Orville Schell has won many awards for his previous books about China, and this is one of his best. It explores the many contradictions and paradoxes in China, where the greatest economic boom in history is confined by a political straitjacket -- what some describe as "gulag capitalism."
Schell is skeptical about the prospects for continued stability. It is difficult to imagine, he says, "how a system with such internal inconsistencies could long contain itself, especially when it [is] in such a dynamic state of unbalanced change."
Schell also warns about the dangers of China's mounting social problems -- unemployment, inflation, rural instability, and, most of all, corruption. "By 1994 it was almost impossible to do anything without using influence, presenting gifts, dispensing favors, or proffering bribes," he writes. "With official position being regularly used as another means to riches, scandals -- some of them grand in scale -- erupted with increasing frequency."