Title: Closer to Heaven
Author: Erik Nilsson
Press: China Intercontinental Press
CLOSER TO HEAVEN: A Global Nomad’s Journey Through China’s Poverty Alleviation distills China Daily journalist Erik Nilsson’s firsthand explorations of the country’s poverty solutions, disaster relief and overall development over more than a decade.
It’s not your typical China book.
The American discovers unexpected dimensions of these miracles while riding ostriches, visiting leprosy villages and spending birthdays at a mass grave. Along the way, he also rides, buys, milks and is kicked by yaks, whose dung he collects while camping with nomads on the planet’s “third pole”.
He begins in Sichuan after the 2008 Wenchuan quake left nearly 90,000 dead or missing. Across 15 trips through the disaster zone, he discovers a place where poverty and geology conspired to conjure tragedy that was overcome through rescue and recovery — where life was lost and hope was found.
Nilsson then continues on to the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, where China has overcome extraordinary altitudes and isolation to bring prosperity that was unthinkable only several years ago. He founds a volunteer initiative to bring light to schools on the plateau by providing solar panels, followed by computers, libraries, medicine, coal, clothes, equipment and even yaks. He goes on to provide surgeries, prosthetics and wheelchairs for children with disabilities and university scholarships for nomads living in extreme poverty.
He next investigates diverse poverty-alleviation projects during his travels through every province on the Chinese mainland, from rural virtual-reality amusement parks in Guizhou to emus raised by ethnic Mongolian nomads.
Finally, he examines the reform and opening-up that has propelled the development necessary to drive China’s poverty-alleviation miracle — through extreme immersion. He joins the “bangbang army”, rides hogs with an elderly motorcycle club and steers a pill-sized gut-drone camera with a joystick while traveling thousands of kilometers to 11 cities along the Yangtze River Economic Belt over five weeks.
Nilsson’s personal chronicle arrives as China prepares to celebrate the first of its centenary goals — to eradicate extreme poverty to ultimately build a moderately prosperous society in all respects.
About the Author:
China Daily journalist Erik Nilsson has traveled through every provincial-level jurisdiction on the Chinese mainland, covering poverty alleviation, disaster relief and government policy since 2006.
The then 33-year-old American became the youngest foreigner ever to win the China Friendship Award, the top honor the central government offers to experts from overseas for their “contributions to China’s social and economic development”, in 2016. He has also won journalism awards from the provincial to international levels.
The Beijing-based journalist’s videos have been viewed hundreds of millions of times across new media platforms since March 2017. The internet celebrity is known by Chinese netizens as “ 美国小哥 ”, or “American Brother”.
He has co-authored, co-compiled and edited 16 books on China in English and Chinese.
In 2011, Nilsson founded a volunteer initiative to bring solar panels, clothes, medicine, food and study materials to underdeveloped schools in Yushu’s ethnic Tibetan nomadic communities. His group also provides surgeries, prosthetics and wheelchairs for children with disabilities and university scholarships for nomads from low-income families.