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Vol 106 / Issue 30

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books for global readers By Mike Revzin The jacket copy for Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China says Evan Osnos "follows the mov- ing, illuminating stories of everyday people" in China. Moving and illuminating? Definitely. Everyday people? Hardly. The people in this book include famous dissidents, self- made millionaires, and other high-profile Chinese. Their sto- ries show the tug of war being waged between the aspirations of the Chinese people and their authoritarian government. Osnos covered China from 2005 to 2013, mostly for The New Yorker. "In my research, I gravitated most of all to the strivers – the men and women who were trying to elbow their way from one realm to another," he ex - plains. Osnos includes internationally known activists, such as artist Ai Weiwei and blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng, as well as the reaction by the Chinese pub- lic and government to such figures. The stories are remarkable. For ex- ample, when young Gong Haiyan was injured in an accident and told that her village school could not accommodate a student who could not walk, her mother carried her to class on her back. Gong went on to start an online dating site and become a millionaire. (Osnos men- tions that Gong's "medical bills plunged her parents into debt." Contrary to what readers might assume, China does not have universal "socialized medicine.") Another remarkable story involves a Chinese mother who makes Tiger Moms look like slackers. In her bestselling book, "Harvard Girl," Zhang Xinwu documents how she got her daughter into that elite school by toughening her up – having her hold ice cubes, run up stairs, and study in noisy locations. This book also covers the breathtaking scope of corrup - tion in China, detailing the role it played in a deadly crash of a high-speed train in 2011 and in the collapse of schools during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. The public was angered by government attempts to censor details of those disasters. The Internet has given Chinese an unprecedented oppor- tunity to express such anger, if they can get past censors. But when bloggers tried to circumvent the ban on commemorat- ing the Tiananmen Square crackdown by using the word "truth" for that incident, censors blocked the word "truth." Osnos's descriptions are always on target. At the Com- munist Party Congress, he writes, "The choreography was flawless: every few minutes, a team of young women carry- ing thermoses of hot water passed through the rows of VIPs, pouring tea with the precision of synchronized swimmers." China's ambiguous attitude toward the West is covered frequently in the book. During most of the Mao Zedong era, "admiring the West was a punishable offense," Osnos points out. "But by the eighties, the West was increasingly seen as a place of possibility and self-creation." Yet the government is quick to wax anti-foreign, as when it charged that Chinese dissident and 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo "spared no effort in working for Western anti-Chinese forces." At the grass-roots level, a young man named Tang Jie gained prominence by comparing Western press coverage of China to Nazi propaganda. In a chapter that reveals much about Chinese attitudes, Osnos follows a group of Chinese tourists on a whirlwind tour of Europe. They eat in Chinese restaurants, dismiss many sights in Europe as inconsequential, and enjoy hearing their Chinese tour guide ridicule the laid-back European lifestyle. Yet many Chinese still lack basic information about life at home. Osnos cites leaked propaganda directives sent to Chi - nese journalists, including orders to delete a story on public discontent with the country's imbalance of wealth. "This book is an account of the collision of two forces: aspiration and au- thoritarianism," Osnos writes. Only one will prevail. r Mike Revzin is a journalist who lived in China and teaches Americans about China with his ChinaSeminars.com programs. New Yorker writer evaN osNos profiles ChiNa's strivers. b o o k s Age of Ambition by evan osnos farrar, Straus and giroux 416 pages What are you reading? Monitor readers share their favorite titles. If you have not fought in Iraq, nothing will ever allow you to know what it was like – but Redeployment, by Phil Klay, will get you agonizingly close. His short stories are a brilliant evocation of war. – Sue Ransohof, Cincinnati We've read bits and pieces about the Arab Spring, but Walid Phares sums up each country's involvement in The Lost Spring. I recommend this for fuller understanding. – Muriel Horacek, La Cañada, Calif. The Monuments Men, by Robert Edsel, is very good and gives me a feel for World War II, a war that I saw only from a dis- tance. – James Bailey, Sandy, Utah I just finished Paris: The Novel, by Edward Rutherfurd. There was much that I skipped but still lots of history to soak up. – Martha Barkley, Belgrade Lakes, Maine WHAT ARE YOU READING? Write and tell us at kehem@csps.com. books Ambition meets authority A MAN RideS AN eSCALATOR iN SHANgHAi, CHiNA. Carlos Barria/reuters the ChristiaN sCieNCe MoNitor weeklY | June 16, 2014 41

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