3 1/2 stars. Hessler's writing is engaging and informative; he has interesting stories and made me laugh more than a few times. I definitely learned a lot about China and it was enjoyable to read. Then why only 3 1/2 stars? It's really hard to put my finger on (and also I think I've been getting pickier in my ratings over the last few months). One thing that got on my nerves was how he'd dedicate a sentence or two to describe a woman as being "pretty"--leaving aside my total disintrest in this dude's opinion on someone's beauty, "pretty," "attractive," etc are not very descriptive. Round face? Pointed chin? Hair in a tight bun? Rosy cheeks? Those types of words actually put a picture in my mind. The author didn't seem overtly condescending toward his subjects but I sensed some judgment at times (but not always; and them sometimes when I was expecting some kind of judgment or commentary, for example on sexism/classism--nope, not there).
Anyway... there are people and purposes I would definitely recommend this book for. There were passages or sections where it did paint a pretty vivid picture of China (not that I have any first hand experience of the place).