IN THE PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC by Orville Schell
Kirkus Star

IN THE PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Orville Schell is just such an observer of the new China as we've needed: a young scholar/journalist, fluent in Chinese, who's at once attuned and undeceived, direct and reflective. Yes, China has been almost miraculously transformed; but no public achievement--not the universal access to health-care and security, the selfless labor and stern equalization, the bootstrap industry and benchside innovations--can match in difficulty the individual need to change inwardly as well as outwardly: ""One must, in short, literally become a new person,"" Schell's account of his 1975 visit (with a 20-member group) is divided into his experiences touring, working in a factory and on a model farm, But the essay-vignettes which compose the book shift casually from topic to topic--from sex, Chinese de-emphasis (""just as China de-emphasizes the personal life of people in general"") to the Shanghai waterfront (where a one-time coolie speaks appreciatively of shelter and hot drink on a rainy day) to pollution and the penal system. Whatever the topic, Schell is aware of the American search for exceptions, for deviations (some prostitution, some resistance among the city-educated to rural assignments), vs. the Chinese concentration on the successful norm: ""they are interested in the functional rather than the dysfunctional parts."" Not that he is uncritical: of the interminable briefings, the written questions demanded, the inability to break stride and make one-to-one contact, the censure of such attempts. That he managed to have personal encounters--see the hilarious ""Shanghai Haircut""--and know his workmates as friends adds flavor and depth to quiet authority.

Pub Date: May 13th, 1977
Publisher: Random House