Gittings, a veteran Western journalist long based in Hong Kong and then Shanghai, has written a vivid history of Communist China. Drawing on his firsthand experience, he recaptures the simultaneous absurdity and utopian idealism of the Mao era and depicts the conflicting sentiments of China-watchers as they observed the power struggles of that time. Troubled by his belief that the Western press was not entirely fair in its coverage of China, he at many points gives China the benefit of the doubt where others have not. Moving forward to the post-Mao era, he offers a history of China's economic rise that is more than just a chronicle of production statistics. (He includes, for example, the production of China's writers and poets.) Looking to the future, Gittings anticipates the gradual expansion of politics but not the disintegration of the party. He identifies economic problems, but none that will fundamentally threaten China's progress. He is most pessimistic about environmental degradation and the escalating demands of a growing population on an inadequate natural-resource base -- especially the limited water supply. Yan'an, Mao's wartime capital, recently had to make do with only one and a half hours of running water every three days.
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