book. After all it's one of the best books I have already read about China.

Annali Galey

I have lived in China four and a half years and Jasper Becker's "The Chinese," gave me more insight into the reasons why things are the way they are here than any other source. The depth and immediacy of the work makes it easy to keep ...   Read More

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