As a longtime reader of the New York Times and The Economist, I’ve read numerous articles over the years dealing with the rapid economic rise of China. In the spring of 2006 I caught reporter Ted Fishman at Powell’s City of Books promoting his 2006 book China Inc: How the Rise of the Next Superpower Challenges America and the World. After seeing his presentation, and reading his rather excellent book, I’ve wanted to read more books dealing with China and other members of the emerging “BRIC” nations of Brazil, Russia and India. So, when I saw Seth Faison’s 2004 book South of the Clouds: Exploring the Hidden Realms of China on the shelf at my local library my curiosity got the best of me and I grabbed it.
Faison, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, former New York Times Shanghai Bureau Chief and husband of CNN reporter Siobhan Darrow, covers two decades of living in China. Starting in 1984 as a young American student struggling to learn the Chinese language, to an aspiring reporter covering the run-up and bloody aftermath of Tiananmen Square, to a seasoned investigative journalist exposing commercial piracy, Faison does an admirable job producing a readable book which chronicles China’s evolution as an economic power. Faison chronicles this evolution in an intimate fashion. Instead of quoting dry economic statistics and other abstract factoids he shows us the human face of social change and economic progress. Not only is this revealed in the lives of the everyday Chinese he encounters, but also through his romantic adventures with assorted Chinese women. From shy peasant women fearful of Westerners to confident professionals to an accomplished transsexual choreographer, his romantic adventures shed light on the nation’s changing society more than most sociologists would comfortably admit. Faison’s book is the anti-three thousand foot picture of China. This is China from the street level.
After finishing South of the Clouds I decided to supplement my China studies by finally reading Amy Hsuan’s China series which ran last year in the Oregonian newspaper. I plan to follow-up her series with Richard Read’s recent piece from the same newspaper. Lastly, I’d like to read J. Maarten Troost’s Lost on Planet China as well as Leslie Chang’s Factory Girls. Because we all know, after reading one book on China 30 minutes later you have to read another one.