Duncan Hewitt's book, Getting Rich First: Life in a Changing China, provides an accurate and personalized description of what is happening in China today. I am currently living in China and observing some of the changes he describes. The title refers to Deng Xiaoping's often quoted (and misunderstood) saying that "some regions and some people may get rich first, in order to bring along and help other places and other people, and to gradually achieve a common prosperity." The problem, as Hewitt so ably demonstrates, is that the second part of the quote often gets ignored. The result has been that while China as a whole has gotten richer not much attention has been paid to some of the problems resulting from this development.
Hewitt covers these topics in a systematic way over 13 chapters from his vantage point in Shanghai. Chapters one and two show the effects of rapid change on cities, particularly Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzhen. Other topics include the breakdown of the social welfare network, the impact on education, the urban-rural divide, changes in sexual attitudes and behaviors, the impact of migrant labor movements, conditions now in rural areas, changing consumer behaviors, the impact that these changes have had on Chinese culture and the role of the Communist Party regarding these changes. The book also includes a number of photographs demonstrating some of these changes. What makes the book particularly interesting reading is the numerous references to actual people and the circumstances of their life. We get a real feel for these people and not a book of dry sociology.
As the recently completed Olympic Games demonstrated, China is a country that has to be reckoned with in the future. Anyone seeking to have a better understanding of this country would do well to read this book.