The Best Books On People's Lives In Contemporary China

Aihwa Ong Author Of Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality
By Aihwa Ong

The Books I Picked & Why

Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China

By Leslie T. Chang

Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China

Why this book?

China's economic miracle is based on millions of young village women who labor in the industrial zones along the coast. Chang's extensive interviews reveal the hidden hardships and intimate dreams of some factory women as they grew distant from their home villages. The rich stories show how rural women learn to be self-reliant and entrepreneurial in the city, learning new ways to work and love. They are not feminists in the Western sense but practical and resourceful in taking care of themselves in a tumultuous milieu. This book is a classic on rural women's unheralded contribution to China's rise as the workshop of the world.


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Just One Child: Science and Policy in Deng's China

By Susan Greenhalgh

Just One Child: Science and Policy in Deng's China

Why this book?

China's gargantuan size has haunted its efforts to become a modern nation. Anthropologist Greenhalgh argues that in the late 1970s, Chinese rocket scientists, influenced by doomsday policymakers in the West, convinced the Chinese government to impose a one-child family planning program. The draconian enforcement of the one-child policy subjected millions of women to intimate corporeal surveillance that resulted in uncounted numbers of forced abortions, hidden births, and suffering for the masses. By 2016, when the two children policy was instituted, family planning contributed to an unbalanced gender ratio, delayed marriages, and a possibly irreversible population decline. Social engineering is a modus operandi of the Chinese state, and ironically, its most famous strategy threatens the nation's sustainability as a world industrial power.


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Van Gogh on Demand: China and the Readymade

By Winnie Won Yin Wong

Van Gogh on Demand: China and the Readymade

Why this book?

This is a stunning story of China's copycat economy represented by peasant artisans in Dafen village who paint classics of Western art -- from Monet to Warhol -- for the global market. An art historian, Wong conducted ethnographic research among the enterprising peasants whose paintings shaped a flourishing global economy in art reproduction. The Dafen case challenges a conventional art history opposition between the authentic and the copy. Wong's innovative research illuminates how creativity rests in the labor and not in the authenticity of the artistic product. Readers will learn about the peasants' adept capitalization of opportunities fueled by Western consumerist capitalism.


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Deep China: The Moral Life of the Person

By Arthur Kleinman, Yunxiang Yan, Jing Jun, Sing Lee, Everett Zhang, Pan Tianshu, Wu Fei, Jinhua Guo

Deep China: The Moral Life of the Person

Why this book?

This collection, by anthropologists and psychiatrists, gives us a glimpse of soul searching by ordinary people as China compresses centuries of industrial growth into two decades. The unprecedented fragmentation of families and loss of culture have scattered lives and disoriented minds. The chapter authors consider intimate topics --  death, sex, depression, stigma, suicide, and madness -- that lie beneath the glossy images of Chinese achievements. They reveal the deep confusion of ordinary people as they struggle with questions of morality and humanity in a relentless, turbulent world.


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Land of Big Numbers: Stories

By Te-Ping Chen

Land of Big Numbers: Stories

Why this book?

Drawing from her work as a journalist, Chen gives us unsettling stories crystallized by the ferocious competition that engulfs everyone in the vast anonymous landscape that is contemporary China. The endless micro-struggles of small-town individuals to escape poverty or gain an educational foothold reveal their warped understanding of society and life. Mindless mishaps, fears, and even cruelty are everyday experiences of people struggling to survive and protect their families. The great hidden human costs of China's rise are simply mind-boggling. 


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