Chinese Characters

Chinese Characters

Profiles of Fast-Changing Lives in a Fast-Changing Land

Though China is currently in the global spotlight, few outside its borders have a feel for the tremendous diversity of the lives being led inside the country. This collection of compelling stories challenges oversimplified views of China by shifting the focus away from the question of China’s place in the global order and zeroing in on what is happening on the ground. Some of the most talented and respected journalists and scholars writing about China today profile people who defy the stereotypes that are broadcast in print, over the airwaves, and online. These include an artist who copies classical paintings for export to tourist markets, Xi’an migrant workers who make a living recycling trash in the city dumps, a Taoist mystic, an entrepreneur hoping to strike it rich in the rental car business, an old woman about to lose her home in Beijing, and a crusading legal scholar.

The immense variety in the lives of these Chinese characters dispels any lingering sense that China has a monolithic population or is just a place where dissidents fight Communist Party loyalists and laborers create goods for millionaires. By bringing to life the exciting, saddening, humorous, confusing, and utterly ordinary stories of these people, the gifted contributors create a multi-faceted portrait of a remarkable country undergoing extraordinary transformations. —University of California Press



Angilee Shah and Jeffrey Wasserstrom (Editors)
University of California Press
September 2012

Author Bio

Angilee Shah is a freelance journalist and editor. She has reported from across Asia, including China, Thailand, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, and was a South Asian Journalists Association Reporting Fellow in 2007-8. She is a former editor of the online magazine AsiaMedia and a consulting editor to the Journal of Asian Studies.

Jeffrey Wasserstrom is Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of several books including China in the 21st Century, Global Shanghai, and China's Brave New World, and the editor of the Journal of Asian Studies. He is an Asia Society Associate Fellow.

Jeffrey Wasserstrom is Chancellor’s Professor of Chinese History at the University of California Irvine, the author of books such as China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford,...





Unmade in China

Jeremy R. Haft
If you look carefully at how things are actually made in China—from shirts to toys, apple juice to oil rigs—you see a reality that contradicts every widely-held notion about the world’s so-called economic powerhouse. From the inside looking out, China is not a manufacturing juggernaut. It’s a Lilliputian. Nor is it a killer of American jobs. It’s a huge job creator. Rising China is importing goods from America in such volume that millions of U.S. jobs are sustained through Chinese trade and investment. In Unmade in China, entrepreneur and Georgetown University business professor Jeremy R. Haft lifts the lid on the hidden world of China’s intricate supply chains. Informed by years of experience building new companies in China, Haft’s unique, insider’s view reveals a startling picture of an economy which struggles to make baby formula safely, much less a nuclear power plant. Using firm-level data and recent case studies, Unmade in China tells the story of systemic risk in Chinese manufacturing and why this is both really bad and really good news for America. —Polity Press{chop}



China’s Disruptors

Edward Tse
In September 2014, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba raised $25 billion in the world’s biggest-ever initial public offering. Since then, millions of investors and managers worldwide have pondered a fundamental question: What’s really going on with the new wave of China’s disruptors?Alibaba wasn’t an outlier—it’s one of a rising tide of thriving Chinese companies, mostly but not exclusively in the technology sector. Overnight, its founder, Jack Ma, appeared on the same magazine covers as American entrepreneurial icons like Mark Zuckerberg. Ma was quickly followed by the founders of other previously little-known companies, such as Baidu, Tencent, and Xiaomi.Over the past two decades, an unprecedented burst of entrepreneurialism has transformed China’s economy from a closed, impoverished, state-run system into a major power in global business. As products in China become more and more sophisticated, and as its companies embrace domestically developed technology, we will increasingly see Chinese goods setting global standards. Meanwhile, companies in the rest of the world wonder how they can access the fast-rising incomes of China’s 1.3 billion consumers.Now Edward Tse, a leading global strategy consultant, reveals how China got to this point, and what the country’s rise means for the United States and the rest of the world. Tse has spent more than twenty years working with senior Chinese executives, learning firsthand how China’s most powerful companies operate. He’s an expert on how private firms are thriving in what is still, officially, a communist country. His book draws on exclusive interviews and case studies to explore questions such as:What drives China’s entrepreneurs? Personal fame and fortune—or a quest for national pride and communal achievement?How do these companies grow so quickly? In 2005, Lenovo sold just one category of products (personal computers) in one market, China. Today, not only is it the world’s largest PC seller; it is also the world’s third-largest smartphone seller.How does Chinese culture shape the strategies and tactics of these business leaders? Can outsiders copy what the Chinese are doing?Can capitalists really thrive within a communist system? How does Tencent’s Pony Ma serve as a member of China’s parliament while running a company that dominates online games and messaging?What impact will China have on the rest of the world as its private companies enter new markets, acquire foreign businesses, and threaten established firms in countless industries?As Tse concludes: “I believe that as a consequence of the opening driven by China’s entrepreneurs, the push to invest in science, research, and development, and the new freedoms that people are enjoying across the country, China has embarked on a renaissance that could rival its greatest era in history—the Tang dynasty. These entrepreneurs are the front line in China’s intense hunger for success. They will have an even more remarkable impact on the global economy in the future, through the rest of this decade and beyond.” —Portfolio/Penguin{chop}



