China's Brave New World: And Other Tales for Global Times

China's Brave New World: And Other Tales for Global Times

China's Brave New World: And Other Tales for Global Times

China's Brave New World: And Other Tales for Global Times

Synopsis

If Chairman Mao came back to life today, what would he think of Nanjing's bookstore, the Librairie Avant-Garde, where it is easier to find primers on Michel Foucault's philosophy than copies of the Little Red Book? What does it really mean to order a latte at Starbucks in Beijing? Is it possible that Aldous Huxley wrote a novel even more useful than Orwell's 1984 for making sense of post-Tiananmen China--or post-9/11 America?

In these often playful, always enlightening "tales," Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom poses these and other questions as he journeys from 19th-century China into the future, and from Shanghai to Chicago, St. Louis, and Budapest. He argues that simplistic views of China and Americanization found in most soundbite-driven media reports serve us poorly as we try to understand China's place in the current world order--or our own.

Excerpt

Jeffrey Wasserstrom is not only an insightful historian, but also an active public intellectual. the essays collected in this volume propose a very personal, provocative, erudite, and morally compelling approach to China’s ongoing “Great Transformation.” I’m not a China expert, but I read them with enormous interest. What Wasserstrom does is show us how the old mythologies, long cherished by Chinese communists, have become increasingly obsolete.

True, much of the old system is still there, at least at the symbolic level. Institutionally, the Communist Party still exerts full control. For all the thousands of internet cafés, Starbucks, and modern bookstores, there is still a scarcity of open debate on the country’s recent past. Discussing Mao’s real biography or assessing the Cultural Revolution remains taboo. Some of the recent Western writings on Mao may be exaggerated, but it is hard to separate him from some of the worst human rights abuses of the past century. in one of the best essays, Wasserstrom imagines what Mao’s reactions would be were he to come back to life and witness the immense changes, especially in the economy, social structure (the rise of the new bourgeoisie, encouraged by the party/state), and culture. I agree that much would terrify and outrage the once-worshipped “Great Helmsman.” Still, as Wasserstrom correctly points out, he would be happy that the country is still run by the Leninist (or, more accurately, Maoist) party, and that ideology, exhausted as it is, still enjoys an unquestioned monopoly. Or, better said, whenever someone questions this monopoly, the person suffers immediately the consequences, including marginalization, harassment, imprisonment, or expulsion (de-

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