Joseph Kahn in the New York Times Book Review:
Mr. Chen and Ms. Wu describe the publication of their book as having been “compared to a clap of thunder.” The statement, like the book, is brassy. But they were prescient. China’s peasant problem has burst into the open with a surge of rural protests that have made the country look less politically stable than at any time since the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy uprising in 1989. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s top adviser on rural problems said in an interview in 2004 that he kept a copy by his bedside to remind himself of the task ahead.
The two spent three years traveling the countryside in Anhui province in central China. They were only a few hundred miles from Shanghai, the glittering commercial center on the coast, but experienced poverty and frustration that they argue grew worse throughout the 1990’s.
They collected a dozen anecdotes of operatic pungency. A village chief murders the man who tries to audit the village books. A township leader conspires to get rich by forcing peasants to plant mulberry trees, for which he sells the seeds. A mendacious county Communist Party boss concocts an excuse to send armed troops to crush a tax revolt.