When I first arrived in Madrid to take part in the internship that I subsequently quit to go volunteer on a farm, I was put up by a friend of my fathers who works at the British embassy.
Saying that makes me sound a lot better connected than I actually am.
During the few days I stayed with her in her apartment we had a couple of evenings chatting over a late-night cup-o-tea. It turned out we had one massive thing in common; China.
It turned out her Grandfather, Jack Perry, was one of the pioneers of British-Chinese trade after the Second World War. It was by no means made easy for him; there were American lead embargos and boycotts, hostility from HongKongese companies that saw themselves as the bridge between Britain and China as well as general wariness of anyone willing to do business with the Commies. You can read a bio of this fantastic man on the China-British Business Council website here.
It just so happens that he wrote a book, which I have just finished reading, and is one of the most refreshing accounts of 20th century China I have ever read. Despite coming from a business background he does not address solely this area. He muses about the philosphy of the country and tells many great stories; from his first ever long train ride from the South to the North of the country, to the time his wife had a chat with Che Guevara.
He is very pro-Chinese, occasionally to the point of excess (he scoots over the horrors of the cultural revolution and practically defends Tian'anmen Square and blames it on America), but his approach to Chinese socialism is a breath of fresh air when compared to the constant barrage of criticism made on the country by modern, Western, mainstream media.
I am pretty sure his book, From Brick Lane to the Forbidden City, is out of print and practically impossible to find, but I wanted to write this blog about it to urge you to search out alternative points of view on the country that seems to have come to dominate my life. I am not one to defend some of the stuff that happened in the cultural revolution, Tian'anmen Square, the Uighur riots of last year or those in Tibet in 2008, but by reading accounts that are able to defend them, my own view of the country becomes more rounded and balanced.
For the love of God, don't judge the country on the Guardian.co.uk China collumn.
Even if you seek out and read what you know is controlled propoganda, at least then you can understand the intentions of what is soon going to be the most powerful nation on Earth.
And of course, if you are ever fortunate enough to come across Jack's book, don't hesitate to pick it up.