The Soul of a Country

Grant Newsham reviews Crashing the Party by Scott Savitt

In 2011 – more than a decade after journalist Scott Savitt’s 20-year career in China ended with a month spent starving in a Beijing prison cell – Henry Kissinger published his diplomatic memoir On China, a 500-page tome stuffed with insider stories of opening China and, according to one review, “efforts by Kissinger to get us to think of him as a major geopolitical thinker proved right by history.” While On China has been described in turns as magisterial and bloviating, something is missing from it. And that is the Chinese people themselves. Indeed, Chinese citizens outside a narrow elite with whom the Kissinger seems to deal exclusively come across as wraithlike irrelevancies whose suffering doesn’t matter much.

Savitt’s memoir, the picaresque, poignant Crashing the Party, takes us beyond Zhongnanhai, the seat of Party rule, and brings us closer to the “soul” of the country.