Michael Meyer’s In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland And The Transformation of Rural China is a beautifully written blend of memoir, travel account, history and social commentary.
In 2011, Meyer moved to his Chinese wife’s hometown–a Manchurian village with what proved to be the inappropriate name of Wasteland. He had lived in Beijing for several years and written about change in urban China (The Last Days of Old Beijing). Now he was interested in the question of rural China, which was slowly disappearing as a result of forces familiar to anyone who knows the blighted farm towns of the American Midwest.
In his account of his months in Wasteland, Meyer walks the fine and often funny line between being both insider and outsider, telling a story that is at once intensely personal and broadly political. He explores the unexpected agricultural richness of Wasteland, learning the fine points of rice cultivation in the process. He searches for the surprisingly illusory traces of Manchuria’s history as China’s frontier. (Only remnants remained of the Manchu dynasty’s Willow Palisade, Japanese and Russian colonial cities, and a POW camp where survivors from the Bataan Death March were held.) And to his surprise, having expected to find the remains of China’s past in Manchuria, he instead finds China’s future in the form of Eastern Fortune– a privately owned rice company that is in the process of transforming Wasteland from a commune to a company town.
In Manchuria is an engaging account of rural China poised on the brink of change.
This review previous appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers