Tide Players

The Movers and Shakers of a Rising China

From the celebrated author of China Pop, six captivating and eye-opening portraits of entrepreneurs and intellectuals in a rapidly transforming China

“Incisive, witty and eloquent all at once—[Jianying Zha is] a sort of female, Chinese Jonathan Spence.” —The Nation

In Tide Players, acclaimed New Yorker contributor and author Jianying Zha depicts a new generation of movers and shakers who are transforming modern China. Through half a dozen sharply etched and nuanced profiles, Tide Players captures both the concrete detail and the epic dimension of life in the world’s fastest growing economy.

Zha’s vivid cast of characters includes an unlikely couple who teamed up to become the country’s leading real estate moguls; a gifted chameleon who transformed himself from Mao’s favorite “barefoot doctor” during the Cultural Revolution to a publishing maverick; and a tycoon of home-electronic chain stores who insisted on avenging his mother, who had been executed as “a counter-revolutionary criminal.” Alongside these entrepreneurs, Zha also brings us the intellectuals: a cantankerous professor at China’s top university; a former cultural minister turned prolific writer; and Zha’s own brother, a dissident who served a nine-year prison term for helping to found the China Democracy Party.

Deeply engaging, lucid, and poignant, Zha’s insightful “insider-outsider” portraits offer a picture of a China that few Western readers have seen before. Tide Players is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand today’s China.


“Jianying Zha has not only chronicled the most urgent debates in modern Chinese life and thought, she has lived them. In Tide Players, Zha beautifully combines the hard-earned expertise of an insider with the moral candor of an outsider. In exploring China’s defining struggles—over control of power, loyalty, and history—she never seeks refuge in the convenient extremes of one side of the debate or the other, but makes the hardest choice of all: to illuminate the shadows in between, with empathy and courage.”
—Evan Osnos, China correspondent, The New Yorker
“No one who writes in English about contemporary China is more thoroughly bilingual and bicultural than Jianying Zha. She truly ‘gets it’ in both Chinese and American culture and writes, elegantly, in a way that somehow combines an on-the-ground feel for life, and sympathy for its victims, with an Olympian tolerance for human foible.”
—Perry Link, Chancellorial Chair for Teaching Across Disciplines, University of California, Riverside
“An engaging, comprehensible cross-section of the personalities and cultural concerns rising with China’s ascent.”
“A fascinating portrait of the people who are transforming modern China.”
—Joseph Stiglitz
“In Jianying Zha’s remarkable and fast-paced book, the tide players are the pragmatists of modern China, who strive and prosper but who push events along in the process”
Financial Times
“If you want to understand the astonishing developments in China’s contemporary cultural life—and you should—there could be no surer or more entertaining guide than Zha. Academics, writers, dissidents, taxi-drivers, business moguls: all come alive in her vivid and enlightening portraits.”
—K. Anthony Appiah, professor of philosophy and law, New York University

Books by Jianying Zha

China Pop
How Soap Operas, Tabloids, and Bestsellers Are Transforming a Culture

Jianying Zha

Goodreads Reviews