How to review a China book


It’s one of the most bittersweet moments of any writer’s life: the moment they finally lay eyes on the freshly printed hardback of their friend’s new China book. Ironically, no words can properly describe the feeling – except, perhaps, “Why didn’t I write this?”

But don’t worry… you will. For now, though, it’s their moment in the limelight. Meanwhile, you can turn around a quick buck or two by reviewing it. Everyone wins!

The first rule about Book Club is...

The first rule about Book Club is… talk about Book Club

That’s never been easier, thanks to China Daily Show’s simple guide to reviewing (and writing) that China book.

Step One Begin boldly: “China’s extraordinary rise in recent years has spellbound [about 20,000 or so] Western readers, but few writers in either Asia or the universe are better placed to tell this story than Plankton.Com correspondent/ local drunk/ close friend [add name here].” Note how [X] avoids the banal clichés and tired predictions of other, lesser writers. And don’t mention Peter Hessler

Step Two Name drop. The author will have scored interviews with some of the country’s most media-shy “characters,” such as reclusive artist Ai Weiwei, sexologist Li Yinhe, blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng, social commentator Murong Xuecun, Alibaba CEO Jack Ma and over-talkative Henan farmer Li Bing

Step Three Social media. If the author, or at least their assistant (who gets a pat on the back somewhere in the Acknowledgments), has not performed a sweeping search of Weibo, “China’s Twitter-like microblogging service” – to gauge the nation’s mood – then clearly their heart’s not in it

Step Four To disclaim or not? Being named godparent to the author’s firstborn should not detract anyone from recognizing a book as “essential.” So it’s not strictly necessary to mention that you showed them a draft of the review over e-mail

Step Five Paradoxes.There is a raft of bizarre, inherent contradictions within China (e.g. there are lots of rich people but also lots more poor people). Find some examples from the book and put them in a sentence to demonstrate how the author covers all the bases: “From the five-star hotels of Shanghai’s Pudong to the AIDS-riddled mud-huts of Buttfuck village, Anhui, everyone from charming pickpocket Lu Wen to Wimbledon hopeful Wen Lu is using China’s new must-have app, RenRen”

Step Six Setting the scene. “The capital’s ancient Qing are rapidly making way for glittering new skyscrapers and empty luxury malls. Meanwhile, at fancy parties in Beijing’s trendy Gulou district, disgruntled petitioners rub shoulders with French bossanova DJs”

Step Seven: Touching tales. Note how the book recognizes that the Chinese government is “no longer a monolith” and nor are its people: make obligatory mention of “a billion stories.” Use the phrase “intimate portrait”

Step Seven: Timing. It’s awkward if the book goes to press before phrases such as “Wukan model” and “Reformer” can be hastily deleted. But these slips can provide a legitimate way to subtly put the boot in, while also providing critical cover, viz. “Sadly, [X’s] prediction that 78 percent of Chinese farmers will enjoy unrestricted access to HBO within the next decade now seems optimistic, following 2015’s Joy City Mall Massacre…”

Step Eight: The best part. There is no need to actually read the book! Life is too short and, besides, you already read every article it was compiled from ages ago. If really pressed for time, just dig up the review your predecessor wrote about Out of Mao’s Shadow or China Rises and change some of the names and dates.But always remember the ancient proverb: “One day, they will review your China book”

For more about the China game, follow @chinadailyshow on Twitter


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  • ziiiii

    This is one of the hurtfully funniest things I’ve read about the China watching community.

  • JVF

    i’ve reviewed a number of China-related books – working on another now – this is spot-on funny – thx

  • TomCR

    Brutal but brilliant

  • Guilty of “intimate portrait” ;)