Resource extraction has been integral to the economy of Myanmar’s borderlands for decades. One of the most valuable of these is jade, mined in northern Kachin state and then smuggled over the border into China. In Until the world shatters: truth lies and the looting of Myanmar, Daniel Combs depicts this extraction, the cost it imposes on civilians and the myriad of uneasy business relationships between parties nominally at war with each other.

A young man who turns his desire to join the army into a long stint as a volunteer ambulance driver. A teacher living in an old slum who is the only one brave—or foolish—enough to confront the gangs. A refugee who becomes a community organizer. A woman in a traditional village looking at the new development quickly encroaching on their land. A bored engineer who finds his calling as a crime reporter.

The title promises racy South Asia noir: what happened, who did it, and whether they got away with it. But Samira Shackle’s Karachi Vice actually concerns the lives of five people in that city, as violence—criminal and political—consumes everything around them. They receive no protection from the state as they go about their daily lives. Through their lives we understand this city, one where criminals fight it out while people around them simply try to survive. This is a book about the after-effects of many crimes.

Around the Chinese New Year period, millions of Chinese migrant workers return home from jobs in China’s major cities to their rural villages to visit their families. China’s urban centers and factory towns rely on migrant workers from provinces like Guizhou: places that are still relatively underdeveloped, despite the massive growth seen on China’s coasts. The fact that, this year, many migrants likely can’t return home due to the COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder of the instability that defines much of their lives.

 

Titling a book The Myth of Chinese Capitalism invites prospective readers to expect an unraveling of this singular, definite-articled story. It also suggests, to this reader at least, weighty theoretical contents, including perhaps tables and pie-charts. Dexter Roberts’s book is no work of dense economic theory, however, nor does it pretend to have uncovered some singular narrative of China’s development. Rather, it is lucid, personal, nuanced—and rather difficult to summarize.