Kirkus Reviews Calls 'Little Rice' an 'Intelligently Delivered Update on China'

Columbia Global Reports
August 13, 2015

When Clay Shirky was planning his move to China to teach at the campus of NYU Shanghai, he found out about a new little publishing imprint called Columbia Global Reports, and immediately wrote to its director Nicholas Lemann, proposing to spend a year chronicling China's attempt to become a real innovator in digital technology. One of our most influential and original thinkers on the internet's effects on society offering to examine the world's most populous (and dynamic) country and its biggest economy, where technology can have far-reaching and unpredictable consequences? How could we say no?

The result is Little Rice: Smartphones, Xiaomi, and the Chinese Dream, out on October 13. It is the story of Xiaomi, which means "little rice" in Mandarin, a company that has grown into the most valuable startup ever, becoming the third largest vendor of smartphones, behind only Samsung and Apple. How has a little device that brings the entire world to its user's fingertips, and of which China is the biggest producer and consumer, changed the Chinese people? How did Xiaomi change the technological landscape and conquer the world's biggest market? Can the rise of Xiaomi help realize the Chinese Dream, China's bid to link personal success with national greatness? "Little Rice's subject is too big to be called a microcosm, but it does provide a usefully contained frame within which to try to understand the vastness and complexity of Chinese politics, business, and culture today," Lemann says. "And Shirky's fluid, insightful style makes him a joy to read."

The advance reviews are in, and Kirkus Reviews calls Little Rice "a compact, accessible, and intelligently delivered update on China’s evolving economic and political front via one particularly accomplished electronics venture." That venture, of course, is Xiaomi, and the reviewer registers an appreciation for Shirky's fair and accomplished documentation:

Much more than just another Chinese export operation, Shirky contends that this industry innovator not only offers flexibility and freedom from an autocratic society, but openly challenges modern China’s closely scrutinized governmental control over its citizens’ online activities. ... Shirky condenses both the history of the “Chinese Dream” and more contemporary notes on Chinese commerce and politics without criticism, leaving the determination up to readers whether the direction technology is taking consumers, both inside and outside of China, is beneficial or otherwise.

Read the full story in Kirkus Reviews' Aug. 15 issue, and pre-order Clay Shirky's Little Rice now.

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