Country Driving: A Journey through China from Farm to Factory – Book Review

Steve Skabrat from Escape from Cube Land
Chinese Pyramids in the Rain by The Longest Way Home

This book caught my attention because it was on a list of the best non-fiction books of 2010 by the Christian Science Monitor. I found it to be a fascinating read and worthy of being on the best books list.

About the Author

Peter Hessler was a journalist for the New Yorker magazine based in Beijing. In the period from 2001 to 2007, he frequently drove around China and wrote about the changes in the local culture. An American who spoke Mandarin, he was able to interact with the locals in ways a tourist cannot.


The Review

The book is actually three short books in one. The first book describes his journeys by car along the Great Wall. It is an amusing and interesting commentary on the emerging car culture in China, as well as providing some historical context for the Great Wall.

The second book describes Hessler’s extended visits to a remote village, next to the Great Wall, two hours outside of Beijing. Hessler rents a house to visit on weekends to work on his writing. Over time he develops close relationships with the peasants of the village. In particular, he narrates the changes that take place in one family that are exemplary of the changes taking place in many of the Chinese. The transition from an agricultural peasant life to a modern business focused life is difficult for many of the people.

The officials literally move mountains to build a new factory town overnight.

The third book describes Hessler’s visits to a new factory town in the south. He tells the story of two businessmen who start a new factory to make brassiere parts. The interactions between the bosses, the migrant workers they hire, and the local officials is very educational in an entertaining way. The officials literally move mountains to build a new factory town overnight. The businessmen push hard to maintain their profits in a competitive field. It looks like the teenaged workers are exploited at 40 to 80 cents per hour, until one sees that the wage is better than what they could make on a farm. For all of us who have ever shopped at Walmart, it becomes clear after reading this book how cheap goods are produced and dominate the retail sector.

For those interested in travel to China, this book provides insight into the attitudes and motivations behind the changing Chinese culture.

Buy now: Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory on Amazon.

Editor’s notes: This article contains affiliate links.

About the author:

From software engineer to patent attorney to (thinking about becoming a) digital nomad, Steve Skabrat writes about his travels on Escape from Cube Land.

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Discussion »

  • #1Harry Hilders

    I read the book as well, and what I like most are the 3 completely different parts of China the book describes.

  • #2Eva


    Can you please let me know where I can buy this book online ?


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