by Rob Schmitz
Marketplace’s Rob Schmitz moved to Shanghai in 2010. To gain perspective on China’s new reality, he interviewed the ordinary people who lived and worked beside him. He spoke to shop owners, young professionals, beggars, and countless others about their everyday experiences, their troubled histories, and the hopes that fuel them. Schmitz forged deep relationships with the diverse array of people who make up China’s most vibrant city, their stories connected by a single street that runs through the heart of Shanghai.
I read books like this to get a full understanding of the every day lives of people around the world, because it’s the best way to really understand such countries and to see what they’re really like. And this book does just that. It didn’t hide the ugliness that surrounds the lives of the people that Rob Schmitz met and wrote about.
This book focuses on the lives of the people who happen to live on this road in Shanghai – past, present, and future. All these lives just so happen where shaped by Mao and events of the cultural revolution that follows. To this day, people are shaped by these events, young and old. As someone outside of China, I didn’t realize to what degree it still effects the lives of the people in this country and how these people live today. It talked about the cultural revolution, laws in current day China that are often talked about on the internet (such as the law about China’s youth being required to visit their parents monthly, but the posts never talking about the fact most youth move to the cities from rural China to get decent jobs and not talking about the great distances they have to travel to do just that, in one of the biggest countries in the world), arranged marriages, religion, ‘left behind children’, power of the government, and more. It was a need to know what happened to people who lost their homes, who continued to fight an uphill battle against China’s current government that kept me reading.
I admit, I did put this book down after the first few chapters due to the fact I couldn’t get into the writing of this book at first. It was only after taking a break and coming back and seeing it more as a news article than an exciting book that was written not to inform, but as entertainment. This book wasn’t a fun read, but it was an interesting one. I often read it at night for this reason until I reached the last few chapters, in which I needed to simply know what happened next for these people who had grown on me and left me rooting for them, even if they’re causes were impossible.
Surprisingly, this book helped me remember why I wanted to become a librarian (despite the hardships that they are now facing more than ever) due to one of these people who immigrated here and had found a home in his local library, which helped him learn English and get his GED. I honestly didn’t see this happening when I picked up this book but I’m happy it had, when I had been shaken by things other librarians have written of late that they deal with daily. Because it showed the good that still comes from it, from the people you least except.
If you’re looking for a nonfiction book about modern day China, then I do recommend this book, but only to warn that it talks about very difficult subjects such as suicide, abuse, injustice, starvation, and a lot of uncomfortable topics. It’s interesting, though the writing is that of someone who writes for newspapers (the author actually writes about the Chinese economy, so it’s understandable that he might not get how to make it more interesting, but he does try and get better). It should be remembered though that this was written by an outsider, though one that had lived there for ten years. He does point this out throughout the book, which is an improvement, but such things are best said by those from there. It helps his case that he doesn’t talk about his own life except for small sections in the story. But this being the case, it might be better to read something from someone that is a native to compare this with.
Rating – 3 stars
EDIT :: Consider watching Ai Weiwei: Never Story on Netflix. It shows life in China for the Artist Ai Weiwei and other artists.