|China Road: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Power
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Route 312 is the Chinese Route 66. It flows three thousand miles from east to west, passing through the factory towns of the coastal areas, through the rural heart of China, then up into the Gobi Desert, where it merges with the Old Silk Road. The highway witnesses every part of the social and economic revolution that is turning China upside down.
In this utterly surprising and deeply personal book, acclaimed National Public Radio reporter Rob Gifford, a fluent Mandarin speaker, takes the dramatic journey along Route 312 from its start in the boomtown of Shanghai to its end on the border with Kazakhstan. Gifford reveals the rich mosaic of modern Chinese life in all its contradictions, as he poses the crucial questions that all of us are asking about China: Will it really be the next global superpower? Is it as solid and as powerful as it looks from the outside? And who are the ordinary Chinese people, to whom the twenty-first century is supposed to belong?
Gifford is not alone on his journey. The largest migration in human history is taking place along highways such as Route 312, as tens of millions of people leave their homes in search of work. He sees signs of the booming urban economy everywhere, but he also uncovers many of the country’s frailties, and some of the deep-seated problems that could derail China’s rise.
The whole compelling adventure is told through the cast of colorful characters Gifford meets: garrulous talk-show hosts and ambitious yuppies, impoverished peasants and tragic prostitutes, cell-phone salesmen, AIDS patients, and Tibetan monks. He rides with members of a Shanghai jeep club, hitchhikes across the Gobi desert, and sings karaoke with migrant workers at truck stops along the way.
As he recounts his travels along Route 312, Rob Gifford gives a face to what has historically, for Westerners, been a faceless country and breathes life into a nation that is so often reduced to economic statistics. Finally, he sounds a warning that all is not well in the Chinese heartlands, that serious problems lie ahead, and that the future of the West has become inextricably linked with the fate of 1.3 billion Chinese people.
“Informative, delightful, and powerfully moving . . . Rob Gifford’s acute powers of observation, his sense of humor and adventure, and his determination to explore the wrenching dilemmas of China’s explosive development open readers’ eyes and reward their minds.”
–Robert A. Kapp, president, U.S.-China Business Council, 1994-2004
From the Hardcover edition.
- This is a GREAT book on China
Having an adopted daughter from China I have a more than passing interest in the changes taking place there. We returned 10 years later, and we were BLOWN away by the amount of change that's happened since we first went.
I knew this book was going to be good as soon as I read his first chapter on the Bund in Shanghi. He captured the scene there like I always wish I could describe it. You get a real feel for what it's like. That set up the rest of what was a very interesting book. This guy has a real feel for the people and pulse of China, and I thought was pretty fair on all of it, good and bad. It also jives with my much more limited feel for China.
I'm still chuckling over the Amway rep and many other stories he had. This will be one that I keep thinking about, and at some point will re-read again. Good balance of history and human interest. If only all the books you got where such winners as this.
- Shows a lot, tells too much
For me, this book raised the perennial writers' struggle between showing vs. telling. I wish Gifford would have done less of the latter. When he presents characters and situations, the book can be downright powerful. But then he waters it down with what I think is way too much of him giving his own opinion about China, at which time the material slides into shallowness or possibly (I wonder) personal bias. I'd give this book 10 stars if Gifford would have let it really be about China, as opposed to his having forced China to share the stage with himself....more info
- very bias
the author is "tired of the optimistics" as he stated in the book. all he wanted to show is the negative side of view although part of them probably were true. if you really want to know a true china, you need to explore yourself broadly but not from anyone who only tells you what he wants you to know.
- china is anecdotes
A study of China in 300 pages is like a study of a world. Few are interested in becoming China scholars and it's not like you're going to get a good look at a world through the eyes of academics anyway so why not? There are too many uncontrollable factors in studies and data on a subject this immense. Here anecdotes are the only real thing. I am more interested, for this reason in a random farmer's honest view than that of an elite. I suppose an NPR dude won't be able to always get the real thing, but I am guessing that he stays pretty incognito most of the time.
This was a great read for me...torn through....more info
- this is the real China
When I saw that the author worked for PBS, I thought propaganda, red flag, don't buy, etc. Well I bought it anyway, and was glad I did. Gifford does a great job painting contemporary China on a printed page. Gifford, obviously identifies with the Chinese, but he hasn't gone completely native. His ability to speak Chinese opens doors and allows him to relate the thoughts of ordinary Chinese and minorities living in 'China' to the reader. Here is my perspective: I loved Paul Theroux's RIDING THE RED ROOSTER. Theroux rode the trains, while Gifford travels by road. Theroux wrote about some of the obnoxious habits of the Chinese, like spitting and seeing all Caucasians as big nosed White devils. Gifford has not wrote that yet (I'm 2/3 through the book). Also, Gibbon's gives more in terms of historical background to bring the reader up to speed. So like Theroux, but different; but destined to be a classic. A great book which brings the reader up to speed relative to contemporary China. Strongly recommended. ...more info
- My China questions have finally been answered.
Speak Mandarin Chinese For BeginnersThe Michel Thomas Method (8-CD Beginner's Program)
Michel Thomas Method Speak Mandarin Chinese Advanced
I am the author of the Michel Thomas method courses to teach spoken Mandarin.
For many years I have been spending time with Chinese people. However, no matter how much I lived and hung out with them there were some fundamental aspects of Chinese behavior that remained elusive. This was quite frustrating for me. I really wanted to get inside the Chinese psyche and understand what makes them tick. I would ask them to teach me and many would happily comply. Then, seemingly out of left field, something would happen and, once again, I would realize that my insight into the Chinese mind was, at best, superficial.
I had read Chinese history, studied Chinese culture ( religion, philosophy, literature, etc.), conversed in Mandarin and even taught the language, as well as combed many books on Chinese sociology, anthropology, psychology but all, apparently, to no avail.
I was missing something big.
A student gave me this book as a present. I put it on a shelf and forgot about it. Recently, I picked it up and became hooked.
Several times I would just stop and think, ' He understands. He really gets the Chinese; what makes them tick, how they see themselves and the world. Why they act as they do.'
For me, this book has just brought it all together. Gifford majored in Chinese Studies before he took his job as NPR's China correspondent. He lived in China for six years. This book was his swan song, his final experience of China before he and his wife left for the West.
Many of the questions he asks and attempts to answer are the very ones which I, too, have been asking for years. Gifford has a deep insight into the Chinese mind and world-view. He is a wonderful writer who is able to express and convey some pretty powerful stuff about why the Chinese act as they do and, apparently, will continue to do so for the forseeable future.
Many Chinese friends have attempted to give me some understanding of how they experience life and what motivates them in their actions. It took a Brit, Gifford, to make it all come alive.
This book is one of those ' ah ,ha ' moment books. ...more info
- Outstanding Insights Into China
Gifford spent about 20 years living and studying in China, and also speaks and reads Mandarin. "China Road" summarizes his two trips taking about 12 weeks across that nation on Route 312 - its Route 66 equivalent running about 3,000 miles from Shanghai to the border with Kazakhstan. Besides providing a physical description of the road, travelers and sights, "China Road" goes much further - summarizing the opinions of its workers, officials, travelers and other citizens, and offering well-grounded historical insights into China's history that help explain its national "psyche."
Gifford begins in Shanghai, telling us of its 13 million population, 300 miles of elevated roadway, world's fastest train (reaching 270 mph over its 20 mile course), world's tallest hotel building, and a phenomenal rate of growth. (The World Bank says China has lifted 400 million out of poverty since 1978 - greater than the entire population of South America.)
On the other hand, we also learn that the rural population has received little of these new benefits - in fact, that population is constantly presenting the central government with thousands of "mini-uprisings" - despite the fact that the ringleaders typically end up in jail for an indeterminate length of time. Complaints include overbearing taxes, officials displacing farmers from their land in favor of developers (pay higher taxes), corruption, and little or no free education and health care. Government malfeasance in one rural area also led to a major AIDs/HIV outbreak associated with contaminated blood-collections that infected both donors and recipients. And the "one-child" family is sometimes brutally enforced if a woman becomes pregnant with a third child.
