If you are curious about life in China’s rural areas, I highly recommend Country Driving,a three-part book that describes crazy road trips along the Great Wall, life in a small village close to Beijing, and life in factories. I particularly enjoyed the first part of the book, in which the author, armed with a Chinese driver’s license and a rental car, boldly proceeds to travel on small highways far from urban centers and encounters well-dressed hitchhikers, broken-down trucks and their drivers who deposit their broken oil pumps in the backseat, and occasionally, inflexible police officers since he is, after all, travelling without a permit in a police state.
After the monumental road trip I found it hard to become captivated in the story of the village where he rents a country house. But soon enough a proper road gets built and the village becomes accessible to the Beijing middle-class in search of day trips and “traditional” meals (based on completely non-authentic trout!) — and the lives of the villagers are upended as some grab new opportunities and the social structure is upended.
As for the third part about factory life, I did not think it was as good as another book about the same topic that I had loved, Factory Girls, and I found out in the acknowledgement section that it was written by the author’s wife! Small world.
Still, I enjoyed the book very much for the portrait of a society in fast and often uneasy transition to the modern world, with the attendant conflicts between traditional and new ways and the pressure on families and society as a whole.