HomeGroupsTalkZeitgeist
This site uses cookies to deliver our services, improve performance, for analytics, and (if not signed in) for advertising. By using LibraryThing you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms.
Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

Chinese Lessons: Five Classmates and the…
Loading...

Chinese Lessons: Five Classmates and the Story of the New China

by John Pomfret

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
225651,607 (4.17)7

None.

Loading...

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 7 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
Chinese lessons. Five classmates and the story of the New China is yet another book about the disaster known as modern Chinese history. In just over 300 pages, John Pomfret tells the story of modern China, basically from the late 1950s up till the present. Journalists are not historians, and typically, they lack distance to the object of their study, and with it any form of objectivity. As many long-term residents, Pomfret has a strong tendency to identify with the Chinese, and hence, the book seems a feeble attempt to write himself into Chinese history. The author's longing to be part of Chinese history seems more strongly so since he was evicted from the country, in the aftermath of the Tiananmen Incident.

Both historians and journalists may make use of eyewitness accounts. Chinese lessons. Five classmates and the story of the New China is largely based on the stories told by Pomfret's former classmates, five Chinese students he befriended while Pomfret studied at Nanjing University. This also gives the book a fairly unique perspective, namely that from the city of Nanjng, while most other books tend to focus on either having a very general scope, collecting stories from all over China or being very focused on Beijing.

Nonetheless, the stories of each of these classmates are as shocking as any. They may have a somewhat more rural base, but the quintessential horror of the Cultural Revolution in present in each. Part 2 of the book tells the life experience of Pomfret's classmates during the 1970s and early 80s, the period when the author witnessed their lives as he studied in China.

In Part 3 of the book, Pomfret himself is the eye witness of the events in the capital in 1989. The narrative focuses on proximity and on-the-ground perspective, the author running through the hutongs to reach the square before the armoured vehicles, the author among the students, the author with his face pressed against the tarmac taking cover. What follows is interrogation, and eventually, expulsion.

The next part of the book is called "Into the Sea", a typical phrase for Chinese to have left the motherland. It shows once more how the author identifies with the Chinese. During the following years, Pomfret worked in Hong Kong, and a decade later he is enabled, with special permission to re-enter China and resume reporting on conditions in China. The final two parts of the book are about the 1990s and the early first decade of the new century, a time of economic development, but no less hardship and political repression.

Part memoir, part observation, but lacking distance, Chinese lessons. Five classmates and the story of the New China is a book that throws three parts of Chinese history together, that would heve been better presented if dealt with apart. For all of the author's closeness to China, the book lacks true sympathy. It is much more a harsh reckoning, than a warm memoir. The book would be of interest to people who are interested in Nanjing, and the history of the Cultural Revolution at Nanjing University, Chinese education and Chinese universities. The rest of the book is barely worth attention, as it is too distanced and too superficial. ( )
  edwinbcn | Jan 25, 2017 |
I read "Chinese Lessons" with anticipation and in preparation of my upcoming trip to China. Only a rare few books dig deep into the soul of the modern day Chinese citizen and unearth the true facts about their habits and customs, likes and dislikes, goals and ambitions, gripes and dissatisfaction with the all-powerful communist party government. This is one of those rare books.

"Chinese Lessons" is a fascinating story of John Pomfret’s experience as a foreign exchange student at the Nanjing University in China. The five classmates, whom he befriended, were trusting enough to share their stories: the harsh treatment their families suffered upon the Communist take-over in the 1930’s (death, torture, and re-education which meant prison camps designed for brainwashing tactics), how they struggled through the “Great Leap Forward”, how the select five miraculously ended up at the university, and what their dreams were for the future. One thing all Chinese students shared was an intense passion for learning and desperately fierce competition for the best grades. “In the Chinese dormitories, lights went out at 10 p.m. but long into the night, hundreds of students would crowd the ill-lit cement hallways and malodorous, sodden bathrooms to study. Even during the winter, they would huddle outdoors, wrapped in their blue or green cotton-padded overcoats, reading under the eaves of the school’s infirmary, where the lights stayed on all night”. After graduating in 1982 John became a journalist and worked in China, so he was able to stay in contact with his Chinese friends as years passed. He covered the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 angering the authorities and was then exiled from China for several years and returned in 1998 to resume reporting. Through John’s eyes, witness China’s transformation: booming economy, new infrastructure, land development, pollution, jobs, corruption, wealth, and decadence. As Wang Kegang stated, “people’s desire for power, money, and comfort are boundless…..”

