Peter Hessler starts in China as an English teacher, eventually moving his way over to journalism. He keeps in contact with his students and their stories are brought to life in this book. He uses these stories to tell a bit about China's past and teach the reader about more recent history. For example, he has a student move to Shenzen and get a job at a factory there. Peter tells the recent history of Shenzen and how it is an experimental city, built with many factories that have attracted young people to come work. This makes it different from many other cities in China as it is one city where the younger generation isn't living with their family.
There are lots of interesting stories like this interspersed in the book. I learned a lot about the Uighurs, a group I had no knowledge of before. Peter describes then as having similar problems as the Tibetans but without the Dalai Lama to make their plight more well known.
At times, this book could be a bit slow and too detailed. There were also times where Peter would start to examine one subject, stop, and come back to it later 50 pages. It at times made for a disjointed read. However it told an interesting story of an unknown China to me.
First Line: "From Beijing to Anyang - from the modern capital to the city known as the cradle of ancient Chinese civilization - it takes six hours by train."