A few days ago, I finished “China Road” by Rob Gifford.
I chose it because Gifford will be in town this spring for one of the EN Thompson Forum speeches at the Lied Center, because Gifford’s a reporter for NPR, which I love, and because I’ve had an ongoing interest in China.
Gifford uses the device of traveling China’s Route 312 from east to west, from cities to rural areas, from prosperity to poverty. Along the way, he talks with many people and takes a few chances to get a good story.
What Gifford does especially well is let the Chinese people speak for themselves. Of course, it’s the reporter’s gift to ask the questions that inspire interesting answers.
I was especially intrigued by his chapter, “The Caves of a Thousand Buddhas.” The intersection of this cultural treasure with spies and treasure hunters in the early 20th century illustrates many of the issues of how China has interacted with the rest of the world.
What the book seemed to lack, due to its structure, was a sense of getting to know anyone, or any place, very deeply. That’s not necessarily a criticism, but it an outcome of the book’s structure.
Looking back on this one, what I’ll recall is that China is changing quickly, that it’s big and will have a huge impact on our planet, and that China has a compelling history that is huge. Pieces of that history are seen in each individual that Gifford encounters on Route 312.
I’m glad that I read this book before I hear Gifford speak. I recommend it to others who intend to attend the forum, to people interested in China, and to NPR fans.