Meeting China Halfway

Lyle J. Goldstein
Though a U.S.–China conflict is far from inevitable, major tensions are building in the Asia-Pacific region. These strains are the result of historical enmity, cultural divergence, and deep ideological estrangement, not to mention apprehensions fueled by geopolitical competition and the closely related "security dilemma." Despite worrying signs of intensifying rivalry between Washington and Beijing, few observers have provided concrete paradigms to lead this troubled relationship away from disaster. Meeting China Halfway: How to Defuse the Emerging US-China Rivalry is dramatically different from any other book about U.S.-China relations. Lyle J. Goldstein's explicit focus in almost every chapter is on laying bare both U.S. and Chinese perceptions of where their interests clash and proposing new paths to ease bilateral tensions through compromise. Each chapter contains a “cooperation spiral”―the opposite of an escalation spiral―to illustrate the policy proposals. Goldstein not only parses findings from the latest American scholarship but also breaks new ground by analyzing hundreds of Chinese-language sources, including military publications, never before evaluated by Western experts. Goldstein makes one hundred policy proposals over the course of this book, not because these are the only solutions to arresting the alarming course toward conflict, but rather to inaugurate a genuine debate regarding cooperative policy solutions to the most vexing problems in U.S.-China relations. ―Georgetown University Press {chop}



City of Virtues

Chuck Wooldridge
Throughout Nanjing’s history, writers have claimed that its spectacular landscape of mountains and rivers imbued the city with “royal qi,” making it a place of great political significance. City of Virtues examines the ways a series of visionaries, drawing on past glories of the city, projected their ideologies onto Nanjing as they constructed buildings, performed rituals, and reworked the literary heritage of the city. More than an urban history of Nanjing from the late 18th century until 1911―encompassing the Opium War, the Taiping occupation of the city, the rebuilding of the city by Zeng Guofan, and attempts to establish it as the capital of the Republic of China―this study shows how utopian visions of the cosmos shaped Nanjing’s path through the turbulent 19th century.―University of Washington Press{chop}



The Yellow River

David A. Pietz
Flowing through the heart of the North China Plain―home to 200 million people―the Yellow River sustains one of China’s core regions. Yet this vital water supply has become highly vulnerable in recent decades, with potentially serious repercussions for China’s economic, social, and political stability. The Yellow River is an investigative expedition to the source of China’s contemporary water crisis, mapping the confluence of forces that have shaped the predicament that the world’s most populous nation now faces in managing its water reserves.Chinese governments have long struggled to maintain ecological stability along the Yellow River, undertaking ambitious programs of canal and dike construction to mitigate the effects of recurrent droughts and floods. But particularly during the Maoist years the North China Plain was radically re-engineered to utilize every drop of water for irrigation and hydroelectric generation. As David A. Pietz shows, Maoist water management from 1949 to 1976 cast a long shadow over the reform period, beginning in 1978. Rapid urban growth, industrial expansion, and agricultural intensification over the past three decades of China’s economic boom have been realized on a water resource base that was acutely compromised, with effects that have been more difficult and costly to overcome with each passing decade. Chronicling this complex legacy, The Yellow River provides important insight into how water challenges will affect China’s course as a twenty-first-century global power.―Harvard University Press{chop}



China’s Millennials

Eric Fish
In 1989, students marched on Tiananmen Square demanding democratic reform. The Communist Party responded with a massacre, but it was jolted into restructuring the economy and overhauling the education of its young citizens. A generation later, Chinese youth are a world apart from those who converged at Tiananmen. Brought up with lofty expectations, they’ve been accustomed to unprecedented opportunities on the back of China’s economic boom. But today, China’s growth is slowing and its demographics rapidly shifting, with the boom years giving way to a painful hangover.Immersed in this transition, Eric Fish, a millennial himself, profiles youth from around the country and how they are navigating the education system, the workplace, divisive social issues, and a resurgence in activism. Based on interviews with scholars, journalists, and hundreds of young Chinese, his engrossing book challenges the idea that today’s youth have been pacified by material comforts and nationalism. Following rural Henan students struggling to get into college, a computer prodigy who sparked a nationwide patriotic uproar, and young social activists grappling with authorities, Fish deftly captures youthful struggle, disillusionment, and rebellion in a system that is scrambling to keep them in line—and, increasingly, scrambling to adapt when its youth refuse to conform.—Rowman & Littlefield{chop}



