The main theme of the book is power and the ways in which power can be used to achieve the means of the state.
China was a feudal state with a massive population before the revolution.
After the revolution it was a Communist state with a massive population.
There were severe economic problems; the government decided that the nation had to be industrialized. This book details different types of modernization programs and their effects upon individual people. There are all sorts of people who lent their stories to this book.
Essentially, Lord is trying to tell the reader that the Chinese are individual people with individual lives, they are not a monolith. Many of them did not agree with the government, but they learned to keep quiet. However, even keeping quiet was not enough. This is a fascinating study of an authoritarian state, showing how people can be made...