Exuding from every page including those relating a story about someone’s success, joy, and contentment is the ever-watchful spying eye of the secret service and loyal party members eager to turn in anyone, including their own friends and family to gain stature within the party. And woe is the person who breaks a rule, speaks again party propaganda, or merely makes someone envious or angry. When John Pomfret was questioned about what he thought the biggest difference was between Americans and Chinese he said in the United States everyone wants to get ahead and in China everyone wants to get ahead at the expense of betraying someone else. The scariest thing is that the Communist hierarchy is the self-proclaimed judge and jury. Forget about “innocent until proved guilty”. Punishment could be any number of things: hours of interrogation, exile to China’s version of Siberia, prison, heavy labor, torture, or death. By the time I was finished reading of all the unjustified executions, imprisonments and tortures, I was too paranoid to publish my review until arriving back safely on United States soil.

"Chinese Lessons" is a fascinating memoir. ( )
  LadyLo | Oct 7, 2011 |
I found this book very disturbing. The author follows five classmates from his class at Nanjing University in the early 1980s through their childhood during the Cultural Revolution, their college years in the early 80s', the flowering of Chinese independent thinking in the mid to late 80s followed by the horrors of Tianamen Square, and then the developments since. His thesis seems to be that the Chinese as a people are cut off from all of their ancient civilization by the depredations of the Communist party over the last 60 years, and are largely without any moral compass. Those who thrive in the new China do so because they put themselves first, without reference to any ethical or moral groundings, which have never been taught to them and which have been suppressed by the governing party for the last two generations. This is depressing, and frightening, and I do so hope it isn't true.
1 vote kokipy | Jan 8, 2010 |
Interesting anecdotes on life in China in the early 80's written by news journalist John Pomfret. The stories come from his roommates while he was in Nanjing. While intriguing, I never get the feeling of author's relationship with these people, he sounds very much like a news reporter. As far as my feelings for China goes....I am glad I never lived through those times. Most of the Chinese interviewed are around my age and I shudder to think of my life even remotely like any of theirs. I have great admiration for the survivors but no wish to be part of that culture. It will be interesting to see how the Chinese government will deal with the upper mobile burgeoning middle class. ( )
  ejjokers | Jan 4, 2010 |
A journalist who spent a year at Nanjing University soon after the Cultural Revolution recounts the stories of his classmates and provides a picture of China's recent history. It's amazing that one country could go through so much - and change so radically from one decade to the next.
1 vote bfister | Jun 3, 2008 |
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
no reviews | add a review
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
People/Characters
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
Epigraph
Dedication
First words
Quotations
Last words
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Blurbers
Publisher series
Original language

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (2)

Book description
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0805086641, Paperback)

A first-hand account of the remarkable transformation of China over the past forty years as seen through the life of an award-winning journalist and his four Chinese classmates

As a twenty-year-old exchange student from Stanford University, John Pomfret spent a year at Nanjing University in China. His fellow classmates were among those who survived the twin tragedies of Mao’s rule—the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution—and whose success in government and private industry today are shaping China’s future. Pomfret went on to a career in journalism, spending the bulk of his time in China. After attending the twentieth reunion of his class, he decided to reacquaint himself with some of his classmates. Chinese Lessons is their story and his own.

Beginning with Pomfret’s first days in China, Chinese Lessons takes us back to the often torturous paths that brought together the Nanjing University History Class of 1982. One classmate’s father was killed during the Cultural Revolution for the crime of being an intellectual; another classmate labored in the fields for years rather than agree to a Party-arranged marriage; a third was forced to publicly denounce and humiliate her father. As we watch Pomfret and his classmates begin to make their lives as adults, we see as never before the human cost and triumph of China’s transition from near-feudal communism to first-world capitalism.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:11:15 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A first-hand account of the remarkable transformation of China over the past forty years. As a 20-year-old exchange student from Stanford in 1981, Pomfret spent a year at Nanjing University in China. His classmates were among those who survived the twin tragedies of Mao's rule--the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution--and whose success in government and private industry today are shaping China's future. Pomfret went on to a career in journalism, spending the bulk of his time in China. After attending the twentieth reunion of his class, he decided to reacquaint himself with some of his classmates. This book is their story and his own. As we watch Pomfret and his classmates begin to make their lives as adults, we see the human cost and triumph of China's transition from near-feudal communism to first-world capitalism.--From publisher description.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

Quick Links

Popular covers

Rating

Average: (4.17)
0.5
1
1.5
2 1
2.5
3 5
3.5 1
4 19
4.5 4
5 13

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.

 

About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 125,771,625 books! | Top bar: Always visible