We also learn that China is an amalgam of some 56 recognized ethnic groups, as well as 400+ others. Thus, its variety of cultures, languages, etc. require a strong leader - a lesson Americans should take to heart in various situations. Gifford pushes the point, wondering if China is better off without democracy - its economic growth now greatly exceeds that in India, though India did avoid the horrible mistakes of Mao and his immediate successors. (Gifford also reminds readers that Russia's experiment with democracy did not end well, nor has China succeeded with anything in that direction previously.) Regardless, one way China attempts to integrate these various groups is to offer top ethnic-group students free schooling in its traditional Eastern Chinese schools. Further, it is also clear that the Chinese government has to run as fast as it can to manage the economic and other needs of its huge and growing population.
Pollution and water shortages are growing problems for China, as well as accessing sufficient energy sources to power its needs for economic growth.
China previously has suffered greatly at the hands of the Japanese, and its efforts now to modernize, and strengthen its armed forces can reasonably be explained as an outgrowth of a "never again" sentiment. Wanting to attain respect on the world stage reinforces its military build-up. Gifford's informal "polling" also reveals China's citizens see the U.S. as a war-prone nation.
Most every Chinese town has an Internet bar. The Chinese language is made up of 214 "radicals," combined to make characters. Writing on a computer requires entering a character's transliteration in the Western alphabet, all of which have multiple characters making the same sound, and choosing a character that is most appropriate.
Summarizing, "China Road" is an excellent and thoughtful source for those seeking to better understand our growing rival....more info
- Rob Gifford dissects China beautifully.
Following the "silk road" is an adventure in itself, and one covered extremely well in other travel books, but here Rob Gifford is cutting across China with one underlying question: Where is China heading? The answers are a little bit scary. As we travel with Gifford (what a great travel partner he'd make!) we meet many people who show by turn resilience, entrepreneurship but also something a lot more desperate: an element that has been described elsewhere not so much as 'dog eat dog' but 'man eat man'.
The writing here is attractive, and often very entertaining, but the picture that Gifford reports isn't always a pretty one. With the world's biggest economy ballooning as it is, there's still a burgeoning, clambering desperation among the poor to get onto the ladder before the opportunities elude them. In some of the poorer, more remote areas, this fact - one can readily see, is already causing sad social consequences. There's a tone of fascinating regret here: a question about whether the price of progress is always worth it. Well recommended....more info
- Excellent and very readable book on modern China
While I got this book as a second thought to another book on China, I was fascinated by the book and Rob's ability to capture the China behind the western viewpoint of the country. I found it extremely readable yet the book covered some important strategic issues for China as well as giving us a picture of how people are adapting to China's new prosperity. I would strongly recommend this to book to anyone who's going to visit China or is interested in China's growth as a "super power"....more info
- Great travelog by a knowledgeable tourist
This book is a log of the author's road trip across the breadth of China. Editorials (and maybe the author too) compares it to a trip west on Route 66. But China is a lot more diverse than the US economically, socially, racially, and historically. The book gives the author's first impressions of his stops, enhanced with the knowledge he's gathered after studying Chinese language for twenty years and residing (and reporting) in China for six years.
The travel log is easy reading and entertaining, peppered with informative comments on the Chinese history, in particular the years since the Communist takeover in 1949. The last chapter, however, is the most insightful, presenting the author's prognostications (perhaps it would be more appropriate to call them speculations) on where China may be headed in the future.
In particular, in 2012, the fifth-generation of the Communist Party will assume power; how will they rule? Will they be able to maintain the current one-party absolute power? Will they be able to continue to placate the populace by providing the means to increase their wealth? Can they do that and somehow ameliorate the increasingly egregious environmental problems? And what will be the impact on the West, whose healthly economic growth in the 90s and 00s been largely fueled by China's growth? And what about the huge US debt, which has been supported by China's purchase of its ailing bonds?
While Gifford of course cannot answer these questions, he does provide some background for readers to better understand the issues....more info
- Great balanced of view on China
A must read during these times when China is in the news every day. The best balanced view of what is going on there. ...more info
- A Brilliant View into Current and Historical China
I have listened to the audio book of China Road while traveling back and forth between Ashland, OR and San Francisco. Rod Gifford does a magnificent job of weaving his present day experiences of traveling on China's "Mother Road", Route 312, the history of China and its many phases, and a view to the future and what may come next for this complex country. This should be required reading/listening for high school students. If you want a quick and broad view into the realities of this multifaceted country, China Road is it!...more info
- A "Seize The Moment" View Of An Evolving China
Rob Gifford manages to capture the rapid change and flux--in conflict and concert with the past--that characterizes 21st century China as he travels Route 312 from the metropolis of Shanghai to the remote town of Korgaz, at the border crossing to Kazakhstan. Joining Rob on his "seize the moment" itinerary, the reader is given an intimate "backpack" view of a China and its people that is unforgettable, and in many cases irreconcilable with the image China portrays as a superpower . Through his vivid narration, the sights, sounds, smells, hopes, dreams and shadows of life for "Old Hundred Names" come alive in the consciousness of the reader. It was a transformative read. ...more info
- A summary of problematic western views on China
A splendid book "China Road" has been in its early chapters. The author asks insightful and important questions and formulate well documented responses.
But as he gets into chapters 5 and later, you gradually realises that despite subtleties, almost all his underlying tones are negative, almost as if paid by some agencies to make China sound inferior despite superficial improvements. And I am almost 100% sure he's not. And herein lies the problem of western views on China. An inert sense of need to reaffirm their own superiority through a constant need to criticise other societies.
I have recently made long trips through China with a western friend and the behaviours of himself, my friend and western tourists in his book all seem to fit the same pattern. Wishing to spend no time figuring how the Chinese government can manage to increase health and educational standards so rapidly in recent decades, he would rather focus time of his trip to travel to the poorest parts of China to see its flaws. An unconscious and constant need find the victims of communism and try to help them escape their brainwash with his more ethical views.
For instance, in the section on the Tibet issue, he and the western travellers instantly change tone when travelling to ethnically non-Han parts of China. The sky is suddenly bluer, the people suddenly more spiritual and the aura of evil that surrounds coastal China suddenly disappear. They have somehow decided for the Tibetans that they would be better off in their squalor and lack of social services and infrastructure. Because these visitors are too lost in their faithless pursuit of capitalistic goals in their home countries, they come to value spiritualism and the simplicity of the lives of the cultural minorities of China but simply refuse to understand that these minorities have desires to lead better lives as well. Despite the author's previous attempts to legitimise his claims with reliable sources in the preceding chapters, he seems to have concluded without visiting Tibet that the Tibetans are better off without the communist party despite his interviewees thinking otherwise.
He has even gone to such extends of disliking optimism in the minds of the Chinese citizens that foreseeing how his interviewees might give the typical optimism that their lives are not perfect but it's a lot better than 10 years ago and it's getting better, he would refuse to see that interviewee to opt for more hateful, communist-bashing interviewees instead.
Of course, he is not doing any of that consciously. He loves and respects Chinese culture but here lies the greatest danger. He has made his mind before even embarking on his trip and his trip only serves to help him find evidence to his already formed conclusion while ignoring those that opposed his conclusions. All his actions with locals on sensitive issues has shown him completely reassured that he has the moral high ground. The issue lies not simply with the fact that he refuses to see or accept differences in values but the fact that he cannot see his own tendencies to believe his own values are superior to those of others. While it's perfectly fine that he wants to write a book criticising China (a perfectly noble goal in itself), he will never be able to do so without realising this. ...more info
- Learning from the road
The author takes to the street and literally talks to anybody who would listen, and to some who wouldn't. The result is funny and often surreal (just what was he thinking when stopping people in a village in the middle of nowhere to ask them whether they descend from ancient Romans?) The tone is fresh and captivating, but sometimes it's hard to connect these snapshots with the bits of historical, philosophical, cultural and social analysis thrown here and there (particularly interesting the one on whether China can ever be a democracy). These parts sound a bit pretentious for a book about a great journey and require a leap of faith to be accepted. However, Rob does have faith and sympathy and understanding for this country, and that's what really makes the book so fascinating. He makes you want to leave and follow his steps on the roads of China. ...more info
- On the Road with Rob Gifford
China's Route 312 is, at least superficially, like U.S. Interstate 90: it runs the length of the country, from Shanghai to the border with Kazakhstan, just as I-90 runs from coast to coast. The two roads are both principally four lane roads of about the same length (I-90 is slightly longer at 4964 km.; Route 312 is 4825 km.). They each serve as symbols of new eras of improved communication, transportation and commerce for their respective countries. And the two roads are also similar in that, although they occasionally open up to grand vistas, much of the scenery, such as it is, often looks the same for hundreds of miles. But get off the road and you do discover interesting towns and people. This is what Rob Gifford, an NPR correspondent, does when he travels the whole length of Route 312. (Actually, the book is an amalgamation of two trips Gifford made, although that's not made evident but for in the Acknowledgments.)
