Bernstein has studied rural China for 40 years, tracking how Communist policies have affected the lives of the peasants. In this book, a collaboration with his associate Lü, he focuses mainly on recent developments -- which have, on the whole, not been kind to rural populations. At the start of the reform process, peasants did benefit from the breakup of the communes and the inception of "village and town enterprises." But the main story is captured by the book's title: rural populations increasingly find themselves the victims of corrupt local officials seeking money through all manner of fees and informal taxes. The outline is fairly well known, but Bernstein and Lü provide troubling details: as central authority recedes, local authorities have been free to increase their own demands on the limited resources of hapless peasants.