China Under Mao

Andrew G. Walder
China’s Communist Party seized power in 1949 after a long period of guerrilla insurgency followed by full-scale war, but the Chinese revolution was just beginning. China Under Mao narrates the rise and fall of the Maoist revolutionary state from 1949 to 1976—an epoch of startling accomplishments and disastrous failures, steered by many forces but dominated above all by Mao Zedong.Mao’s China, Andrew Walder argues, was defined by two distinctive institutions established during the first decade of Communist Party rule: a Party apparatus that exercised firm (sometimes harsh) discipline over its members and cadres; and a socialist economy modeled after the Soviet Union. Although a large national bureaucracy had oversight of this authoritarian system, Mao intervened strongly at every turn. The doctrines and political organization that produced Mao’s greatest achievements―victory in the civil war, the creation of China’s first unified modern state, a historic transformation of urban and rural life—also generated his worst failures: the industrial depression and rural famine of the Great Leap Forward and the violent destruction and stagnation of the Cultural Revolution.Misdiagnosing China’s problems as capitalist restoration and prescribing continuing class struggle against imaginary enemies as the solution, Mao ruined much of what he had built and created no viable alternative. At the time of his death, he left China backward and deeply divided.—Harvard University Press{chop}{node, 16186, 4}



No Ordinary Disruption

Richard Dobbs, James Manyika, Jonathan Woetzel
Our intuition on how the world works could well be wrong. We are surprised when new competitors burst on the scene, or businesses protected by large and deep moats find their defenses easily breached, or vast new markets are conjured from nothing. Trend lines resemble saw-tooth mountain ridges.The world not only feels different. The data tell us it is different. Based on years of research by the directors of the McKinsey Global Institute, No Ordinary Disruption: The Four Forces Breaking All the Trends is a timely and important analysis of how we need to reset our intuition as a result of four forces colliding and transforming the global economy: the rise of emerging markets; the accelerating impact of technology on the natural forces of market competition; an aging world population; and accelerating flows of trade, capital, and people.Our intuitions formed during a uniquely benign period for the world economy—often termed the Great Moderation. Asset prices were rising, cost of capital was falling, labor and resources were abundant, and generation after generation was growing up more prosperous than their parents.But the Great Moderation has gone. The cost of capital may rise. The price of everything from grain to steel may become more volatile. The world’s labor force could shrink. Individuals, particularly those with low job skills, are at risk of growing up poorer than their parents.What sets No Ordinary Disruption apart is depth of analysis combined with lively writing informed by surprising, memorable insights that enable us to quickly grasp the disruptive forces at work. For evidence of the shift to emerging markets, consider the startling fact that, by 2025, a single regional city in China—Tianjin—will have a GDP equal to that of the Sweden, or that, in the decades ahead, half of the world’s economic growth will come from 440 cities including Kumasi in Ghana or Santa Carina in Brazil that most executives today would be hard-pressed to locate on a map.What we are now seeing is no ordinary disruption but the new facts of business life—facts that require executives and leaders at all levels to reset their operating assumptions and management intuition.—PublicAffairs{chop}



Meet Me in Venice

Suzanne Ma
When Ye Pei dreamed of Venice as a girl, she imagined a magical floating city of canals and gondola rides. And she imagined her mother, successful in her new life and eager to embrace the daughter she had never forgotten. But when Ye Pei arrives in Italy, she learns her mother works on a farm far from the city. Her only connection, a mean-spirited Chinese auntie, puts Ye Pei to work in a small-town café. Rather than giving up and returning to China, a determined Ye Pei takes on a grueling schedule, resolving to save enough money to provide her family with a better future.{node, 15611}A groundbreaking work of journalism, Meet Me in Venice provides a personal, intimate account of Chinese individuals in the very act of migration. Suzanne Ma spent years in China and Europe to understand why Chinese people choose to immigrate to nations where they endure hardship, suspicion, manual labor, and separation from their loved ones. Today, all eyes are on China and its explosive economic growth. With the rise of the Chinese middle class, Chinese communities around the world are growing in size and prosperity, a development many westerners find unsettling and even threatening. Following Ye Pei’s undaunted path, this inspiring book is an engrossing read for those eager to understand contemporary China and the enormous impact of Chinese emigrants around the world. —Rowman & Littlefield{chop} 



Fantasy Islands

Julie Sze
The rise of China and its status as a leading global factory are altering the way people live and consume. At the same time, the world appears wary of the real costs involved. Fantasy Islands probes Chinese, European, and American eco-desire and eco-technological dreams, and examines the solutions they offer to environmental degradation in this age of global economic change.Uncovering the stories of sites in China, including the plan for a new eco-city called Dongtan on the island of Chongming, mega-suburbs, and the Shanghai World Expo, Julie Sze explores the flows, fears, and fantasies of Pacific Rim politics that shaped them. She charts how climate change discussions align with U.S. fears of China’s ascendancy and the related demise of the American Century, and she considers the motives of financial and political capital for eco-city and ecological development supported by elite power structures in the U.K. and China. Fantasy Islands shows how ineffectual these efforts are while challenging us to see what a true eco-city would be. —University of California Press{chop}