I've noted in another review that every foreign correspondent ever stationed in China seems to have written an account of his--I'm not sure if there are any accounts by women journalists--experiences there. At the dawn of Communist China there was Edgar Snow's famous RED STAR OVER CHINA (1937). A gap of some years followed when the PRC, founded in 1949, was closed off from the rest of the world. David Bonavia's THE CHINESE (1970) was among the first to report from the time of the Cultural Revolution onwards. The early post-Cultural Revolution books were intriguing insofar as they gave glimpses of a country being opened up, but their authors were limited in their access to people and places. Fox Butterfield's ALIVE IN THE BITTER SEA (1982) stands out among these. Contemporary foreign journalists in China, who are much freer to travel and interact with people, naturally have much more interesting material to work with. The latest books, such as those by Peter Hessler and this one, CHINA ROAD by Rob Gifford, are among the best to date.
I've driven much of the length of I-90, and not much "happens" when you stay on route. Gifford, on the other hand, does have a few remarkable experiences on the road, mainly because he's on a bus, has hired a driver, or has hitched a ride, and so is forced to interact with others. At one point, for instance, he hires a driver he nicknamed "Elvis" who has brought his wife along for the ride, or so Elvis claims; it turned out that she is a mistress who so occupies Elvis at night that the driver has trouble staying awake by day. On another occasion, Gifford hitches a ride with a long-haul truck driver who gives Gifford a picture of the *real* China that can often be elusive to the foreigner.
Anyone who's been to China can understand Gifford's wide range of emotions, one moment hating China and another loving--well, maybe not loving China per se, but the Chinese people. Gifford is frank about this when he encounters the corruption of local officials, the oppression of people with HIV/AIDS, and the hideous practice of forced abortion and infanticide. Sometimes these experiences are insufficiently explored before Gifford is back on the road. You wished he'd dwell on them just a bit longer; indeed, in the case of the abortion practitioners he even kicks himself for not pursuing the story.
CHINA ROAD is probably at its best when Gifford explores the vast territories west of the ancient capital, Xi'an. Whether it's having been drafted to preach to a Christian congregation, sand surfing on the dunes at Dunhuang, or sleeping in a yurt at the Lake of Heaven, Gifford eloquently and delightfully brings those places and experiences to life for the reader.
At the end of the book, Gifford gives his views on the future of China. This section feels a bit forced vis-¨¤-vis the overall structure of the book--Gifford almost concedes as much--but his well informed ruminations are worth your while reading and pondering. Gifford is "rather fearful" of China's future, but he asks, "Can there be any people in the world who deserve more to succeed, and to see and feel in their own lives the prosperity and freedom that we in the Western world take for granted?" (p. 295).
CHINA ROAD is another outstanding contribution to the published reflections on China by foreign journalists.
- Encounter China's various faces during a road trip
Having lived, taught, and traveled in China for 8 months, I felt right at home as I read this book. I found this book very enjoyable, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about China and her people and the issues that they are facing. Read this book before you travel to China, then, if you have a chance to venture off the tourists routes, you will be more prepared for it.
Since Rob speaks fluent Chinese, he was able to discuss important issues with the people that he encountered on his trip. While there is a growing middle class in China and a small percentage of the newly wealthy, the largest percentage of Chinese are still living in exremely poor conditions. Now the rural poor Chinese have the freedom to hit the road and migrate to urban areas to find better jobs, creating the largest migration in world history.
Many others might write books about China using translators to get information from the Chinese, but translators often change or censor what has been said. Rob Gifford has studied, lived and worked in China for years, and his abilty to speak to people one on one without going through a translator is a great asset for a reporter. ...more info
- Experience China today
"China Road" is a beautifully written insider's view of China today. The author describes a variety of cities and towns in China and he provides insight into the way Chinese people think. He places the towns he visits in historical context providing the reader with an indepth understanding of this powerful country. This fascinating book is a pleasure to read.
Becky Adams...more info
- WORTH THE WAIT
About two or three years ago Rob's father told me Rob was working on a book on his China experience. I had been given many dates when it would be published only to have a new date set when dates would come and go. Therefroe, it was pleasure to receive an email from Rob that his book was finally in print. I purchased the British edition instead of the U.S. edition and don't know why there is two editions or if there is any difference between the editions. So, I'm doing thr review on the Brit. edition. The bottom line is that Rob is gifted and his style of putting words on paper make this book a must read for everyone with an interest in China. Be you an old China hand or a frist time reader about China. I would say if you could only read one book this year you should read China Road. The other reviews have told you about the book so you know more or less what to expect. What I find most interesting in reading the book is how Rob is able to put so much into so few words....I like that for you are covering huge chunks of history while taking a nice "mind walk" down Route 312. Let me add my thanks to Rob and Nancy (I feel Nancy had many an hour too into this work ) on a wonderful book and giving me so many memoires that are flooding back from my short time in China and working with some of the lao bai xing (common people).
T.Hord Little...more info
- New insights into China
This book reminded me a lot of China Wakes which was written by Kristoff and Wudunn around 1993 (another great book on China). In China Road, Gifford gives us fresh insights into Chinese culture, politics, and economy. He uses the framework of his travel along a 3000 mile highway. (Although he made that trip twice and this book is a combination of the two trips, the reader is unaware of this fact until the very end). It is a perfect book if you are planning a trip within China. I have found Westerners' writing on China easier to grasp than Chinese transalations. China Road is particularly good because Gifford lived in China many years so he has the advantage of understanding Chinese people as well as the British (which is where he is originally from) and Americans (he works for NPR and has lived in the US as well). He is able to relate to his audience very well. For example he draws parallels between people from Tibet and Native Americans.
By travelling across China, the reader will get a grasp of the diversity of China. When dissecting Chinese politics, Gifford is fair and balanced. Educational and entertaining book. ...more info
- Scenic Road with Potholes
4 star, 3 star, 5 star, 2 star, this road has a bit of each. Kudos for Konzept and for indelible portraits of Chinese (and not only Han) whom Gifford draws out in his travels. I won't soon forget the chilling candor of an older Chinese abortionist who relates her daily work without the least shred of self-consciousness or shame during a chance encounter on a rural bus route. My heart warms to the many nomadic voices of the "Old Hundred Names" who eke out their living on the road. I'm astonished at the innocence and certitude of the Chinese Amway disciples...
How representative are these folk? Probably very, but I did get the sense as the narrative wore on of being at the mercy of Gifford's haphazard meetings. Somehow it seems these should have been richer and more vivid, especially as he nears his odyssey's end. The return to Shanghai at the close was also anticlimactic and a regrettable launchpad for Gifford to try his hand at punditry, offering his grand synopsis -- on the advice of his editor -- of where China is heading. Were this my first book on China, perhaps I'd have words of praise. But I found the shift in tone, the change from witness to analysis, off-putting and unoriginal. His repetitious citing of the views of two or three Western China experts also came across like passages from a college thesis. In short, derivative.
My last gripe has to do with learning in the final pages that Gifford had company on his trip: An NPR recording crew who evidently were there all along for the ride. It detracted from Gifford's intimations, early on, that he was off on a last youthful adventure before giving in to the paunch of middle-age. I wish he'd admitted the extra degree of planning and spoken of the impressions of his companions rather than appearing to act out a solo quest.
All told, 4 stars for an inspired idea executed with sporadic but very strong 5 star moments but also a few 2 star let-downs. Nonetheless, I'd read more by Gifford, which is the best compliment one can offer in the end....more info
- China from one side to the other
NPR reporter Robert Grifford travels the length of China overland meeting interesting people and seeing the sharp contrasts in this emerging power.
From the ultra-modern skyscrapers of Shanghai to farms unchanged in centuries Grifford seeks out the state of modern China in each.
Grifford's style is clear and patient, he explains the history and background of each destination and even a pronunciation guide for Chinese names. Both neophites and veteran China scholars will find things of interest.
