Having recently read and reviewed Undress Me In the Temple of Heaven, in which two women travel to Communist China in the '80s, I was fascinated to read Zachary Mexico's riveting portraits of "underground" artists, musicians, and intellectuals in the newer, more open China of the 21st century. I actually had Zachary Mexico's father as a guest Pilates client for several days here at Parrot Cay. I always ask guests about the books they are reading while on holiday, and he actually gave me his copy of the book just before he left so that I could read it for review.
Having lived in Kunming, China from 2002-2004, Mexico found that he really missed China. As he says, "it is hard to imagine a more exciting place than China." With a growing economy and more personal creative freedom, people at every level of Chinese society are changing and growing in ways nobody would have imagined 10 or 20 years ago. So he decided to return and write "about the crazy people I'd met in China and the even crazier people they'd introduced me to."
China Underground takes us from the mountains of Dali, where green marijuana grows freely and is smoked freely by just about everybody, to Linfen, the most polluted city in the world, where everyone wears masks to filter the obvious particles out of the air. He visits with prostitutes (known as chickens), with minority Uighur musicians, with filmmakers, writers, homosexuals (rabbits), and academics.
I must admit that I was at first shocked by the amount of drug use among the younger Chinese. Pot, black hashish, ketamine, cocaine... many are stoned all day every day. And they are disillusioned after growing up in a Communist system that actively discourages individual creative thought and any kind of critical argument.
The overall feeling of the book is hard to pin down, as even the same people express desperation, glee, excitement, despair, boredom, and impatience all in the space of a few hours or days. People want change, but aren't necessarily prepared for what change might mean.
Mexico offers a peek into the inside inner workings of daily life in China that most of us will never get to see. You will be surprised, shocked, and horrified. You will laugh, cry, and get angry. But most of all China Underground will make you think about China differently. This is not the Communist China we grew up with!