by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn (New York: Vintage Books, 1995) 501pp.
In China Wakes: The Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn take their reader on a journey through the People's Republic of China from the bustling urban capital of Beijing to the struggling rural Tibetan plateau of Qinghai province, and from the economic zone of Guangdong in the East to the separatist hamlets of Kashgar in the West. The book presents an objective account of the experiences and events the authors encountered while living and working in China. Using anecdotes and broad historical references, as well as citing literature and other China watchers, the husband and wife team recount stories of individuals who "made it" within the system and of others who became its victims. References are made to the Cultural Revolution, the Tiananmen Square massacre and the Communist Party, and analyses are given on China's economic boom and its social and political future.
During their five years as correspondents for The New York Times in Beijing, Kristof and WuDunn wrote stories in investigative reporting style, taking into account issues that a journalist would consider. This is reflected in the kinds of stories found in the book as well as in the journalist-source relationships they nurtured with the local people. Each story told in China Wakes has some eccentric quality to it that sets it apart from the rest. The authors relate the most striking stories they know as a means of underscoring and clarifying the principle themes of life in China in the 1990s.
In the first part of the book, Kristof talks about his trip to Qinghai province in the Tibetan plateau and his encounter with villagers who disdain China and the Chinese. He resolves that there are in fact two overwhelming forces reshaping China today: "the instinctive repressiveness of a collapsing dynasty" and "a second revolution." To validate these contentions, he compares the current regime with the declining days of the ancient dynasties, and then goes on to discuss China's explosive economic and social changes. "At the present rate," he writes, "China's economy may surpass America's within a few decades and the world has not yet woken up to the potential challenge ahead." He warns that these forces could be destabilizing because of explosive population increases, global warming due to industrialization and increasing energy prices.
Some of Kristof's comparisons fail to...