Wednesday, July 11, 2007

"Inside the Red Mansion"

After studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Oxford University, Oliver August joined the Times of London and became its youngest-ever New York correspondent. He spent seven years in China as Beijing bureau chief and is now reporting from the Middle East.

He applied the "page 69 test" to his new book, Inside the Red Mansion, and reported the following:
Who comes up with the design for the small type marks used by publishers to separate major sections in a chapter? In my book, they look like dollar signs that have fallen on their side, spilling the two crossed-through lines that signify currency. So, there it lies, monied and broken, on page 69 of Inside the Red Mansion. The section above the separation mark is a bit of dialogue. As in much of the rest of the book, I am interviewing someone about the main character, Lai Changxing, who happens to be China's most wanted man. Mr Lai is an illiterate peasant-turned-entrepreneur who embezzled $3.6 billion before going into hiding. But he is no straight forward criminal. The more people I talk to during my search for him, the more I get the impression that the government at one time cooperated with him, or perhaps even used him for its own purposes. To me, Mr Lai is the epitome of China's complicated and often bizarre journey from state control to hyper-capitalism. That's confirmed by the conversation on page 69. I am talking to Bill Brown, a former US Army intelligence officer who now teaches business studies in China. He tells me, "Some [government] officials felt they needed people like him [Lai]." He goes on to explain that only entrepreneurs like Lai were flexible enough to do the sort of business that could propel China to its current position as a new economic superpower. He said, "If you want to keep growing you need people who take risks." The rest of the page, below the fallen and broken dollar sign, is a description of one of Mr Lai's colorful hobbies. In the late 1990s, he bought one of China's top soccer teams, disbanded it, transferred all the players to his hometown and resurrected the team there. They went on to win a major league. Every boy's dream. China can be like that.
Learn more about Oliver August's books and journalism at his website, and read an excerpt from Inside the Red Mansion.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue