His "Age of Ambition" is by far the most thoughtful and well-crafted work on China written by an American journalist in recent years.
Many succumb to the sins of superficiality, oversimplification and lack of perspective.
But Evan Osnos, a writer for the New Yorker who spent eight years reporting from China, has shown that it is still possible to write an illuminating, knowledgeable, absorbing and nuanced book about contemporary China.
They’re taking on bold projects, they’re getting their kids into Harvard—what we think of as very American attributes, like building a highway system across the country.
The fact is it’s now a part of our lives that it simply wasn’t 25 or even 10 years ago, when I first went to live in China, and it’s becoming an inexorable part of our future.” He continues, “In the beginning there is this temptation, because China is so vast as an idea and as a place, to look at it in really broad terms, and I did that—that’s what I was trying to do.
The Central Propaganda Department has one (unmarked) office per 100 people, and prohibits public discussion of matters ranging from corruption to natural disasters.
Osnos gives ample time to a trio of dissidents: Liu Xiaobo, the jailed author of a document outlining 19 fundamental political reforms and winner of a Nobel Peace Prize he couldn’t collect; Chen Guangcheng, the blind, autodidactic country lawyer who fled to New York after months of unofficial house arrest; and especially Ai Weiwei, the famous artist whose work tests the limits of an individual’s power at his own peril.
Turns out that not everyone Osnos spoke to is interested in the psychoanalysis or authenticity.
The love stories were categorized so that readers knew which doom to expect: Tragic Love, Bitter Love, Miserable Love, Wronged Love, and Chaste Love. (In the mid-nineties, the researchers Fred Rothbaum and Billy Yuk-Piu Tsang analyzed the lyrics of eighty Chinese and American pop songs, and found that Chinese songs conveyed more “negative expectations” and “suffering,” a sense that, if destiny did not help a relationship, “it cannot be salvaged,” Osnos writes.
James Farrer, a sociologist at Sophia University, in Tokyo, who studies Chinese dating habits, calls this phenomenon “a bubble in the marriage market.” New Chinese terms have cropped up: a man without a house, a car, and a nest egg is a “triple without.” If he gets married, it’s a “naked wedding.”,” Osnos writes A comparative look at European vs Chinese love stories: “Love stories didn’t become popular in China until the twentieth century, after European novels inspired a genre called “butterfly romance,” in which the lovers all “weep a great deal,” according to Haiyan Lee, at Stanford. While European protagonists occasionally found happiness, Chinese lovers succumbed to forces beyond their control: meddling parents, disease, a miscommunication.
Some great details on bachelors without assets: “According to a poll reported last year by Xinhua, the state news service, although only ten per cent of men on Jiayuan own a home, nearly seventy per cent of women said they wouldn’t marry a man without one.
“Whenever a new idea sweeps across China—a new fashion, a philosophy, a way of life—the Chinese describe it as a ‘fever.’ In the first years after the country opened to the world, people contracted ‘Western Business Suit Fever’ and ‘Jean-Paul Sartre Fever’ and ‘Private Telephone Fever.’ It was difficult to predict when or where a fever would ignite, or what it would leave behind,” Osnos writes. Ignited by loosened economic mores, China is producing winners and losers of heretofore unknown magnitudes: women who made megafortunes in online dating or trash collection; a railroad bureaucrat so successfully corrupt, his giant piles of embezzled cash are actually mouldering (! For every headline name, a million others scrape for a spot in the emerging middle class.