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In 16 punchy, occasionally underdeveloped essays, a young American journalist who has lived and studied in China spotlights some of the marginal types whose stories reveal a lot about this drastically changing country.

For better or worse, these are the faces of the new China: slackers running tourist bars in the idyllic hippie capital of Dali; ubiquitous prostitutes, estimated at one in ten women of the total population; students at the best universities resigned to cheating and noncritical thinking; ostracized homosexuals; addicts of ketamine and role-playing games; mafia kingpins; journalists and artists who bravely expose a still-fascist government. Mexico moves fluidly through the country’s highly stratified society. In the first essay, “The Peasant Who Likes to Take Pictures,” the author profiles the elusive photojournalist Maohair, whose pictures showing victims of mine explosions, migrant workers demanding back wages and environmental disasters chronicle the human toll of China’s devastating growth. In “The Black Society,” Mexico pursues a Chinese businessman whose tentacles extend into the crooked rackets of construction, karaoke parlors and seafood markets. In “The Killers,” Mexico infiltrates a complicated role-playing game called the Killing People Club, in which players obsessively enact rituals of masochism. The author, reflecting on the silence surrounding the Cultural Revolution, wonders if this is a way “for educated Chinese citizens to subvert their history as victims and to become, briefly and metaphorically, the oppressor?” Mexico doesn’t tip-toe around troubling issues of racism, in the form of the Chinese treatment of the Uighur minority and the immigrant Nigerians, and censorship, such as the government’s silence around the spread of AIDS and rampant environmental pollution. His work forms an invaluable auxiliary to more rosy official guides in navigating a perplexing culture.

A hardy, useful work of journalism.

Pub Date: March 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-59376-223-0
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Soft Skull Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2009


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