Out of Mao’s Shadow: The Struggle for the Soul of a New China — Phlip P. Pan

This is a really moving collection of the stories of fairly ordinary Chinese citizens who are working to come to terms with the history of their country under Communism, and finding ways to chase what they believe in when faced with corrupt officials and a difficult government—ranging from an amateur documentary filmmaker in a race to dig up information on a forgotten revolutionary poet that was later imprisoned for crimes against the state, to people fighting corrupt government officials (in the pockets of developers) to keep their family homes.

Reading books like this always serves to remind me of the dastardly state of my knowledge of the rest of the world–and I do better than most Americans–as well as encouraging me to learn more about China in particular. China is going to play such a huge role in the world this century, and yet so much of our “understanding” of their culture is rooted in cliches and western anti-communist propaganda.

We have a lot of hard questions to ask ourselves as a society with regard to how we want to deal with China in the future, and while I think it’s a mistake to force our cultural expectations there–we can’t ignore the horrible conditions that continue to exist for most of their people.

I really recommend this collection to people who find history and politics more accessible through personal stories vs. dry analysis.