- True through not flattering picture of China
The author has painted a sympathetic picture of China, more realistic of the existent problems facing billions of Chinese people, instead of sticking to the useless ideological issues like social system, etc. The book tells readers the best things that the government has done regarding human rights is to make sure billions of people are free from cold and starvation. People do not need empty talks about freedom and democracy when their stomaches are empty and they do not have enough clothes against cold weather.
Great book!...more info
- From a reader in China
I pass along this review from a reader in China, L. Li.
"The author of this book came to China in 1987 when he was 21 years old to learn the language, and then stayed for nearly 20 years conducting the research and journalistic reporting. For six years, up until 2005, he held the position of the American National Public Radio Beijing's correspondent. During his work, he traveled all around China and to many other Asian nations.
In this book, the author relates a special two months of travel as his farewell to the land, crossing China from one side of China to the other, hitchhiking much of the time, or utilizing any conveyance at hand. On the road he meets and talks to all sorts of people as he journeys from Shanghai to the Kazakhstan frontier along the unassuming Federal Highway 312.
In his journey Gifford shows profound insight and sensitivity into the day-to-day life of the rapidly changing Chinese society. This, for me, was the book's greatest surprise; that a foreigner to China could possess this level of understanding, and be able to retell his insight to a native born Chinese person such
as myself. The author captures well China's local understanding of itself - especially its admirable human qualities manifest even under the weight of the nation's massive history. The work is a tribute to his years of
The author also intertwines his journey with the journey of China itself, relating what he experiences to the
history of the land and the people. Finally he reflects on where this is all going, giving a forecast of the
possible futures China may face with thoughts on China's possible dangers, judgments that will be needed to keep the current China in it's present situation, on course.
But, this is the part of the book with which I felt some resentment. The author points out that China is developing perhaps too fast - and sounds an alarm for other nations as to its potential for instability. This seems to me a bit of hypocrisy, and a bit of arrogance. Consider the United States - 5% of the World population using something like 30% of the World resources. By what standard can China's rapid growth, not into riches (as in the West) but simply into modernity, be faulted so easily?"...more info
- Discover the bright and no so bright aspects of China's economic miracle
This is a really cool book to get a fairly complete picture of China today. What's great and no so great and why one should not see what's happening over there as the end of business as we know it, just an evolution (though a dramatic one) of the world as we know it with.
If you like it, I'd advise "One Billion Customers" too as a more granular view on how business is condusted there.One Billion Customers: Lessons from the Front Lines of Doing Business in China...more info
- an insightful view toward china's prosperity and problems
Although I have different views with the author on some subjects, the book is well written. As a native Chinese, i'm glad to see a book which portrayed china in a much balanced way. Highly recommended reading....more info
- Filling in the gaps
This is a well-written account by a man who has the background to understand what he sees. Most books on China either deal with the effect of governmental oppression on average citizens, or else on the civilization's long and glorious history / economic powerhouse aspects. Gifford's central point is the unprecedented movement of the Chinese off the land and into the cities.
This is a good book, worth reading, but I wouldn't call it a classic. ...more info
- The Best Travel Essay on China Since Iron and Silk
Before and after my two trips to China, 1998 and 2000, I had read just about every relatively modern travel essay on China. Mark Salzman's "Iron and Silk" had always been my favorite. Unfortunately, it was written in 1982 and the China it described has changed over in many ways many times.
I still love "Iron and Silk" but have looked and yearned for a more up to date travel essay that is more accurate regarding today's China. Until "China Road" I had never found it.
I know a lot of people liked "Rivertown" but it just did not do it for me. The recent "American Shaolin" is a great read but unfortunately tells a story from the early 1990's. China has changed so much and so fast since the end of Mao and the modernization that started under Deng and continues as we speak.
China Road nails it. This book gives you the most up to date look at China I have ever read. It is well written, the insights and commentary are fantastic, and most importantly it will give the reader a view of the China of now and not the China of 5 or 10 years ago...because the China of 1998 is not the China of 2008.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in China or thinking of going there....more info
- Not A Travelogue
Not a Travelogue
Terrific read. Rob Gifford's China Road is not your typical travelogue. Although the writer takes you on a journey down China's major inland highway, China Route 312, and artfully describes what he sees, the book is so much more. It is a personal examination of China's political, social, economic, cultural and historical experiences all relating to the author's trip down Route 312 from Shanghai on the coast, to the road's Chinese end at the border with Kazakhstan at the edge of the Gobi desert. Along the way you see and feel a mosaic of Chinese life and culture, while meeting interesting people and experiencing wonderful sights. China is more than the People's Republic of China, it is an experience. It is a raw mixture of culturally different people simply trying to live together in a vast land of paradoxes. From the hermit on the mountain top to the ubiquitous karaoke bar in the busy city, China is simply a place where people work and live to make their lives better. They leave politics up to the corrupt government politicians and bureaucrats, while they work hard trying to make ends meet all the while hoping to someday to be rich like Americans! An amazing book on the real China and the people that live there. Fascinating.
I enjoyed Mr. Gifford's artful mixing of his personal experiences with a rounded historical view of China. He did a wonderful job of keeping things simple yet informative. To truly understand China would take years of intense study, but to get a flavor of the country is to read China Road. I also like the way Mr. Gifford provided proper pronunciations of the various towns and cities he visited. The Mandarin language is complex but with Mr. Gifford's help I got a better feel for the basics.
Again, a terrific read. It is not intended to be an in-depth analysis of China, but rather a glimpse into the real China and its people. I came away from the book with a little better understanding of the Chinese people and the realization that they are not much different than us. Although maybe they sing karaoke a little better. Good overall map to keep track of the author's travels and to keep one orientated. Good pictures, but wish there were a lot more. That really adds to the human interest factor.
Strong recommend. Again, be warned this is not your typical travelogue. If you want that go to Lonely Planet. This is a book about the author's experiences along China Route 312 - The old Silk Road of historical fame. It is a fun yet informative human interest read. Great insights into what China is. ...more info
- China Road, an adventure and forecast
China Road:A Journey into the future of a rising power.
Rob Gifford,NPR Correspondent
Random House 2007,Hdbk, 299 pages
Gifford's interesting book reads like he's talking to friends about his 3,000 backpack trip on Highway 312 (Old Silk Road) from Shanghai to Kazakhstan. On the way, he meets hundreds of ordinary Chinese and minority people. He listens to their life stories. He adds to his news-reporting knowledge many views about if China will become a fully developed country and world power.
In his last chapter Gifford summarizes the pros and cons of what he learned. He seems convinced that China's political history will not change, which will eventually limit progress.
He also analyzed views on whether China will take over Taiwan. One reason he thinks the two countries may join...thousands of Taiwanese businessmen already work in and own factories and businesses on the mainland. That could make uniting with China an inevitable and natural process.
If you read only one book about China, I recommend China Road for a good sense of that nation's historical pulse, present problems, astounding growth and possible future.
? Geni J. White
- Fascinating profile of China today
I read this book while teaching school in China Summer 2008. It was a very interesting depiction of the dichotomies in China today - on the one hand the official word and on the other the curiosity and interest of the people in everything western. It was a book that made me think a lot about what I was seeing and what my students were saying. Gifford very accurately and clearly points out the options that face China in the near future and manages to give what seemed to me an unbiased view of both sides of each option. Gifford travels to both known and little known places so it's a travelogue as well. The book is very well written and well worth reading if you have any interest in China at all. When I finished reading China Road, I passed it along to another teacher at the school who has travelled throughout China and has lived there as well. He could hardly put it down, he found it so interesting....more info
- Great Trip Across China
This book is not just a travel book, but has political comment and lots of humor. Well written it keeps the readers attention. A must read for anyone interested in our World today. ...more info
- China Road
I ordered "China Road" by Rob Gifford on 9 cd's. There was a problem with cd #3, although we did eventually get it to play partially. Disc #5 would not plat at all,even after cleaning. It was a disappointment!! ...more info
- Gives a very interesting Western view of China
By Rob Gifford, Published 2007
Rob Gifford has written an interesting and worthwhile reading book. I read the book, from cover to cover, very carefully, so careful that at times I would re-read a passage several times making sure that I did not misinterpret his ideas and intention. Yes, his intention which I analyzed with great caution and observed the body-language of his language used throughout the book that revealed a great deal what he had in his mind that he did not want to come right out stating his thoughts that he might not even aware of.
