John Pomfret writes in his introduction to this book that when he was in college in the late 1970s, professors taught that the Chinese Communist Party "truly represented the wishes of China's dispossessed" and one quoted Mao's saying that "A revolution is not a dinner party." Chinese reporters Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao document the plight of the peasants in their country, showing Pomfret and anyone else who dares to read their expose how corruption, excessive taxation, miscarriages of justice, too many layers of bureaucracy, and unchecked industrial pollution oppress and threaten the very existence of China's poorest.
China is no worker's paradise. The rural population is basically an unprivileged underclass -- a class of serfs -- that the government squeezes mercilessly. Despite declarations from the top Chinese Communist rulers that peasants should not be pay more than 5% of their annual income in taxes, 19% is closer to the truth. For a subsistence population, such heavy taxation (often in the form of ill-defined, sometimes illegal, fees and fines) is more than they can bear. Yet, their appeals for relief to various levels of their government generally result only in the status quo retained.
A sizable portion of the book relates journalistic investigations into specific several cases of murder of peasants by village or township officials. The petty officials became enraged to the point of doing or ordering bodily violence against peasants because the fed-up farmers were taking public steps to expose their (the officials') corruption.
Then, the authors cite some of the recent policies of the Chinese central government that have increased the sufferings of the peasants. Examples include increasing the layers of local governance, commanding villages to invest in industrial enterprises that are not sustainable and that force them into mountains of debt, and permitting giant gobs of industrial pollutants to turn black rivers peasants must use for bathing and drinking water.
"Will the Boat Sink the Water? The Life of China's Peasants" does feature portraits of good, conscientious officials who put the welfare of their villages or regions ahead of their own advancement. But the Chinese Communist system does not ordinarily promote such people. The Party is more interested in keeping the peasants in their place, and it promotes those officials who inflate the agricultural yields and other economic "successes" of their locality and who deliver their assessed taxes in full.
This revealing look at China at the grassroots level should be read by everyone who has read glowing reports of the progressive, sweeping economic and social strides allegedly remaking the most populous nation on earth. There *is* a dinner party going on: the Chinese peasants are being feasted upon by their cadres, village heads, and Party watchdogs.
This English translation of the book now banned in China is very highly recommended.