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Land Of Big Numbers Hardcover
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I can clearly see the writer's years of experiences as a western journalist (WSJ) based in China give her the materials for her stories. The problem is, western media have more or less always focused on the negative sides and problems of China, which is what she did, and by doing so she willingly or unwillingly misled the reader into a mindset of the western mainstream media. So, what do we learn from these stories? They boil down to all things negative - lack of freedom, repressive government, people being beaten by police, people wronged by the army/government/boss, and youngsters fight for freedom, etc. Oh, that hopeless feeling - sure, the roads and malls are fantastic but what is the point when they don't have freedom and human rights? Chinese people are wonderful people, we like them and feel for them. We just don't like the government and the system.
Mind you, the government has the support of 90%+ of the people.
The real China is quite different - it is vastly more complex, dynamic, and uplifting. Unfortunately we don't see from this collection of stories the uplifting part . Why is that important? Number one, that's the main trend and dominant theme in everyday Chinese lives. Number two, if all the books about China are like this book, then there will be more misconception of China amongst westerners and the ultimate price might be a nuclear war between the U.S. and China.
The first story, Lulu, reminds me of the writer's limitation in her real-life experiences with everyday Chinese families. There are small details that are not believable. For example, in China people don't go out to buy flour and bean paste on the first day of Chinese New Year. They would have prepared everything before New Year's eve and spent the first few days of the new year visiting with relatives and friends or celebrating via endless meals and partes. There is always enough, or often too much, to eat during the CNY, so no need to go out to buy cooking materials.
Another example is that the majority of Chinese netizens who use VPN to bypass China's Great Wall of internet are usually shocked by how biased, negative, and distorted western media's reporting on China is. As a result, they become a stronger supporter of the government of China if they were not one to begin with. Lulu using VPN to see more of the outside world and then turning into an staunch activist against the government is too unbelievable, and does not represent the reality.
I don't deny that there are youngsters like Lulu in China. However, she is an odd one out; the young generations are nothing like her. Lulu might be one in a million, which does not automatically make her story worth-reading. Yes, everyone wants a more prosperous and free society, but they don't try to achieve that by rebelling and protesting. Instead, they try to change society for the better through hard work with real results. They think the country is in the right direction and the government has been doing the right thing for the most part in the last three to four decades. For people who have never been to China, they read this collection of stories and feel sorry for Chinese people's repressed lives and may even be inspired to do something for them. What do they do? They want to blame and change the CPC, which is counterproductive and dangerous when the government and the system is supported by 90% of the people.
Let me leave you with what the protagonist said in Lulu, "If this country were a vegetable, it would be a rotten, bitter melon." Now you really feel sorry for Lulu and for the Chinese people, don't you? Don't be, because what you have read is only fiction. The real China is so different...
Some of the stories struck me as somber, telling the stories of marginalized and anonymous characters living on the fringes of a society predominantly dedicated to "progress" in the form of economic development and the accumulation of wealth. In that sense, the stories say as much about life in America as about life in China. What nevertheless makes the stories delightful is the finesse and felicity with which the author writes and the compassion with which she portrays her protagonists. One example is "New Fruit," which tells the story of qiguo, a mysterious and delicious new fruit that brings all who taste it a promise of hope and happiness that does not last. My favorite example is "Flying Machine," which tells the story of Cao Cao, an old farmer who constructs an airplane from spare parts but whose real triumph is his never-ending drive to rearrange old things into new things and to transform humble things into magnificent things. May we all live our lives as Cao Cao lives his!