China Road

Rob Gifford ★★★★★

After six years of reporting from China, a british journalist makes a last road-trip accross Route 312, from Shanghai to the depths of the Gobi desert.

Trying to grasp the stance of contemporary Chinese people on economy, education and freedom, he meets all kinds of people, from the millionaires in Beijing to the poorest farmers in rural China. His description of historical events help better understand the context and his style is easy to enjoy.

While I was in China, I felt the urge to read more about the country than just Wikipedia articles. This book turned out to be a good choice. Easy to read and still informative; it may be a bit superficial, but it’s a good introduction. I felt many of my initial impressions confirmed within the book. The fact that the government sacrifices the environment for economic progress is well-known to all, and seeing it with my own eyes was a quite unpleasant experience.


For every fact that is true about China, the opposite is almost always true as well.

Everything is made here, everything that America buys—from Barbie dolls and Christmas tree lights, sneakers and clothing, to laptops and cell phones.

Stop at any factory here, and you will hear the same stories. “I’m a farmer. I earn more here in a month than I did in a year growing rice. Yes, it’s hard work, but it’s worth it. I’m putting my brother through high school. My wages are helping to support my parents back home.”

… in the late 1950s, Mao launched his harebrained scheme to industrialize China at lightning speed in the movement known as the Great Leap Forward. Some 30 million people (30 million people!) are thought to have died simply because everyone had been mobilized to work on massive infrastructure projects and the production of steel and so the peasants were unable to gather in the harvest. Most of the steel produced was of such poor quality that it was unusable.

China now has the highest rate of female suicide in the world, and suicide is the number one cause of death among women between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four.

In 1949, average life expectancy was just thirty-five years. By 1975, it was sixty-three. Today, it is seventy-one. The infant mortality rate was halved in the first five years of Mao’s rule and today is one-eighth what it was in 1949.