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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

New Books go behind Great Wall of Chinese Censorship

June 25, 2008

Pam Locker
The Evansville Courier (USA)
June 22, 2008

With China on the verge of being the world's next great nation,
interest in the People's Republic is high. However, due to the
extremely effective censorship that hamstrings foreign reporters,
most of us have a very dated and incomplete picture of contemporary China.

Media exposure during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing should
help. But in the meantime, here are two new books that made me feel
that, like Rip Van Winkle, I had slept through some huge changes.

"China's Great Train: Beijing's Drive West and the Campaign to Remake
Tibet" by Abrahm Lustgarten (Times Books, 2008)

In 2000, Chinese leaders decided to proceed with the longtime dream
of building a 700-mile railroad through the Tibetan mountains and
unstable permafrost plateau to the holy city of Lhasa.

Not only would the railroad bring the rebellious Tibetan-occupied
areas, which constitute one quarter of China's total area, into the
fold, but it would also lead to vastly improved security along the
Indian-Chinese border and offer access to the region's vast mineral
and oil deposits.

And, ostensibly, it would extend the country's booming prosperity to
the Tibetans.

Veteran free-lancer and Fortune magazine contributor Lustgarten,
posing as an innocent backpacker during numerous forays inside Tibet,
has provided a wealth of intriguing detail about the people, both
large and small, involved in and affected by this astounding engineering feat.

He also reports on the harsh treatment of Buddhist practitioners and
deflates whatever dreams we might have had of visiting pristine
Tibet, because it no longer exists.

The Lhasa Express made its maiden voyage in June 2006.

"Socialism is Great: a Worker's Memoir of the New China" by Lijia
Zhang (Atlas & Co., 2008)

Zhang, a good student growing up in Nanjing, dreamed of becoming a
college-educated journalist.

Instead, at age 16, she began a 10-year stint at the Liming Machinery
Factory, making intercontinental missiles, when her mother took an
early retirement and deeded Zhang her job.

In this funny and revealing coming-of-age memoir set in the 1980s,
long after the terrors of the Cultural Revolution, boredom and
restlessness are far greater problems than political reprisals.

Zhang learns English by listening to the Carpenters and frequenting
English language get-togethers at a local cafe.

After marrying an Englishman and studying in England, she currently
lives in Beijing with her two daughters and works as a journalist.

Pam Locker is manager of Oaklyn Branch Library. Contact her at
428-8234, Ext. 5403, or by e-mail at paml@evpl.org. The opinions here are hers.

"The China Price: the True Cost of Chinese Competitive Advantage" by
Alexandra Harney (Penguin Press, 2008). Harney, an editor for "The
Financial Times," delves into how China manages to make products so
cheaply. Moving from cradle-to-grave public welfare philosophy to one
of every man for himself, the new Chinese state no longer provides
free basic education or health benefits. Under free enterprise,
millions of workers slave away in substandard and dangerous
conditions in humongous factory complexes. There are 400,000
factories in Guangdong province alone, where a single electronics
plant employs 270,000 workers. Harney predicts that unrest among the
workers, competition between factories, and revaluation of the
Chinese currency will lead to more rational pricing.

"The Corpse Walker: Real-Life Stories, China from the Bottom Up" by
Liao Yiwu (Pantheon Books, 2008). Esteemed Chinese poet Liao Yiwu was
arrested, tortured, and imprisoned for four years for making a video
of the Tiananmen Square uprising.

After his release, he was denied a work permit and closely watched by
authorities. In this fascinating collection, banned in China, he
interviews twenty-seven citizens also "stuck at the bottom" including
a public restroom manager, a leper, and a Falun Gong follower about
their lives.
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