Spent about two decades of his Youngman hood in China did help him to be familiar with the history of China but his view of China, along with her history, is always shadowed with his, I regret to say, his very colored perspective or just plain bias.
The kind of initial love for China is quite common among many Westerners after reading the books by Pearl Buck a daughter of a Presbyterian missionary family in the 1890s in the then small city Zhenjiang a short distance east of Nanjing. Rob Gifford was also deeply inspired by an English missionary James Hudson Taylor who had been in China some forty years earlier before Pearl Buck, also did his missionary work in Zhenjiang area. Taylor, at the early age of twenty-two, felt a sense of divine calling to China and devoted about 50 or so years in his work there with a style mingling with the people there refusing to be separated from the locals in more comfortable houses for the Westerners. All of these deeply touched Rob and, reading between his lines we can see that Rob went to China with similar zest to ?¡ãsave?¡À Chinese with his Western vision, richly wrapped into Western religion, Christianity, but he was not allowed to be a missionary in China today and this is where his body-language seeps through all throughout the his book.
Rob?¡¥s mental makeup is so deeply soaked in his Christianity background that this is principally his yardstick to measure so much in contact with him in China. His frequent, often quite lengthy, analysis and criticism about Chinese tradition, culture, history, political system, wither current or historical, are all based on his personal background in England as a young man, almost about the same age as Taylor 160 years ago. But it is amusing that he gathered very little about how most of the educated Chinese are rather resentful of foreign religious missionary and this is not something existing only China today since 1949. It is important for the average Westerners to understand that not being religious, such as being a Christian, is a sign of ?¡ãbackward?¡À but such is not the case with the much better educated Westerners and slowly more better educated Westerners realize that Chinese were very fortunate not being so culturally dominated by any religion, Muslim or Christianity such as what we see the terrible struggle between the Fundamentalists and the more Secular directed Americans in the U.S. today. With his contract with NPR, an American organization, as a correspondence, he would frequently speaks as though he were an American, or perhaps he thinks the two are really just one.
His arguments against current Chinese political system very much as an extension of the very ancient political and cultural systems are surely quite upsetting to many Chinese but I think the Chinese have nothing to lose if the arguments are taken as something to ponder over with open mind whether they agree or not.
Rob?¡¥s many encounters with the Chinese ethnic minorities almost always with some hidden with to stirrup troubles and he seems disappointed if the Chinese ethnic minority he met did not blast all the Han Chinese. But he did report that one Tibetan school teacher who teaches Chinese language to other Tibetan students and saying that the Tibetans are doing better today under the current government than staying as the traditional nomads as in the past. As one born in China and deeply concern and sympathetic to all the ethnics around the world I was uplifted by the forward looking Tibetan young teacher Rob had encountered in Gansu Province. The story Rob has told about this Tibetan teacher echo my wish for the Navajos in Arizona where I have had some wonderful contact with since the 90s and I tried hard to convince my Navajo friends to strive for the best to complete a solid education while also trying to preserve their traditional culture.
In a fleeting passage Rob briefly mentioned that Zhao Zi-Yang was attempting to initiating even before the 1989 Tian-An-Meng protest and the policy released was fully approved and supported by Deng Xiao-Ping. It is a profound regrettable event that the students in Beijing were very impatient with the progress made in political reform and the demonstration turned out to be one of the greatest political set back in modern China. Despite of the fact that Deng was the paramount leader he had to deal with the still very powerful old CCP members from the way back in their 80s or 90s and Deng still, of course, remember the two political purges and what he was put through by the wild students Red Guards during the so-called Cultural Revolution, the fear is very real for one at his age he gave in to the hardliners headed by Li Peng (¨¤???) to crash down the protest with Liberation Army. Rob is one of the few Westerners mentioned this factor but filed to provide any degree of evaluation of Deng?¡¥s role and only his endorsement of economical development.
The expressions Ocean People and the Old Hundred Name are used very frequently in the book but both terms are very important to the Chinese than to the Westerners and the loss of the Chinese flavor here is a real substantial missing elements. Rob should have explained at the beginning and use Yang Ren for Ocean People and Lao Bai Xien (¨¤?¡ã¨´D?) for the Old Hundred Name because the term is used to denote the common folks, not really the surnames much like when we say that we are the taxpayers in this country because we are so heavily taxed and barely able to get by unlike the top 1% particularly under George W. Bush government. .
Rob?¡¥s final chapter is an extensive analysis that I wish he had save for himself for perhaps another 30 years then he would be able to make some revision. But I would not be telling the truth to say that I did not enjoy reading this book. I did, and very much so.
- China 101: If You Don't Know Much About China This Gets You Started!
I was initially intrigued with the China "road trip" concept that is the backbone ofthe book. The narrative about the trip was fantastic. You are drawn into the sights and sounds of places far removed from Shanghai and Beijing and his interactions with real Chinese people from throughout the country and very insightful.
Mr. Gifford does a great job of explaining why things might be the way they are in China based on historical and cultural reasons. If you don't know much about key pieces of Chinese history not only does he provide background information, but links it to understanding China today.
I was completely naive as to some of China's practices regarding their one child policy and found this very disturbing. This and the corruption that runs rampant throughout the country is very troubling in terms of quality of life for Chinese people. You come to empathize with their situation and perhaps gain a better understanding as to why they are as determined as they are for economic growth.
Five stars for both a great journey and an informative look at where China is today, why it is the way it is, and some interesting perspectives on what the future may hold. Read it!!...more info
- A Delightful History Page-tuner!
This book would have deserved four stars for good writing and first-hand information, if it goes into a little more depth about China. Since it is a spinoff from the author's NPR radio reports, no one should expect scholarly work with all the details. Read this book to get an overview of modern China, and then go get other sources and books if you're really interested in China. Never take one person's views about a country and its history....more info
- An interesting road trip
Rob Gifford's "China Road: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Power" focused on his journey travelling more than 3,000 miles on Route 312 from Shanghai to a small village in Western China. From his journey, Gifford witnessed the "new" China with the economic boom in cities like Shanghai and Nanjing and at the same time, small villages in rural China where farmers still farm the old-fashioned way. He conducted many interviews - both formal and informal with the local people and getting a feel of what they think of China, their views on the government, and other local issues in general. It is interesting to note how globalization affects China and one good example from this book is how Gifford met a few local Amway sales representatives in one of the small towns, out in the Gobi desert.
This was an interesting read to see the different facets and contrasts of China through Gifford's travel on Route 312. It seems that the overall perception of the Chinese people is that the economic growth is a positive thing. There is an apparent optimism of the people in terms of where China is heading. My only criticism of "China Road" is that I feel the writer imposed his Western views towards the Chinese people and China in general. For instance, his constant criticism of Chinese confucian values. There seemed to be biases in his views which were absent in Peter Hessler's "Oracle Bones." Having recently read "Oracle Bones", I could not but help compared both books as they are very similiar in context. That being said, I did enjoy his writing on rural China, especially smaller towns in the Gobi desert which was helpful in my understanding of China in general. This was a good read and I would recommend this to anyone who wants to learn more about modern China. ...more info
- Great personal insights into the real China
This book represents a great journey into China reaching from the bright lights of Shanghai to the far rural communities. The insights shared come from the many interviews along his journey as well as the author's in-depth knowledge of China based on his many years of investigative reporting there. The book is an easy and pleasurable read and contains many insights that would take years to glean on your own. I'm about to make my third trip to China and this book will give me a new perspective for my observations. ...more info
- Entertaining, Informative, Thought-provoking
I am very glad that I read China Road before the recent earthquake because the background that the book gave me on Chinese culture and politics has helped me better understand the news coverage of the disaster. This is the mark of a book that is truly worth reading, in that it helps the reader deduce meaning from world events.
The premise and structure of the book are appealing. The author, Rob Gifford, an American journalist, hitchhikes across China on Route 312, China's equivalent of the US's Route 66, and writes about the places he visits and the people he meets. Along the way, he muses about China's history, its current building boom, its social structures and traditions, its problems related to its emergence as a global economy and its likely future as a world power. This makes for fascinating reading and, certainly for me, an entertaining way of getting to know a nation and a people who are increasingly affecting the lives of everyone on Earth.
