*Age of Ambition*, by Evan Osnos

by on May 28, 2014 at 6:32 am in Books, History, Political Science | Permalink

This is one of the best books on contemporary China, maybe the best.  The subtitle is Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China.  Osnos is the former New Yorker correspondent in the country for five years up through 2013.  Here is one excerpt:

Li routinely taught in arenas, to classes of ten thousand people or more.  The most ardent fans paid for a “diamond degree” ticket, which included bonus small-group sessions with the great man.  The list price was $250 a day — more than a full month’s wages for the average Chinese worker.  Students thronged him for autographs.  On occasion, they sent love letters, wrapped around undergarments.

There was another widespread view of Li’s work.  “The jury is still out on whether he actually helps people learn English,” Bob Adamson, an English-language specialist at the Hong Kong Institute of Education, told me.  Li’s patented brand of shouting occupied a specific register: to my ear, it was not quite the shriek reserved for alerting someone to an oncoming truck, but it was more urgent than a summons to the dinner table.  He favored flamboyantly patriotic slogans such as “Conquer English to Make China Stronger!”  On his website, he declared, “America, England,Japan — they don’t want China to be big and powerful!  What they want most is for China’s youth to have long hair, wear bizarre clothes, drink soda, listen to Western music, have no fighting spirit, love pleasure and comfort!  The more China’s youth degenerated, the happier they are!”

Definitely recommended, fascinating throughout.

Ray Lopez May 28, 2014 at 7:22 am

My Shanghai gf was very modern, even more so than American girls. The Asian ape the West so well that they surpass the West in pop culture at times to the casual observer. It’s a shallow imitation but done so well that unless you are connoisseur of pop culture (and I’m not) it looks and feels like the real thing.

affenkopf May 28, 2014 at 8:53 am

Shanghai is not exactly representative of China.

KV May 28, 2014 at 1:25 pm

Agreed, its not even close.

Chip May 28, 2014 at 7:50 am

Bit OTT but westerners underestimate the amount of xenophobia in Asia.

China, Korea, Japan and even Singapore have a strong undercurrent of antipathy to foreigners.

With China increasingly aggressive (they sank a Vietnamese boat this week) it won’t take much for a small war to break out.

(China has a surplus of young makes they want to preoccupy in any case).

Ivar May 28, 2014 at 8:39 am

+100

CW May 28, 2014 at 9:59 am

When Evan Osnos was still in China and writing his “Letter from China” blog I would eagerly await every single one of his updates. Always interesting and insightful. I’m going to add this book to my “need to read” list.

albert magnus May 28, 2014 at 11:23 am

Learning a foreign language is a pretty weird way to show national pride. Maybe it’s an easier way to make the medicine of globo-capitalism go down or something.

It is pretty clear that the language instruction in China is completely terrible.

Boonton May 28, 2014 at 5:04 pm

Are the sales pitches above actually being made in English or are they in Chinese and the author is translating them to English?

Education Realist May 29, 2014 at 9:51 am

It’s odd how so many accept as given that the Chinese (and Koreans and Indians) are outstanding scholars, with a long history of academic achievement, when their own education systems so thoroughly suck.

I trust Evan Osnos mentions the huge issue of cheating. It’s certainly an issue here in the US with most recent Asian immigrants, and of course colleges are accepting thousands of Chinese students who paid for a fraudulent resume.

https://educationrealist.wordpress.com/2013/10/08/asian-immigrants-and-what-no-one-mentions-aloud/

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