Peter Hessler was the New Yorker’s correspondent in Beijing. You might have read his first book, River Town, his two year diary detailing his experiences volunteering for the US Peace Corp in Chongqing in the mid-90s. His latest missive is called “Country Driving: A Journey through China from Farm to Factory”. The middle of three sections focuses on the dramatic changes in a country village in the early years of the 21st century, and the massive impact on the lives of one particular family: the Wei’s.
The changes and their impact come quickly and highlight China as a country of perpetual motion – it’s like an industrial revolution on crack for want of a better phrase. Hessler’s writing has significantly improved my understanding of the internal and external dynamics of change in modern Chinese culture, and for this I recommend his book.
Within in the space of a few short years the village is impacted by a new road, cars, tourists, growth of a tourist industry, the increase in salaries and reduced reliance on agriculture as a source of income. This is turn impacts the diets of all the members of the family, their health, their clothing, drinking and smoking habits. The roles of the husband and wife are called into question, with the husband enjoying the social benefits and freedom associated with economic prosperity, while the wife takes the brunt of the work. This is all set against the backdrop of a search for meaning beyond the mundane accumulation of wealth, and how the fractures bought on by such change can be damaging to the psyche and relationships.
And of course – with access to instant noodles…there’s now a lot more garbage pilling up in the village.