Ian Johnson’s Wild Grass

You’ll all want to read this book review. The reviewer was obviously blown away by Johnson’s new book, which weaves together three stories with an overarching theme: individual acts of courage and heroism in the face of an unbelievably brutal Chinese dictatorship.

Johnson reveals how he dodged surveillance and protected his sources with encrypted e-mail, journalistic escapades that, inter alia, show how the web of tyranny stretches to the lowliest village.

The risks became deadly in the third case he investigated and for which he rightly won the Pulitzer Prize. It was the death of Chen Zixiu, a grandmother who was beaten to death for her devotion to Falun Gong, a system of meditation practised by a group of the same name. The Chinese government decided that Falun Gong was “an evil cult” and banned it with the full force of repression at its disposal. It was only after Falun Gong staged a peaceful demonstration, of course, that the party discovered its “evil” nature.

Johnson followed the quest by Chen’s daughter, Zhang Xueling, to find out how and why her mother died. She stripped bare the structure of how terror really works in China.

The mighty ones in Beijing were offended. Their local satraps were threatened with demotion and fines. So the police and hired goons were turned loose to restore “stability” through killings and torture. “Instead of creating a modern system to rule China, the government still relied on an ad hoc network of edicts, orders and personal connections,” Johnson writes.

It is a method of rule 2,200 years old. This brilliant, depressing piece of reportage shows that it has reached a dead end yet obstinately refuses to die.

There isn’t much I can add. Read the review to see what the other two heroes went through. Although they suffered mightily, at least they weren’t murdered.

The Discussion: 5 Comments

Wait, is this a new book? seems to me I bought this title last year. Haven’t read it yet…

June 19, 2005 @ 1:55 am | Comment

Ian Jonson points out that reform to the Chinese Powers is not believed value. I would call it only “breath deep.” The amount of air it takes to say some lie or other untruth to overcome a problem. Common in China on every level of people and dealing. That is why personal relationships are so important to dealing in China. They are made so that lying and cheating don’t take place or are under control.

Someone might want to criticize me for China bashing, but I don’t see it that way. I try to write generalized comments based on factual observations. And with the hope that it might educate some mainlanders some place to a better way to do things.

June 19, 2005 @ 3:14 am | Comment

It’s a new review, so I thought it must be a new book. Did you read it, Lisa? It sounds great.

Pete, same here.

June 19, 2005 @ 10:38 am | Comment

It was published in 2004, I have it, haven’t read it (one of those many books that I buy for my lifestyle in the alternate universe where I don’t have a job and have endless time to read). I had stumbled across the book at one of my favorite bookstores – just glancing through it made me want to read it. Maybe you read a review for a PB edition?

June 19, 2005 @ 12:19 pm | Comment

so has anyone read it? It looks like it would go nicely next to my copy of “Eighteen Layers of Hell” and “We wish to inform you tomorrow we will be killed with our families.”

June 19, 2005 @ 3:40 pm | Comment

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