Edward Chancellor writes:

Attempts to explain China’s recent history often fall back on statistics showing the country’s breakneck economic growth: how many tons of steel have been produced, how many miles of high-speed rail constructed. The trouble with this approach is that the figures are mind-numbingly large and often dubious, while the social context is overlooked. Dan Washburn has found a strikingly original device to portray recent developments in China: It’s all about golf.

In “The Forbidden Game,” Mr. Washburn, an American journalist who spent several years in Shanghai, tells the story of golf’s progress in the Middle Kingdom through the lives of three protagonists: Zhou, a migrant worker who takes a job as a security guard but strives to become a professional golfer; Wang, a farmer on the tropical island of Hainan—China’s Hawaii—who finds a new vocation as a restaurant owner after his land is given over to a golf course; and Martin, a hard-working and foul-mouthed American golf-course contractor.

“The Forbidden Game” is a tale of material dreams, both the absurdly grandiose and the touchingly individual. They are realized against a backdrop of public corruption and constant battles between Beijing and local governments. Ambitious developments are undertaken at breakneck speed by overweening tycoons; they involve arbitrary land seizures and environmental depredations. In short, this is a tale of modern China.

Read the rest at The Wall Street Journal.