Wall Street Journal’s Bookshelf

Here’s an interview embedded in a review with the Wall Street Journal. It begins:

Michael Meyer has a talent for linking China’s present to its past through the details of everyday life. For his first book, “The Last Days of Old Beijing,” (Walker, 2008) he parked himself in the  hutong, the alleyways of old Beijing. That was the perfect observation post to chronicle how the modernizing metropolis prepared for the Olympics by razing communities rich with culture.

For “In Manchuria,” Mr. Meyer moved to his wife’s home village near Jilin. When he visited the government office to ask about its past, the clerk directed him to a stone outside, on which was carved: “Wasteland: In 1956, it became a village.”

“That really felt like a blank page,” he recalled, “like history waiting to be written.”

This is a big, ambitious book and, unlike his Beijing debut, about a topic totally outside current events. “I know it’s time to write a book, when the book I want to read doesn’t exist,” he joked in an interview last month in Singapore.

A Chinese TV show revisits The Last Days of Old Beijing

The Chinese show One Book, One City chooses a text to tour the town. In Paris, the show drew from Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast; in London, it followed one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mysteries. For Beijing, they picked The Last Days of Old Beijing, interviewing students featured in the book. (They flew to Singapore to talk to me.) Watch the show, in Chinese, here.

An LA Times op-ed, and a Sinica podcast

Here’s my Los Angeles Times piece on agricultural reforms in Wasteland, and also the Sinica podcast recorded in Beijing with David Moser and Kaiser Kuo. The latter started off by asking me to retell his favorite China story: my Sichuan bus ride that ended in mayhem, murder and a police station. Was it already 20 years ago this summer? I can still feel that guy’s hands around my neck . . .