As soon as I heard about the collapse of school buildings in the poorer provinces of China during last month's earthquake, I realized that many parents would have just lost their only child due to China's one-child policy. This, it seemed to me, would be one of the things more likely to create the kind of anger and dissatisfaction that the government will be unable to buy off by putting more consumer goods into the hands of China's growing middle-class. Sure enough. The news continues to be full of stories about the anger and resentment felt by many lower middle class parents whose children died in poorly constructed schools while the children of the wealthy survived because they attended well-built schools that did not fall during the quake. Some of the devastated schools stood right next to others that were barely scratched. That is exactly the type of situation that Gifford warns about in China Road -- an event that exposes the corruption of local governments, the results of which are so heinous that the people refuse to be appeased by more stuff.
Through reading China Road, I also came to better understand the conflict surrounding what is called Greater Tibet, some of which is actually a part of traditional China, and now see that the situation there is not quite as black and white as I once thought.
By the time Gifford reached the end of his tale of Route 312, I felt as though I had received a solid tutorial on a country that I had once only the most rudimentary knowledge about, and I was sorry to see the end of the road. Highly recommended....more info
- A worthless rerehash of "CHINA IS BIG" goo you've heard before
Having just returned from 3 months in China, I can tell you this "book" is worthless. If he spent more than 5 days writing it, then he wasted a LOT of time. Don't waste your time listening. If you do, you'll be treated to a Freshman-level rehash of "what I did on my summer vacation", with random digressions on the same 'CHINA IS REAL BIG' statistics that we've all heard over and over and over. Yeah....it's big.....it's different....and ?
Don't waste your money. ...more info
- Fabulous, loved it
I bought this book after I read a library copy, need I say more? It has a coherent, wider narrative woven through Gifford's interactions with distinct individuals. His way of sharing his Chinese journeys in the first person rings true for me. He also captured perfectly the ambivalence I feel toward China. ...more info
- a must read
Rob Gifford covered China for NPR for 6 years. He speaks fluent Mandarin and he made an adventurous journey across China and spoke to lots of ordinary people; truckers, cabbies, hookers, farmers, AIDS sufferers, government officials, etc.
It's a fascinating look at what Gifford refers to as "the elephant in the room." What happens in China will have a major impact on the rest of the world. As Chinese industry pumps out the products (and the pollution) the world is changing drastically for millions of Chinese peasants who are heading to urban areas to find work.
Can the Chinese government continue this surge of economic growth? If it stalls, will there be a revolt in the countryside? Gifford looks at many different issues and angles of China in this thought-provoking book....more info
- Travel the Mother Road for yourself.
The author has such a beautiful way of describing the world around himself. If you can't afford to travel china for yourself, you should read this book instead. Mr. Gifford eloquently narrates an interesting and compelling story of his own journey through China, while at the same time teaching you the general modern history of China itself and its contact with the world. Page turner for sure. ...more info
- Great Book
I recently returned from a 19 day trip to China. This book does a great job in explaining many of the paradoxes a westerner finds in China....more info
- Fascinating but not the "future"
Rob Gifford's book is a fascinating account of China "on the ground". Nice view with history in mind. However, life on 312 is closer to life on route 66 than you might think. While it uncovers a side of the country rarely seen on the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal or the New York times, neither our country nor China's fate is determined primarily by prostitutes, truck drivers, country doctors, or farmers (especially if they don't even get to influence the government with a vote). Like it or not, it will be the people in Washington, NY, Beijing and Shanghai (not even London) who will shape our future. Instead, like some of the people Mr. Gifford met, the author seems to be tired of the emotional roller coaster of being part of the china experience over the past 2 decades. I wish him well and thank him for a nice read....more info
This was an enjoyable read, great if you what a flavor of China but not if you want an in-depth reflection. A good travel diary. I liked it...more info
So nice! The stories were not about the Bad and the Good or tons of dry history. Just stories about the people and what they are up to. I couldn't put the book down! I just wanted to know what was around the next corner....more info
- Best book I read on China, but not perfect
My first impression after reading the book was 'Wow, what an in-depth look at China, I wish such a book can be written by a native Chinese'.
The book is beautifully written and offers many in-depth analysis of Chinese culture that are very mind opening. It touches so many aspects of China in not so many pages. But that's both its strength and weakness.
Following are some critiques on the book.
As I thought more and more about the book, I couldn't help realizing that the author has a decidedly negative bias towards China. Almost all the stories and interviews conducted during his road trip are all negative snapshots of China, even though the author does try to sound objective by analyzing those snapshots through historic and culture context.
I also cannot help noticing a sense of ME, ME, ME in the book. The book seems to showcase more author's expert knowledge on China than China herself. The author tries to weave too many little stories together. Despite the seemingly expert views, the stories themselves are too shallow, and seem nothing more than platforms to showcase author's already formed view point. The stories themselves in fact could be so much more interesting if the author decides to dive into them and provide more facts, such as the AIDS and abortion stories.
Despite 20 years in China, author's view on China is decidedly an outsider's, a very knowledgeable outsider's. The book presents lots of reasons for what's wrong with China, but offers no solution. In fact, the author almost agrees that CCP's current policy may be the best police for China at the moment and praise the party for taking on such a gigantic task for building a country as big as a continent with 1/5 of world's population.
Finally, the book's title is poorly chosen. It has nothing to do with the future of China.
With all that said, the book is still an excellent read, but it is important to read it objectively....more info
- A Very Compelling... Listen
I ordered the audio cassettes of CHINA ROAD from Amazon by accident and have spent the past couple of weeks pottering around the house listening to them. From the outset, I was curious to know if author Rob Gifford was (as he puts it) a "panda hugger" (or Sinophile) or a "dragon slayer" (or Sinophobe), but, thankfully, he is neither. Rather, he takes a disarmingly balanced perspective of the Middle Kingdom and freely admits that after two decades of studying and reporting on China (including a six-year stint as National Public Radio's Beijing bureau chief), he loves the nation and its inhabitants on some days and loathes them on others.
As a travel book, CHINA ROAD has trouble getting off the ground in places. There are some rather lengthy overviews and asides, but these are often very interesting not to mention lightly dusted with intriguing facts and figures. Mr. Gifford has done his homework, and the overall effect is a solid one. In parts, CHINA ROAD absolutely soars. I found the writer's adventures along the Silk Road to be particularly riveting. Moreover, Gifford makes for an excellent travel companion. Comments about himself are sparse, but when they do occur they are often self-deprecating and thus he comes across as being a genuinely down-to-earth guy. This is important because in order to understand China and the vast transition it is undergoing, we need to understand the Chinese mindset. And from the author's copious convserations with people from all walks of life (Christians, prostitutes, wise men, Amyway employees, etc., etc.) one feels that not only have they gained significant insight into the present-day thought process but into the entire fractured and diverse civilization as well.
Frankly, I couldn't see anyone being disappointed by this book. Or tape set.
Troy Parfitt, author ...more info
- Solid Introduction to Modern China
I'm a fan of travelogues and since I'm trying to get a little more clued in about modern China, this book seemed like a good pick. After spending seven years as a correspondent for NPR, author Gifford packed his bags in 2004 to move back to England and struck out for one last Chinese adventure. Over the course of two weeks, he made his way along "Route 312", which winds a roughly northwest 3,000-mile route from Shanghai to the border with Kazakhstan. Gifford preaces hiss journey with the hope that it will help him answer the question he gets all the time about China: will it become the next global superpower, or will it crumble into chaos? With that in mind, he's off (along with an NPR production crew) on a motley assortment of buses and trucks, meeting all manner of people, from angry poor farmers to slick rich businessmen, and everyone in between (including some zealous Amway reps!). The most memorable of his casual encounters is probably the traveling government abortionist who matter-of-factly explains the need for forced abortions to Gifford.
His travels touch on pretty much everything someone reasonably conversant with modern China might already be familiar with: rural civil unrest, AIDS epidemics, the sex-trade industry, the shortage of woman in some areas, the pervasiveness of official corruption, ecological catastrophes in the making, the rise of religion, the political repression and cultural conversion of ethnic minorities, and of course the booming economic development and the confusing winds of change that follows in its wake. It's all good stuff, ably reported, however it struck me as somewhat superficial in a sense. These are all stories anyone reasonably attuned to international news and trends has probably heard on NPR, read in the Washington Post or the Economist, or seen on Frontline. The one area he doesn't touch upon, and probably should have, is the Chinese military and its vast role in China's politics and economics. Another quibble I have with the book is Gifford's blithe willingness to trot out all manner of "official" Chinese statistics throughout the book, despite general acknowledgement in much of the world that official Chinese data is hardly a reliable representation of the truth.
