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Will the Boat Sink the Water?


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What's most surprising about this expos? of the Chinese government's brutal treatment of the peasantry is not that it was banned in China, but that it got past the censors in the first place. The authors-a husband and wife team who have received major awards-recount how, in the poor province of Anhui, greedy local officials impose illegal taxes on the already impoverished peasantry and cover their tracks through double-bookkeeping. Outraged peasants risk their freedom and sometimes their lives by complaining up the command chain or making the long and costly trip to Beijing, but for the most part the central government's proclamations against excessive taxation don't effectively filter back to the local level. The authors criticize the central government for its own heavy taxation and underrepresentation of the peasantry, though in much more measured tones than they fault the local officials. "Could it be that our system itself is a toxic pool and whoever enters is poisoned by it?" they ask. As Westerners look toward China as the world's next superpower, this book is a reminder that the country's 900 million peasants often get lost in the glitter of Shanghai's Tiffany's. (June) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

This engrossing book is a dramatic sketch of a huge problem. China's successful foray into globalization succeeded in lifting perhaps 400 million Chinese out of poverty but also created a gulf between the prosperous and the poor villages. Chen and Wu, a husband-and-wife journalist team, set out in 2001 to survey the countryside in their home province, Anhui, which is neither rich nor extremely poor. The results, first published in a suppressed but widely read Chinese book, are devastating. Zhu, herself a longtime advocate of democratic reforms, here fluently translates four of the authors' stories. One exposes a local tyrant who, with no restraints from the Party, systematically overtaxes and bullies the villages. Others feature a courageously resisting farmer and an official who still honors Mao Zedong's slogan "Serve the People." Farmers (here for some reason called peasants) were classically the "water" supporting the rulers, or "boat." This book asks whether China's farmers can survive the onslaught of their new rulers. The authors do not offer a systematic analysis and do not seem entirely aware of the history of China's rural reforms, but their book is required for specialist collections and recommended for larger public libraries (books with the same title were published in the 1930s and should not be confused with this one).-Charles W. Hayford, Northwestern Univ., Evanston, IL Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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