Out of the Ger

Joshua Bird reviews Ulaanbaatar Beyond Water and Grass by Michael Aldrich

For much of recent Asian history, Mongolia has been an afterthought. An entry point into China, or a convenient stopping point on the Trans-Siberian railway. While hundreds of new books on China and its mega-cities hit the shelves every year, the number of tomes dedicated to its neighbor to the north can be counted on one hand. Even where Mongolia is the primary subject of writing, it is the grasslands and open plains that capture the western imagination. Ulaanbataar (UB), Mongolia’s capital and largest city, where mentioned at all, is depicted as a tainted place that one must escape as quickly as possible on the journey to the “real” Mongolia – compromised, ugly, a foreshadowing of the disappearance of rural Mongolia. It is therefore surprising to find a travel guide dedicated to the city.


Seven Years Not in Tibet

HT reviews Blessings from Beijing by Greg C. Bruno

In Blessings from Beijing, journalist Greg Bruno sets out to chronicle the slow fracturing of the Tibetan exile movement in India and Nepal. Once an international cause célèbre and a cultural force to be reckoned with, the movement is now entering its seventh decade and is showing signs of decline. The Dalai Lama is in his eighties, Chinese harassment is becoming better funded and more effective, and the younger generations of refugee Tibetans are jumping ship to the West, back to the PRC, or in any other direction they can. Bruno's reports from fin-de-siècle Dharamsala are timely. However, his failure to grapple with the complexities of the 21st-century People’s Republic weakens his analysis, and the most interesting stories often seem just beyond his grasp.


Fearful Reality

Kyle Muntz reviews Harvey Thomlinson’s novel The Strike

In a small town along the northern border of Heilongjiang Province, people gather to protest the closing of the Bright Moon electricity plant:

Still after the night blizzard neighbors had emerged in ones and twos from concrete stairwells strung with garlic bulbs… We can’t let them sell our factory Mrs. Gao said… They will steal our children’s future. There’s people going hungry.

The workers organize a strike, and are immediately labeled “dangerous … subversive criminals.” Their leader goes into in hiding, forbidden even the possibility of coverage in the news or collaboration with workers in other provinces. In China’s new economy, the inefficient state-owned factory is a relic of a past most of the country has already abandoned – yet, following half a year of unpaid wages, its loss will leave hundreds without work, a whole way of life coming to an end beneath an impenetrable media silence. This has happened before and it will happen again, in a hundred similar towns all across the country. But that doesn’t make it any easier to live with now.


At the Edge

Joshua Bird reviews China at its Limits, by Matthias Messmer and Hsin-Mei Chuang


China shares its borders with 14 other countries, more than almost any other nation. Its near neighbors represent a diverse collection, from dominant powers such as Russia and India, to the smaller emerging nations of Laos and Bhutan. Throughout China’s history, it is through these borders that the influencing forces of trade, ideology and imperialism have traveled. China’s border regions have resumed their importance in recent years, with political protest among the country’s ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet, and the development of the Belt and Road Initiative – which seeks to further bind China’s neighbors to its economic agenda through the creation of a “New Silk Road.” China’s borders represent an opportunity for trade and cultural exchange, but also a risk for political agitation, terrorism and even military conflict.