China Road: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Power by Rob Gifford
Rob Gifford has a degree in Asian Studies and speaks Chinese. He lived in China for years, most recently as NPR Asian correspondent. When he was planning to leave China to work for a London-based post with NPR, he decided to take a road trip along the main highway going West from Shanghai to Kazakhstan—highway 312—and to write a book based on his experiences.
Like most memoirs of the road, Gifford’s book meanders from the road to broader experiences with China and the Chinese people. He takes the “old road” as the truckers do, the latter to avoid high tolls on China’s newest highways while Gifford wants to talk to as many Chinese people in as many places and situations as possible. He visits with truckers, taxi drivers, farmers, factory workers—people he meets in cafes and on the street. One conversation, on a bus, with a doctor who performed forced abortion, was especially interesting. The woman felt she was being patriotic to force abortions and even destroy late term fetuses born alive. She had no doubts.
Gifford also talks about the lack of firm morality in China today. He says for years the Chinese have lived by Marxist/Maoist standards and as that erodes, nothing has yet taken its place—and most Chinese have no strong religious affiliation. The result is capitalism unbound, at least among the urban and relatively educated. I find that analysis disturbing, with its assumption that it’s religion that keeps societies moral…. Must think about that. But clearly there’s been a loosening of the moral standards associated with Chinese Communism—though not in all cases. Gifford attributes the recent scandals with tainted food supplies to that rampant capitalism. Would like to hear his opinion on the recent move of the Chinese government to take partial responsibility for the tainted milk scandal.
Toward the end of his journey he travels the northern route of the old Silk Road, pretty much the same route as Peter Fleming described in News from Tartary in the 1930s. He also covers the territory of Peter Hopkirk’s book, Foreign Devils on the Silk Road, which deals with the Westerns explorers and archeologists who discovered (and then appropriated) ancient manuscripts and artifacts preserved in caves near Dunwang in what used to be called Chinese Turkestan and is now Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.