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Reports from China

by James Fallows

Pub Date: Jan. 6th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-307-45624-3
Publisher: Vintage

Dispatches from Atlantic Monthly national correspondent Fallows (Blind Into Baghdad: America’s War in Iraq, 2006, etc.) capture with clarity and humor the present and future of the country that could be the next world superpower.

China is in the midst of an astonishing economic boom that is fantastically anarchic, despite the heavy-handed political controls of the Communist Party. Those who are young, smart and ambitious, writes the author, can seize unprecedented opportunities for wealth and success. A popular reality-TV show, Win in China (loosely based on Donald Trump’s The Apprentice), which has would-be entrepreneurs competing for a million dollars in seed money, conveys the message that anyone might have such chances. Fallows profiles visionary billionaire technology whiz kids who have created entire cities to house their production facilities. He travels to the Pearl River Delta in southern China, where factories the size of airports employ, feed and house as many as 250,000 workers, and five factories turn out 90 percent of the laptops sold by “competing” Western companies. At the local Sheraton, Fallows details the delicate dance between Western company representatives who want to set up production in China and expatriate middlemen who locate the factories they need. He also offers sober analysis of China’s dire environmental state, as well as a moving and enlightening portrait of earthquake-ravaged western Sichuan. Finally, amidst the cacophony of Chinese productivity, Fallows pauses to consider what it all means to the United States. China is simply too busy to be a political or military threat, he concludes. If our economic relations with this powerhouse leave us worried and uneasy, he notes, that is not China’s concern but our own. It is our responsibility to learn how to compete successfully in the new economic order it exemplifies.

Neither alarmist nor apologist, one of the clearest and most enjoyable accounts of China currently available.