China beyond the Headlines

Article excerpt

China Beyond the Headlines. Timothy B. Weston and Lionel M. Jensen, eds. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2000. 366 pp., $80 hbk. $22.95 pbk.

When the world is fast changing, as part of the larger geopolitical and sociocultural landscape that is increasingly being shaped by the emerging phenomenon of globalization, China cannot remain unchanged or unchanging. When China is changing or, as academicians and journalists argue, has changed as a result of its internal economic reforms and external integration into the world's trade system during the past two decades, China observers cannot continue to insist that our view and perspective of the country are unaffected by the trajectory and speed of the object itself and the perception of its direction and pace by the subject.

In the United States, intellectual inquiry seeks to know more about China as an object of research interest and policy concern. Such efforts also allow us to learn about the United States as the perceiving subject that for years has looked at China within a reductive framework delimited by the text and image in the news media. The journalistic prism reduces a complex reality to superficiality and thus does not generate deep knowledge beyond the headlines or one-dimensional cultural imagination. For all its exceptionalism, national identity, and social structure, China is more than meets the eyes in the news. This is the essence of the anthology edited by Weston, assistant professor of history at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Jensen, associate professor of history and director of the Program in Chinese Studies at the University of Colorado at Denver.

This collection ot fourteen essays originated in a 1997 symposium that brought together a group of historians, anthropologists, political scientists, geographers, philosophers, journalists, and human rights activists. Several papers were solicited later, including one from Wei Jingsheng, China's most celebrated dissident for his challenge to Deng Xiaoping's "Four Modernizations" in the late 1970s. The purpose of the volume, according to the editors, is to offer "for public view the largely unrepresented complexity of China, something that is always lost when scholars and the media refuse to imagine China in a manner other than that required by the bipolar political complex that continues to color U.S. thinking about geopolitics."

To a large extent, the editors succeed in fostering an intriguing discourse that not only abandons outmoded paradigms, especially those molded by the cold war mentality, but also in rethinking China from a variety of new perspectives within and without the Chinese polity. The essays cover diverse topics about China, such as American perceptions, corruption, ethnic and religious diversity, human rights, democracy, intellectuals, nationalism, economic reforms, environmental problems, feminine images, labor woes and social injustice, popular culture and minority, and language and Chinese writing. …