Book reviews: Will the boat sink the water?

  • Book: Will the Boat Sink the Water?: The Life of China’s PeasantsWill the Boat Sink the Water?
  • Author: Chen Guidi, Wu Chuntao
  • Hardcover: 229 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs (June 26, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN: 1586483587
  • Buy from publisher

Editorial Reviews From Publishers Weekly

What’s most surprising about this exposé of the Chinese government’s brutal treatment of the peasantry is not that it was banned in China, but that it got past the censors in the first place.

The authors— a husband and wife team who have received major awards— recount how, in the poor province of Anhui, greedy local officials impose illegal taxes on the already impoverished peasantry and cover their tracks through double-bookkeeping. Outraged peasants risk their freedom and sometimes their lives by complaining up the command chain or making the long and costly trip to Beijing, but for the most part the central government’s proclamations against excessive taxation don’t effectively filter back to the local level.

The authors criticize the central government for its own heavy taxation and underrepresentation of the peasantry, though in much more measured tones than they fault the local officials. “Could it be that our system itself is a toxic pool and whoever enters is poisoned by it?” they ask.

As Westerners look toward China as the world’s next superpower, this book is a reminder that the country’s 900 million peasants often get lost in the glitter of Shanghai’s Tiffany’s. (June)
– Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

From Booklist

China’s 900 million peasants continue to toil under a feudalistic system even as the nation enjoys economic prosperity built, in part, at their expense. The authors, husband-and-wife Chinese journalists, spent three years in Wu’s home province of Anhui to uncover the poverty of peasants betrayed by Mao’s revolution and bullied by petty bureaucrats, their labor exploited and their voices stifled.

This expose was banned by the Chinese government, and the journalists were sued for libel by government officials.

Drawing on interviews with villagers, the authors offer intimate portraits of the struggles of peasants that read with the ease and familiarity of stories but carry the urgency of news reports of lives about which little has been written.

A local peasant who complains of taxing and accounting irregularities that rob the village is killed; peasants resist a corrupt deputy village chief who appropriates their land and public funds.

Readers interested in the unseen and unreported lives of Chinese peasants will appreciate this revealing book. – Vanessa Bush Copyright © American Library Association.

- Original from

Book to read: A Survey of Chinese Peasants
–- China’s hidden unrest, by Christin Jones,
–- AI report 2006- China overview(3)

3 thoughts on “Book reviews: Will the boat sink the water?

  1. Thank you for the sound critique. Me and my neighbor were just setting up to do some research about this. I am very glad to see such great info being shared freely out there.

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