In conclusion, Gifford returns to the broader picture of What It All Means, and fails miserably at providing a satisfying answer. Having introduced his trip with the uneccesarily binary "will China rise or fall?" motif, he now reluctantly returns to the question, ultimately sidestepping it. This all smacks of an editor's attempt to impose a larger framework on the book, and Gifford is so obviously uncomfortable in this role that it becomes embarrassing to read on as he flails around in the role of analyst, quoting the opinions of several China scholars and pundits at length rather than providing his own analysis. One can't help but wish that someone with such depth and breadth of experience in China could have arrived at a more insightful conclusion. Still, the book has great value as an easy to read and often fun introduction to modern China for those who are interested but don't know much....more info
- Audio version of "China Road" combines best aspects of memoir, news reporting
Some of the most compelling nonfiction
audiobooks produced for American listeners
today are about China. They tend to fit into two
categories -- the personal memoir, such as Peter
Hessler's "River Town: Two Years on the
Yangtze," and the fact-driven, such as Ted
Fishman's "China Inc." Both of these are
excellent works filled with fascinating nuggets
for anyone with an interest in China. But one
audiobook that outdoes them both is Rob
Gifford's "China Road" (Blackstone, 9 CDs,
2007), which combines the best aspects of
memoir and news reporting. I liked it so much
that I listened to it twice, a few months apart.
Before writing the book, Gifford had been
visiting China for 20 years and working there for
six years as a journalist. Planning to leave China
for Europe, he decided to make one long last
journey, a two-month trip of 3000 miles from
east to west along China's route 312, the
"people's road." He did it the slow way, by
hitchhiking on trucks, taking local trains, and
sometimes hiring a driver. With his fluent
Mandarin and his in-depth knowledge of Chinese
laws, customs, history and geography, he
becomes an imbedded observer who reports
accurately and thoroughly, but always with a
touch of humor.
As he quickly points out, China is not a country
but an empire. It encompasses one-fifth of
humanity, with a multitude of ethnic groups and
languages. Because the setting changes so
frequently throughout the journey, you could
listen to the CDs in any order without losing
much. Gifford says there's hardly anything about
China that isn't interesting, then proves it. He
meets enthusiastic and successful Amway sales
reps in the middle of the Gobi Desert. He sees a
truck broken down by the side of the road, but
his driver keeps going because of "the first rule
in China: don't get involved." Horse races are
popular but betting is illegal. No problem: you
can place your money on a "guess." Cell phone
salesmen do a thriving business all along the old
Silk Road route because there's perfect reception,
and everyone wants a phone.
China, says Gifford, is 30 years behind the U.S.
militarily; it spends $50 billion a year compared
to $400 billion. But far more significant, he says,
is the speedy change that is shaking up Chinese
society. Up to 200 million Chinese have left their
home towns in search of a better life -- the
largest migration in history. The greatest danger
to China's future, he believes, is pollution: of the
world's 20 most polluted cities, 16 are in China.
There's a chronic water shortage, and many of
China's rivers are dangerously contaminated.
Other negatives: Chinese women have the highest
suicide rate in the world; it's the leading cause of
death for Chinese women age 18 to 34. There is
an AIDS crisis, especially in Hunan province,
stemming from the extraction and sale of blood.
But the authorities simply try to cover it up. The
whole society, according to Gifford, is shot
through with corruption, which comes from local
officials, not big politicians. For example, trucks
are often stopped for speeding, but the fines can
range widely, so that police officers can pocket
most of the money without needing to report it.
The author says that China cannot be both an
empire and a democracy. That might explain
some of the contradictions that he confronts by
questioning his subjects to the point of
discomfort. He interviews a woman who
performs abortions on other women who are eight
months pregnant, and asks how she can reconcile
her role as a mother and a health professional by
killing fully formed babies. He interviews a
young Tibetan whose parents forced him to grow
up speaking only Mandarin at home in order to
improve his job prospects. He now teaches
Chinese to Tibetans, and the author probes to
find how the man feels about aiding the
Near the end of his journey, Gifford lands in
Urumchi, a very modern, high-tech capital, which
is farther from the ocean than any other city in
the world. A century ago, it took 45 days for a
letter to get from there to Beijing, and that was
considered fast. In the last 15 years, its
population has grown from 300,000 to 1.5 million
in 15 years. He marvels that it is almost
unrecognizable from the city he had seen only a
short time before. It's located in Xinjiang,
China's fastest-growing region for foreign trade.
Gifford's trip, and route 312, end in Korgaz, a
forlorn little town across the border from
Kazakhstan. Like the author, I didn't want the
road to end.
- Incredible easy and enjoyable reading!
Having listened to Rob Gifford over the past few years in his capacity as a correspondent for NPR, first from China and now from the U.K, it made reading the book even more enjoyable - as if he were reciting the words. I felt like a youngster devouring the latest Harry Potter tome! I just could not put it down. How inciteful a commentary on the People's Republic and its myriad population. The historical references are magnificent. The helpful pronunciation of Chinese names adds to the reading enjoyment and the inclusion of a map was brilliant. Read it once and you will want to read it again. I do....more info
- Often Interesting and Funny, but Sloppy
Gifford's observations are interesting and often insightful; particularly because he has experience investigating subject matter that is officially "off-limits" and censored by the government. He hints at the suppression of many people's stories in China that deserve to be told and pursues, to varying degrees, sensitive issues (i.e. AIDS epidemic in Henan, forced abortions, etc.).
One aspect that I found annoying and shallow is that he consistently views Chinese as basically lacking a moral compass and my sense from more than one passage is that he believes this is due to their lack of a monotheistic religious tradition. My own experience in China informs me that Chinese struggle with questions of morality to the same extent that any Western or Judeo-Christian culture does. Regardless, both history and modern society confirm that moral righteousness is not synonymous with the presence of a monotheistic religion.
Rant over. The book is an easy read and very funny at times. However, concerning books on modern China, Oracle Bones by Peter Hessler is much deeper (Oracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China (P.S.))....more info
Rob Gifford was able to open parts of my mind about China that I would never have done on my own (despite living there for half a year). This captivating book provides insight drawn from Gifford's own experiences as well as interviews from people from all walks of life that he meets along the way. As Gifford travels along this road he ponders the future of what lies ahead, based on the present which was based on the past.
I must note however that some of Gifford's statements could be more accurate provided that he had additional information. For example he notes that the Chinese writing system and word processing system now depend on western romanization of the characters. While this is now the adopted standard in China, there are still numerous other methods such as radical stroke order which is much more efficient and other pronunciation methods.
Overall this is an excellent book that I highly recommend!
- How will China face the future?
British author Rob Gifford, fluent in Mandarin, with 20 years experience in China as a student and journalist, decides to travel Route 312 from Shanghai to Korgaz (China's border with Kazakhstan). Devoting a summer to this 3000-mile trip via buses and taxis, he brings his career experience to ponder the questions of China's future.
Talking with ordinary people of many ethnic, economic and social identities, and putting today's China into historical context, the result is informative, thought-provoking, and brings us closer to understanding the sensitive issues facing this vast country. We receive a well-reasoned speculation about whether China will be able to change in a different manner, or will it continue a cycle of collapsing and rebuilding? Exceptionally well written, with sound historical background, a sense of humor, and profound understanding of China's people....more info
- China Road - trip into the minds of the populace
Rob Gifford presents an insightful journey into the hearts of the hearts and minds of the Chinese citizens he interviews on his travels down Route 312. He also provides historical information on how China got where it is today, and his prediction on how the country will evolve in the future. His observations help outsiders understand the ever evolving mixture of loosening economical control with the maintenance of a communist political structure, and the risks it presents to China's future. Overall, an excellent and thought provoking book!...more info
- A great book
I was tasked with an unclassified China Culture Brief for our squadron's Commander's Call. I used many of Rob Gifford's facts, stories, and analysis, all of which went over well.
