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China Revealed in Age Of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos

Page Turners

By Kate McCorkle

What happens when a country that has discouraged individuality and free enterprise suddenly encourages it? What do citizens think when formerly repressed ideas and incidents are suddenly floating around on the Internet, and formerly forbidden cultural attitudes are suddenly condoned? What do people believe in after decades of religious repression? These questions are interesting enough in theory, but when applied to individuals of the emerging middle-income group in China, they are fascinating.

In Age of Ambition Evan Osnos, who was the China correspondent for The New Yorker from 2008 to 2013, has followed ordinary Chinese citizens over a period of years in order to present the unique dilemmas faced—and creative solutions devised—by citizens trying to get a foothold in the New China.

Opportunity knocks in odd ways; a young woman starts an online matchmaking service necessitated by the dearth of marriageable-aged women after years of China’s one-child policy. Now that citizens can own property, young women are looking for a “house ready” man, so that they will not have to move in with the in-laws. The reader gets an inside look at the attitudes and dreams of Chinese singles in the new order.

When China’s party in power decrees that the “Revolution” is over, foreign travel becomes an opportunity for the rising middle-income group (they do not say middle class because “class” has been obliterated). Osnos signs himself up for a bus tour of Europe and travels for weeks with a group of Chinese tourists. Although the travelers are heavily protected from “Western thieves and Western cuisine,” they cannot help getting glimpses of “… humaneness and openness and a world once forbidden.” The individuals he meets and their reactions to the Chinese tourists’ exposure to Europe again provide the reader with a concrete understanding of how years of isolation have formed the minds and attitudes of a people.

As for faith? Well, it too, is transformed, in possibly the most surprising revelations of all.

Osnos not only unravels the intricacies of decades of policy switching and repression, but he also writes informally and personally from a tremendous cache of experience. In the end, he lets readers see for themselves what it is to be Chinese in the age of ambition. This really is, as advertised, the book to read about modern China. Age of Ambition is on the new arrivals shelf at the Biblioteca.


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