Chinese Characters (Paperback)

Profiles of Fast-Changing Lives in a Fast-Changing Land

By Angilee Shah (Editor), Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom (Editor), Pankaj Mishra (Foreword by)

University of California Press, 9780520270275, 244pp.

Publication Date: September 28, 2012

Other Editions of This Title:
Hardcover (9/28/2012)

List Price: 26.95*
* Individual store prices may vary.


An artist paints landscapes of faraway places that she cannot identify in order to find her place in the global economy. A migrant worker sorts recyclables and thinks deeply about the soul of his country, while a Taoist mystic struggles to keep his traditions alive. An entrepreneur capitalizes on a growing car culture by trying to convince people not to buy cars. And a 90-year-old woman remembers how the oldest neighborhoods of her city used to be.

These are the exciting and saddening, humorous and confusing stories of utterly ordinary people who are living through China's extraordinary transformations. The immense variety in the lives of these Chinese characters dispels any lingering sense that China has a monolithic population or is just a place where dissidents fight Communist Party loyalists and laborers create goods for millionaires.

Chinese Characters is a collection, as Pankaj Mishra writes in his foreword, "to herald a new golden age of journalism about a ceaselessly fascinating country." Contributors include a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, a Macarthur Fellow, the China correspondent to a major Indian newspaper, and scholars whose depth of understanding is matched only by the humanity with which they treat their subjects. Their stories together create a multi-faceted portrait of a country in motion and an introduction to some of the best writing on China today.

With contributions from: Alec Ash, James Carter, Leslie T. Chang, Xujun Eberlein, Harriet Evans, Anna Greenspan, Peter Hessler, Ian Johnson, Ananth Krishnan, Christina Larson, Michelle Dammon Loyalka, James Millward, Evan Osnos, Jeffrey Prescott, Megan Shank

About the Author

Jeffrey Wasserstrom is Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of books such as China in the 21st Century, Global Shanghai, and China’s Brave New World, and the editor of the Journal of Asian Studies.
Angilee Shah is a freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Mother Jones, TimeOut Singapore, Global Voices, and AsiaMedia, among other publications.

Praise For Chinese Characters: Profiles of Fast-Changing Lives in a Fast-Changing Land

“Funny and touching portrayals are what give this book its bite. They also help accomplish what the book sets out to do. ‘Chinese Characters’ sidesteps hackneyed generalizations of China as a country of either great promise or perilous menace.”

— Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore

“In reading these stories of how individuals make their way in this topsy-turvy, fast-paced society, enduring hardship, creating new businesses, challenging authority, struggling to maintain their identities and trying to create better lives for their children, it's impossible not to feel impressed—and connected.”

— Julie Makinen

“An astonishing anthology.”

— Adam Minter

“Whether one is interested in China or merely wishes to indulge in some well-crafted prose, Chinese Characters will not disappoint.”

— Peter Gordon

“The essays cover a panoply of issues facing modern China, and the book’s combination of scope and intimacy is central to its achievement.”

— Publishers Weekly

“Chinese Characters [is] both an illuminating portrait of contemporary China . . . [and] a delight to read on literary merit alone.”

— John Delury

“Heartbreaking, uplifting, awe-inspiring and surprising. It’s one of the best books I’ve read on China and it belongs on all of your bookshelves.”

— Richard Burger

“A paragon of closely observed writing and a fascinating read.”

— Aelred Doyle