Monday, 5 May 2014
During the discussion last Saturday with Pankaj Mishra – who Pico Iyer calls ‘a rare writer who is at ease as a historian, philosopher, traveler, and memoirist’ – organized by Tibet Policy Institute in Dharamsala, I asked if he could recommend three books that every Tibetan should read on China.
Here are Mishra’s recommendations in the same order he mentioned:
1. China in Ten Words by Yu Hua, the author of To Live, Chronicle of a Blood Merchant and many more.
"Framed by ten phrases common in the Chinese vernacular, China in Ten Words uses personal stories and astute analysis to reveal as never before the world’s most populous yet oft-misunderstood nation. In "Disparity," for example, Yu Hua illustrates the expanding gaps that separate citizens of the country. In "Copycat," he depicts the escalating trend of piracy and imitation as a creative new form of revolutionary action. And in "Bamboozle," he describes the increasingly brazen practices of trickery, fraud, and chicanery that are, he suggests, becoming a way of life at every level of society. Witty, insightful, and courageous, this is a refreshingly candid vision of the "Chinese miracle" and all of its consequences.”
"In 1983, at the age of thirty, dissident artist Ma Jian finds himself divorced by his wife, separated from his daughter, betrayed by his girlfriend, facing arrest for “Spiritual Pollution,” and severely disillusioned with the confines of life in Beijing. So with little more than a change of clothes and two bars of soap, Ma takes off to immerse himself in the remotest parts of China. His journey would last three years and take him through smog-choked cities and mountain villages, from scenes of barbarity to havens of tranquility. Remarkably written and subtly moving, the result is an insight into the teeming contradictions of China that only a man who was both insider and outsider in his own country could have written. "
3. Socialism is Great by Lijia Zhang, a writer, journalist and public speaker.
With a great charm and spirit, “Socialism Is Great!” recounts Lijia Zhang’s rebellious journey from disillusioned factory worker to organizer in support of the Tiananmen Square demonstrators, to eventually become the writer and journalist she always determined to be. Her memoir is like a brilliant miniature illuminating the sweeping historical forces at work in China after the Cultural Revolution as the country moved from one of stark repression to a vibrant, capitalist economy.
I am adding one more to the list, which is Mishra’s own A Great Clamour: Encounters with China and its Neighbours.
‘‘Journeying to Tibet on the newly built express from Beijing, to Mongolia on the Trans-Siberian Railway, and then through Indonesia, Malaysia, and Taiwan, he draws, too, an vivid portrait of China’s neighbours, and the shadow the restless giant casts over its stage.”