Sunday, November 29, 2009


I finished readily recently Tamil translation of Pallavi Aiyar's Smoke and Mirrors: An Experience of China. It was a very readable translation by Raman Raja. Kizhakku Pathippagam has published this book. One gets a feeling of reading the book in original, kudos to the translator for lucidity and free flowing character of the book.

A little backgrounder about the author. Delhi-born Pallavi Aiyar was the first Chinese-speaking Indian journalist based in Beijing. After studies in Britain and the United States, she arrived in Beijing to teach English and went on to become the China correspondent for The Hindu.

The book is at once an autobiographical narrative as well as sociological snapshot of China.

The author encounters yoga practitioners, hotel workers, lives in Hutongs (n Beijing, hutongs are alleys formed by lines of siheyuan, traditional courtyard residences), businessmen, Tibetans and paints an engaging portrait of China - booming economy, McDonaldization of China.

I found fascinating the chapter on her travel on The Qinghai-Tibet train. "The Qinghai-Tibet railway has unlocked the gate to the roof of the world and unleashed with it a torrent of admiration and criticism. It is the world's longest and highest highland railway, an engineering marvel that the Chinese government says will bring about an economic renaissance in a region that has thus far remained poor and underdeveloped. Critics have, however, raised the alarm regarding the destructive potential of the railway for Tibet's pristine environment and unique culture."

She never fails to bring Indian perspective into play throughout the book. Where has India failed where China has succeeded enormously ? Is democracy proving a hurdle to progress in India ? Dragon versus elephant debate has always been interesting. One can on reading this book appreciate Chinese ways to tackling their contentious issues, how they are succeeding in propelling their economy at a dizzying pace. She also has pointers on China's future. Will China's run continue or will it collapse ?
She says Chinese Communist party is playing its cards well and is working towards its goal of staying in power and at the same time carry their people with them.

I heartily recommend this book to anyone interested in China.

You can buy this book online at

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