The older I get the more I realize how much there is that I don’t know. My education was, like most American children of the 1950’s, focused on the United States with occasional reference to Europe. We had to memorize world maps, but didn’t spend time learning about countries other than our own. My knowledge about China never got much deeper as I grew and continued to focus on Western history and Western literature.
My husband reads The Economist each week and suggested I look at their list of interesting books published in 2021. I was confronted with the opportunity to learn about many issues and places I was fairly ignorant about. I chose to read Invisible China largely because of its subtitle How the Urban-Rural Divide Threatens China’s Rise. In my corner of the world China appears as a single thriving country threatening at any point to be the ascendant power in the world. I am stereotypically ignorant, I admit.
Written by a group of researchers who have studied rural China for decades, the book clearly describes serious problems there from poor education to poor health. They maintain that the vast, mainly rural, work force able to build infrastructure and man factories is unprepared for the work ahead as the structures are completed and factories move out of China to places such as Viet Nam. In addition the great disparity between men and women produces a challenge as large numbers of men become unemployed without purpose or family.
I knew so little about China that I didn’t realize that at birth a child is designated either rural or urban, a label that follows him throughout his life with serious implications for education. As urban kids are outpacing the world in science scores, rural kids are often suffering with health challenges, poorly educated teachers and low expectations. According to the book, 2/3 of the children in China are rural.
The book is fairly short, well documented and easy to read. If any of my readers are as clueless as I was about China I recommend it.