A study of vastly changing China from the perspective of one busy street in the center of Shanghai.
In his deliberative, observant journalistic style, Schmitz, the China correspondent for the public radio program Marketplace, chronicles his interviews and friendships with several of the shop owners on the street where he has lived for some years, plumbing their dreams and capitalist motivations. Once part of the French Concession, a haven for foreigners, lined by a luxuriant alley of London plane trees, the so-called Street of Eternal Happiness is a narrow two-way thoroughfare where “vehicular pandemonium” invites survival of the fittest on the road between masses of provincial migrants and sophisticated urbanites. All of the entrepreneurs Schmitz befriended have navigated “the system.” There’s CK, the young owner of “2nd Floor Your Sandwich” shop, who was a musician as a kid and now sells accordions to pay the bills; and Zhao Shiling, who runs the lively corner flower shop and has a mighty tale of woe and survival about leaving a “useless” husband back home in Shandong province and taking control of propelling her two sons to future prosperity. With each chapter, Schmitz delves deeply into the families’ endurance through the Cultural Revolution and famine and current drive to better themselves, sparked by the economic flourishing of the mid-1990s. Many of the author’s acquaintances were determined to strive and even get rich—e.g., the risky investments of Auntie Fu, the disputatious wife of the Shanghai-born pancake seller Uncle Feng. Moreover, Schmitz explores some of the current Chinese fads and phenomena, such as the underground lure of Christianity, the fastest-growing religion in China; the resurgence of Buddhism; the shocking demolition of neighboring Maggie Lane to make way for Shanghai’s world fair of 2010; and the baneful task of finding a suitable wife.
Probing human-interest stories that mine the heart of today’s China.