In This Review
Wild Grass: Three Stories of Change in Modern China

Wild Grass: Three Stories of Change in Modern China

By Ian Johnson

Pantheon, 2004, 336 pp.

These books are cause for hope for China's future, demonstrating just how well individual Chinese can find in terrible developments opportunities for positive reflection and heroic action. Wang, who fled China after the Tiananmen crackdown, has compiled an impressive collection of essays by Chinese intellectuals, mostly professors in Chinese universities, in an effort to show that there is a Chinese intellectual realm that is just as astonishing as the Chinese economy. The authors engage in lively debate among themselves and are in complete command of Western thought and philosophy. Together, they show that, whatever the troubles of their nation, individual Chinese can, with great skill and few reservations, take up the most sophisticated features of modern culture.

Johnson, a correspondent for "The Wall Street Journal," draws on three stories of individuals who have turned to the legal system to fight injustice to demonstrate his belief that the Chinese political system is under great stress -- and that major change is imminent. In vivid detail, he recounts a farmer's struggles against local officials; a Beijing resident's efforts to save his beloved old city neighborhood with the help of a lawyer; and an elderly woman's fight with the state over her practice of Falun Gong. Although these cases do not prove that the rule of law prevails, they show that individual Chinese at last have hope that the legal system can help.