China is such a vast, contradictory land that the most illuminating books often explore it through an intense focus on a single topic: The aviation industry, the one-child policy, the lives of migrant factory workers. Education is a particularly transparent window, as demonstrated by the perceptive Little Soldiers, which turns over cultural rocks from bribery to the urban-rural divide while delving into the nation’s school system, deeply rooted as it is in both ancient Confucianism and Communist dogma. As Lenora Chu notes, in China, “countless individual decisions, big and small, are made in the name of education.”

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