Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Best China books of 2008

Jeffrey Wasserstrom took an interesting approach to naming 2008's best China books for the Far Eastern Economic Review: he created "thematic pairs of books that are particularly effective when read together."

One such pair:
China Noir. Philip Pan’s "Out of Mao’s Shadow" grew out of the stories he filed while covering China for the Washington Post (he’s since moved on to the Moscow bureau), and it is a carefully researched work of political journalism. The obvious thing to pair with it would be another nonfiction study of Chinese politics. I’ll suggest here, though, that it goes very nicely with the British-born and now Beijing-based Catherine Sampson's "Slaughter Pavilion," a crime novel, albeit one whose author used to cover China for the BBC. There is much that differentiates the books from one another, beyond genre. Philip Pan offers up set of only loosely connected tales, for example, while Sampson’s narrative threads end up tied together.

Still, there are important intersections between the books. Each draws on a deep familiarity with the PRC. Corruption and repression figure in both. And though Philip Pan insists that he remains hopeful about China’s future (due to the faith he has that brave individuals, like several he profiles, can make a difference even when the odds are stacked against them), each author stresses the dark side of recent trends. Read together, they make a powerful brief for a bleak view of the PRC.
Read about all of the books on Wasserstrom's list.

--Marshal Zeringue