Butterfield's book is in the tradition of Hedrick Smith's The Russians. It is one of the most sobering, perceptive and critical accounts of contemporary China yet published. Fluent in Chinese, the author was able to penetrate far beneath the often superficial impressions of non-Chinese-speaking visitors. He vividly describes the extraordinary inefficiencies of central planning, the rigid class structure, the bureaucratic privilege, and the profound disillusionment that permeates all sectors of Chinese society. A young Chinese tells the author: "China really isn't that different from the Soviet Union. We just smile more than the Russians, so [we] seem nicer."