After Mao’s brutal reign, Pomfret arrives in China at the beginning of the 1980s to attend Nanjing University when China first began opening to the west. In cramped living quarters with other students from different parts of China, the author gains detailed access to the lives of his classmates and how they and their families endured the cultural revolution. Pomfret graduates and his only wish is to return. As a reporter he arrives back in China, but when he reports on the Tiananmen Square massacre, he is expelled from the country. All the while, he keeps in contact with his university classmates and follows the direction of their lives that reveals the economic changes happening in a system still corrupt, censored, and controlled by the Party that silences anyone who opposes it.