His story about the great wall petering out around the Hexi Corridor got my mind churning on how useless the wall really was (and the feasibility of other countries walls, for that matter.) His description of how SW and NW China are not really the China that westerners have in mind was very eye opening. How Rob encountered city upon city that have 1 million people yet are never even mentioned in the west is a true testament to how big the population size, something I'm just starting to wrap my brain around. The pictures in the middle are great, I wish Random House could have included double that amount. The cover picture is a wonderful contrast of old and new China, great idea for whoever brainstormed that one.
I read many international relations books for my job and this one was the best and clearest writing I've stumbled upon in a while....more info
- The best book that I have read sofar regarding the situation in China
The book was highly recommended by a friend in the USA. The author shared with readers sincerely the authentic China through its colorful history, unique culture, fundamental life changes and painful issues. I am a Chinese living in Europe, travelling 3- 4 times per year to China since 2001. I went through most of the cities that the author descriped. I feel truly what the writer has reprented in his book and what is happening in China. It is a fact-driven book with the insightful and independent comments. The writer has rather in-depth understanding of the differences in cultures, histories, religions, politics, societies and economics. I have recommended it to people around me, who love reading quality books....more info
- Engaging Travel Journal
If you have enjoyed Rob Gifford's reporting from Beijing on NPR in years past you will love this book. It's a shame he has moved back to the U.K. because his balanced journalism is full of compassion for the common people. As one might expect this travel journal contains humorous anecdotes but not without reflection and insights about a transformation and massive migration many in the West are blissfully unaware of. Gifford has Ryszard Kapuscinski's ability to illustrate the greater meaning of simple encounters. China Road is a display of the curiosity about country and people he has maintained through his years as a foreign correspondent there....more info
- My Actual Book Report for Chinese Class
Before I go into a long rant about myself, I want to let you know that there is a point to my story. Gifford's own travels along Route 312 seemed almost too real for me. If you want to go straight to my review of Gifford's book, then skip to the third paragraph. It seemed that most of my time has been on the road driving to and from work back home again in Boston. If you mapped out my life right after college in Philly, it has been the beltway around Boston called Route 128. For local residents like me, Route 128 is a symbolic road which represented the boom of hi-tech companies outside of Boston. Although my workplace was in Boston's North Shore area further up along the beltway, I have always passed by the tall building office buildings such as Oracle, Raytheon, and many others.
Leaving my first job out of college, I returned back to school for graduate studies in Connecticut. Once in a while, I made the trek back home to visit my folks by way of the Mass Pike and Interstate 84. En route, I would catch snippets of a British correspondent's series on National Public Radio reporting his travels along China's Route 312. It wasn't until now when a friend recommended a book by Robert Gifford that I now remember some of his encounters along Route 312. Gifford's book is based on the 7-part series broadcasted on NPR's Morning Edition which documented his 2-week journey from Shanghai to the border of Kazakhstan. However, this book is more comprehensive than the 7-part series due to time-constraints for on-air broadcast news programming.
So, why did I go into my 5-year journey which consisted of Route 128 to Mass Pike to Interstate 84? Well, my own personal journey was similar to Rob Gifford. It was like a time travel from hi-tech world outside of Boston to a small rural community of farmland smack in the middle of Connecticut. Now, it is just a strange coincidence looking back and makes this book even more meaningful to me. Besides the strange coincidence, Gifford wrote this book to a wide audience who has very little knowledge of Chinese history like me. Plus, he made this almost diary-like with personal encounters and conversations with different people along Route 312. There are also little lessons on Chinese language since sometimes certain Mandarin sayings loose meaning in translation. Gifford himself is fluent in Mandarin being a student in China back in 1987.
My favorite parts of the book are the conversations of Gifford with the local people. If you had to categorize the people from East to West, then you have the modern Chinese youths of Shanghai, the rural Chinese farmers in central China such as Henan, and the Muslims and Uighurs of the Gobi Desert. Gifford's interactions with people in Shanghai and Nanjing often referred back to China past with the Opium Wars, the Massacre of Nanjing, Old Hundred Names, and Lord Macartney. All these references were made to show the weakness of China where it was exploited by the British and later the Japanese. China still had the mentality of the old society and principles whereas Japan gradually transitioned by Western influences. Early in history, China made many advances such as paper, printing, gun powder, and compass. However, it really did not mature like Europe which had its Renaissance and industrialization. This still plagues China with its military capability being compared to US as 30-40 years behind according to Gifford. Visiting several historical sites such as the Pit of 1,000 Corpses at the Nanjing Massacre Memorial and the British Consulate on the Bund, Gifford still feels the bitterness of Chinese people against the British and Japanese. However, these issues seem to still hang over the older generation west of Shanghai. With the Me generation in Shanghai, most youths are troubled in their personal lives with extramarital affairs, lives at work, and lives with their close family relatives.
Traveling from Shanghai towards Henan, Gifford saw signs of progress with factories in the countryside. Still, there are farmlands and pastures where farmers still work on the land to raise a family. However, local governments still are as corrupt as before with land grabs as well as excessive taxation on land properties. There is still the problem with One-Child Policy that still plagues the village people in Central China. Most sons are sent off to Shanghai for better opportunity of marriage as well as better livelihood. Gifford found most shocking was the proud nurse who performed abortions and explained the various techniques to keep the status quo of unwilling pregnant women.
Further west, Gifford made it to the Tomb of 1,000 Buddhas near Dunhuang where tragedy struck multiple times. First, the famous site was discovered by the British and Russians who took back many treasured manuscripts and scrolls. Then, the tomb was later attacked again but this time by Chairman Mao during the Cultural Revolution. The most memorable conversation was with Lao Zhang who has a small caf¨¦ in the Starry Gorge. Zhang is Han Chinese but originally from Turpan. He has a fury that is most uncommon from other Chinese folks. Zhang spoke candidly about the corrupt government that sealed the community well with concrete. This way, the government could sell the water to the locals. Zhang cannot overtly rebel against the government so he acted in a passive aggressive manner by refusing to buy their water. The threat of the government to charge terrorist actions of rebels is so strong that it has left Zhang to accept how things are. His response to deal with this injustice is not "ge ming" or revolution. It is simply "ren shou" or endure which pretty much sums it up. Government goes through cycles of emperors and leaders which you just hope it's not as bad as before. Still, you don't expect any miracles like these folks. Zhang explained that government now has no checks and balances to keep officials in line from corruption. It makes us lucky here with democracy where we elect our officials from various parties with different stands on issues.
The last people that Gifford meets towards the end of his journey are the Uighurs and Han Chinese of Urumqi. Gifford spoke with a local Uighurs called Murat who also shared the same sediments of Zhang. Murat explained that many local Uighurs have sent their children to Han schools and losing their heritage of their ancestors. The local language is slowly being lost as Chinese government lure the local Uighurs with opportunity of higher education for free. It's part of assimilation tactic that Murat is strongly against. However, he cannot deny it since it's the only chance for a good life for many of these folks. The ideal case would be to have the young Uighurs return back to their homeland and help out as doctors, teachers, and such. Realistically, Murat sees that this is not probable and part of China's ploy to change the local Uighurs into Han Chinese. Although this is not pure corruption, Murat has the same defeatist attitude of acceptance by endurance. In the end, Gifford finished his assignment for NPR in China and was given the opportunity to become their Jerusalem correspondent. He later rejected the offer citing that the journey would be cyclic where progress never moved forward. It was more interesting to see how China grew linearly in his words. Gifford now looked back to tell us that China is really cyclical over centuries. In a sense, Gifford now feels the same how both Murat and Zhang. You can't escape it so why try to fight it. Instead of Jerusalem, Gifford chose to become London correspondent and returned back home. I guess we all feel its home where we belong even though we have our share of problems. It's funny that I left Boston to Philadelphia for college and now ended up in Philadelphia after graduate school.
- China Road
A well written, easily read book on the times and people of China.
Rob Gifford takes you through China from east to west telling of the varied feelings about the government from one sector to another. An important incite to understand "the Future of a Rising Power."
- Very Good Read!
An interesting journey through China today exploring profound and rapid cultural, economical and political change across the country, and the impact on typical citizens. Mr. Gifford has a long history with China and he speaks freely and with authority over the growing dichotomies between rural and urban life, middle and lower classes and differing ethnic minority peoples. I echo his intense feelings that range at times between frustration, admiration, wonder and concern over how China is growing....more info
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