Wild Grass: China's Revolution from Below by Ian Johnson

Wild Grass: China's Revolution from Below
Ian Johnson
(Penguin Group, London: 2004)

Some of the material previously appeared in a slightly different form in the Wall Street Journal .

READ: March 2007

Here's an excellent example of how a well-respected journalist should write a book based on his columns and expertise in a particular area.

Ian Johnson is a roving correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, and lived in Beijing for seven years. In his book, Wild Grass, he tells the stories of three people in China, three stories of people who tried in little ways to resist the corruption and oppression of the Communist Party. The first is a paralegal who is jailed for having helped peasants mount a legal battle against illegal taxes. Second is an architect fighting to save Beijing's historic buildings, which are being destroyed at an alarming rate. The last is a daughter who has been jailed and running into difficulties with authorities because she tried to find out answers about her mother's death in prison (where she was jailed as a Falun Gong practitioner).

I know shamefully little about China and its politics, and understand even less. I was depressed for at least two days straight after finishing this book. That being said, it was an excellent read and I strongly encourage anyone with any interest in the outside world (esp politics) to read it. Johnson knows his subject, he knows how to make a story interesting, and he knows how to make things resonate on a personal level. There were a few "of course Communism is bad and of course it is failing" moments, but overall, he does a good job of exposing the Chinese government's current weaknesses in policy and strategy without devolving too far into the land of democracy-and-market-freedom-is-great. It is well-written, and the endnotes put Thomas Friedman to shame.*

* Not that that is very hard to do.

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