WILD GRASS: Three Stories of Change in Modern China

Ian Johnson, Author . Pantheon $24 (336p) ISBN 978-0-375-42186-0

These three intimate case studies explore how China's recent reforms have opened avenues for dissent. Johnson portrays the upsurge of popular protests as the leading edge of an inchoate grassroots movement that will ultimately threaten Communist Party rule. He is skeptical about whether the Party can accommodate or co-opt expectations arising from a nascent legal system through which grievances are supposed to be channeled. The problem he illustrates is that petitioners too often lose, no matter the justice of their cause—the legal system is hopelessly skewed in favor of the rich and connected. The three cases studies are chosen to represent the variety of experiences of ordinary Chinese. The first involves a self-educated peasant lawyer who takes on the local political elite over the excessive and illegal taxation of impoverished farmers, and mobilizes thousands in the process. The petitioner is encouraged by a court victory in one village, but the demands are defeated and the protagonist jailed when higher authorities realize the danger of his appeals. The second case pits owners of homes in the historic heart of old Beijing against city planners who want to bulldoze nearly everything old to make way for high-rise developments. The third case exposes the persecution and determined persistence in her faith of one woman who joined Falun Gong protests. Johnson won a Pulitzer in 2001, as Beijing bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal , for his coverage of Falun Gong. While it offers insight into grassroots activity in China, this local focus makes the book less useful for understanding how factional fighting within the governing elite sometimes opens opportunities for successful dissent. Agent, Chris Calhoun, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Mar. 23)

Reviewed on: 01/12/2004
Release date: 03/01/2004
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