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China Road: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Powerby Rob Gifford
Synopses & Reviews
Chapter 1. The Promised Land
The magnetic levitation train that links Shanghai's gleaming new Pudong Airport with the center of the city glides out of the airport station and within about two minutes has reached 270 miles per hour. Billboards flash past, almost unreadable. Suspended magnetically along a track that runs some fifty feet above the ground, the train scythes toward the center of China's most modern city. The landscape is surprisingly American--sprawling, low-rise, newly built. The gray bullet leans lazily to the left as it shoots over one of Pudong's main freeways, past cavernous supermarkets and rows of polished new pink and white apartment blocks.
The maglev, as it is known, cost $1.2 billion to build and is the first commercially run train of its kind in the world.
Six weeks before reaching Starry Gorge and the Gobi Desert, I had arrived by plane in Shanghai from Beijing to start my three-thousand-mile road trip along Route 312. I'd been too busy to make many preparations and had only a faint idea of whom I might talk to when I got here.
Almost before the maglev's twenty-mile journey has begun, it has ended. The train eases into the terminus, not far from the new jungle of high-rise buildings that make up downtown Shanghai. I look at my watch as I heave my backpack out onto the platform. Bu cuo. Not bad. I nod to the smartly dressed female ticket collector standing beside the door. Eight minutes.
Seven minutes, twenty seconds, she replies without smiling.
The streets outside the terminus are a cacophony of noise and motion. There is an intangible feel in Shanghai, an urgency, a hope and optimism that hangs in the air all around you from the minute you arrive. People are pushing forward, with their feet and in their heads, building a future, building a country, moving toward some distant, unseen goal.
I've chosen to stay at the slightly down-at-heel but gloriously historic Astor House Hotel, the first foreign hotel to be established in Shanghai, in 1846. The hotel sits at one end of the Bund, the city's original main thoroughfare, which runs along the Huangpu River. The Bund has for more than 150 years been the interface between Shanghai and the arriving yang ren, or Ocean People, as foreigners have always been known.
The Astor House Hotel has witnessed the whole sweep of China's emergence into the modern world, from English opium running in the 1840s through the tea dances of polite society in the 1920s to the excesses of Maoist China in the 1960s. The Art Deco ceilings are high, the creaky floorboards are original, and you could drive a small car down its stairways. Ulysses S. Grant stayed here on his world tour in the 1870s. Charlie Chaplin and George Bernard Shaw and Albert Einstein stayed here too, when Shanghai was the place to visit in Asia in the early part of the twentieth century. Urban myth has it that, in the nineteenth century, you could order opium from room service at the Astor House, and that Zhou Enlai, who would go on to be China's premier, hid in the Astor House when he was a Communist agitator in the 1920s. Shanghai, more than most cities, is suffused with urban myths.
Staying here is also personally nostalgic for me. It was the first hotel I ever stayed at in Shanghai, in the summer of 1988. After my year
Traveling along the three-thousand-mile stretch of China's Route 312, the Beijing bureau chief for NPR offers a close-up look at the economic and social transformation that is turning China upside down, exploring the country's future, the changes that are taking place, and their implications for both China and the world. 50,000 first printing.
Route 312 is the Chinese Route 66. It flows three thousand miles from east to west, passing through the factory towns of the coastal areas, through the rural heart of China, then up into the Gobi Desert, where it merges with the Old Silk Road. The highway witnesses every part of the social and economic revolution that is turning China upside down.
In this utterly surprising and deeply personal book, acclaimed National Public Radio reporter Rob Gifford, a fluent Mandarin speaker, takes the dramatic journey along Route 312 from its start in the boomtown of Shanghai to its end on the border with Kazakhstan. Gifford reveals the rich mosaic of modern Chinese life in all its contradictions, as he poses the crucial questions that all of us are asking about China: Will it really be the next global superpower? Is it as solid and as powerful as it looks from the outside? And who are the ordinary Chinese people, to whom the twenty-first century is supposed to belong?
Gifford is not alone on his journey. The largest migration in human history is taking place along highways such as Route 312, as tens of millions of people leave their homes in search of work. He sees signs of the booming urban economy everywhere, but he also uncovers many of the countrys frailties, and some of the deep-seated problems that could derail Chinas rise.
The whole compelling adventure is told through the cast of colorful characters Gifford meets: garrulous talk-show hosts and ambitious yuppies, impoverished peasants and tragic prostitutes, cell-phone salesmen, AIDS patients, and Tibetan monks. He rides with members of a Shanghai jeep club, hitchhikes across the Gobi desert, and sings karaoke with migrant workers at truck stops along the way.
As he recounts his travels along Route 312, Rob Gifford gives a face to what has historically, for Westerners, been a faceless country and breathes life into a nation that is so often reduced to economic statistics. Finally, he sounds a warning that all is not well in the Chinese heartlands, that serious problems lie ahead, and that the future of the West has become inextricably linked with the fate of 1.3 billion Chinese people.
“Informative, delightful, and powerfully moving . . . Rob Giffords acute powers of observation, his sense of humor and adventure, and his determination to explore the wrenching dilemmas of Chinas explosive development open readers eyes and reward their minds.”
-Robert A. Kapp, president, U.S.-China Business Council, 1994-2004
About the Author
Rob Gifford first went to China in 1987 as a twenty-year-old language student. He has spent much of the last twenty years studying and reporting there. From 1999 to 2005, he was the Beijing correspondent of National Public Radio, and he traveled all over China and the rest of Asia reporting for Morning Edition and All Things Considered. He is now NPR’s London bureau chief.
Table of Contents
Introduction: The Mother Road — The Promised Land — Dislocation — Things Flow — The Unfinished Revolution — "A Single Spark Can Light a Prairie Fire" — Silicon Valley — "Women Hold Up Half the Sky" — "Put the People First" — Power — The Hermit of Hua Shan — Elvis Lives — The Last Great Empire — Monks and Nomads — No Longer Relying on Heaven — "We Want to Live!" — Respect — The End of the Wall — The Caves of a Thousand Buddhas — Endurance — The Great Wall of the Mind — "China Is a Colonial Power" — From Sea to Shining Sea — A Road Is Made.
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History and Social Science » Economics » General