*Age of Ambition*, by Evan Osnos

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.


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