A lovely review from Maura Elizabeth Cunningham:
Yet as Dan Washburn writes in his compelling new book, The Forbidden Game: Golf and the Chinese Dream, golf “offers a unique window into today’s China,” a country of paradoxes perhaps best exemplified by the fact that although construction of new golf courses has been banned in China since at least 2004, more than 400 were built between 2005 and 2010, making China the only place in the world experiencing a golf boom. Government officials who enjoy hitting the links register at golf courses under false names, afraid of leaving a paper trail connecting them to a game most often associated with capitalism and corruption. And while massive golf course complexes lined with luxury villas populate large tracts of land outside Chinese cities, their owners attempt to hide the courses in plain sight, giving them convoluted names like the “Anji China Ecotourism and Fitness Center.” Like so much else in contemporary China, golf occupies a gray zone: officially forbidden, yet tolerated — even encouraged — behind the scenes, as local government officials and land developers reap massive profits from the construction of new courses.
Washburn tells this fascinating and complicated story through following three men who never meet but whose lives and fortunes are all intimately tied up in the growth of Chinese golf.
It might seem an odd choice for Washburn to focus on a game that only a handful of Chinese even play, and readers may walk away thinking that golf is more important than it truly is in China today. But Washburn uses the sport with surprising effectiveness as a lens into the country’s development over the past two decades, as Peter Hessler has done with car culture (Country Driving, 2010), and James Fallows with the airplane industry (China Airborne, 2012). Golf sheds light on China’s engagement with the outside world; on the relationship between the country’s government and its citizens; on how a variety of people — from former farmers to foreign project managers — can find opportunities in China that wouldn’t be available anywhere else. Some of that will disappear in the coming years, as the construction of new courses slows and blue-collar players like Zhou are edged out of the sport. But for a time, as Washburn shows, golf has embodied everything that makes present-day China what it is, for better and for worse: corruption and complications, yes, but also aspiration and opportunity and the chance to take a swing and drive toward one’s individual version of the Chinese Dream.
Read the entire review, entitled ‘Driving Toward the Chinese Dream,’ at the Los Angeles Review of Books.