In This Review

The Chinese
The Chinese
By David Bonavia
Lippincott & Crowell, 1980, 290 pp
New Shanghai: The Rocky Rebirth of China's Legendary City
New Shanghai: The Rocky Rebirth of China's Legendary City
By Pamela Yatsko
John Wiley, 2001, 298 pp

The Chinese is a superb book for anyone who wants to be updated on contemporary China. Becker, a journalist who has covered China since 1985, has the unique ability to weave together his personal observations with clear summary analyses of China's many accomplishments and its persisting problems. For good measure, he gracefully adds a great deal of appropriate and informative historical material. He systematically reviews all levels and dimensions of Chinese society, from the poorest peasants to local despots to elite politics. And he fully treats both the factors contributing to the success of economic reforms and the serious problems that remain. His is a reliable and lively guide to understanding a very complex society that has yet to achieve a new state of equilibrium.

Yatsko is also a veteran China reporter, but her work concentrates on the key city of Shanghai. She has a solid base for measuring the achievements of the current reforms: in the 1920s and 1930s, Shanghai was the preeminent cosmopolitan city in Asia -- the "Paris of the East" -- and a leader in trade and finance. Although the city has scored impressive achievements since the Mao era, it still lags far behind what it was before World War II, especially in cultural and intellectual spheres. (The old Shanghai had a world-class symphony and more newspapers than Bombay and Calcutta combined; in the 1930s, it published more book titles each year than the entire American book industry.) As with Becker, Yatsko finds that behind all the signs of exciting progress, serious problems still need to be overcome before Shanghai and China can realize their full potential.