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Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and…
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Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China (2014)

by Evan Osnos

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
Author Osnos' theme is expressed right up front on page 5: "The Party no longer promises equality or an end to toil. It promises only prosperity, pride and strength." The remainder of the book elaborates upon this theme chronicling historically how China's Communist Party evolved to this point in order to stay in power, telling the stories of a variety of individuals who have bought into this scenario (or not), or who have remained constant in their desire for a more democratic society (or not), etc. "This book is an account of the collision of two forces: aspiration and authoritarianism" (p. 7).

"In 1978, the average Chinese income was $200; by 2014, it was $6,000" (p. 4). The success of those early achievers--those who responded quickly to Deng Xiaoping's carrot held out by the Party in return for the peoples' submission--has stirred a desire for success and wealth that Osnos compares to that seen in America's Gilded Age when every man "had his dream". In short, as the book unfolds, one finds oneself reading the story of how the Party offers "its people a bargain: prosperity in exchange for loyalty" (p. 34).

But does the Party hold up its side--does it ensure all forms of prosperity--including mental and physical health? As Osnos recites disaster after disaster and shortfall after shortfall (collapsing schools, tainted food products, incompetencies, graft, fraud, embezzlement) it appears that not all aspects of the three traditional Chinese desires (FuLuShou - Happiness, Wealth/Power, and Longevity) are being addressed.

The individuals that Osnos met, interviewed, and analyzes are amongst the best chapters and I found myself intrigued by many of the insider stories surrounding those names we only know through the media--Ai Weiwei, Hu Shuli, Lin Yifu, Liu Xiaobo, Gao Zhisheng, Han Han, Chen Guangcheng, etc. The mixture itself is fascinating--from heroes to gods with clay feet (and that choice is often left to the reader to decide).

And although a China-watcher for many years, Osnos revealed a number of aspects of today's China that had slipped by me--expressions such as a "chicken talking to a duck" or "maguan" ("to buy a government promotion"), or the story of the grass mud horse & river crab. Such examples brought home the truth of many of his points. And as a historian, I was especially pleased to see the weaving in of some of history's sharper images--for example, how the 14C Emperor and founder of the Ming Dynasty (Zhu Yuanzhang=Emperor Hongwu) "ordered thieving officials to be executed, skinned, and stuffed with straw so that their carcasses might be propped up like mannequins for visitors" (p. 249).

And what reader wouldn't love the story of Osnos' trip to Europe with a Chinese tour group? I found myself laughing out loud at how perfectly Osnos captured the scenes.

Age of Ambition is definitely a book to read if you're at all interested in modern China and want to decipher what we see and hear in today's media--both Chinese and foreign, sympathetic and not-so sympathetic. I added this book to my "armchair travel" list because in many ways it reflects the best of the genre in the footsteps of Paul Theroux. It was when it lost that sharpness that I found myself skimming ahead a few pages here and there, only to be caught back up in the storyline on the next page.


( )
  pbjwelch | Jul 25, 2017 |
A great book. I read the New Yorker regularly and some of this material was included in some stories, but it doesn't
matter because the tales are worth repeating. China is royally screwed; they have allowed people to get rich, but the entire country is as crooked as can be. There is more corruption in China than you can believe and it starts at the top. That is how they did it, because everybody is on the take, and so they steal and grow their way to success,. ( )
  annbury | Apr 7, 2017 |
I've always liked narratives in which there's an outsider looking in, and this is certainly one such book. Osnos had access to many people that I've never heard of, but seem to be quite important. And he also writes very well, with a compelling voice. ( )
  litalex | Jan 3, 2016 |
This is illuminating and alarming book looks at where China finds itself today, after thirty years of what may the the most extraordinary sustained growth that any country has ever experienced. That is a very different place from the past, and a place where the future is very unclear. Osnos presents the way people are reacting to this through a series of vignettes, relying on a set of people he spoke with often. The impression is kaleidoscopic. As Osnos repeatedly makes clear, the super-rapid pace of social change has had many different effects, depending on who you are, what you want, and where in the system you find yourself. The overall impression he leaves is one of uncertainty: he does not pretend to know where China will go next (if indeed there is one "China", and if indeed it goes in one direction). A fascinating read. ( )
  annbury | Nov 13, 2015 |
Of the books I've been reading on China (and I have no idea why I've been reading books on China), this is the one that pulled me in and opened my eyes. VERY well written
  revliz | Jul 20, 2015 |
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Cho, NayonCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374280746, Hardcover)

A vibrant, colorful, and revelatory inner history of China during a moment of profound transformation

From abroad, we often see China as a caricature: a nation of pragmatic plutocrats and ruthlessly dedicated students destined to rule the global economy—or an addled Goliath, riddled with corruption and on the edge of stagnation. What we don’t see is how both powerful and ordinary people are remaking their lives as their country dramatically changes.
     As the Beijing correspondent for The New Yorker, Evan Osnos was on the ground in China for years, witness to profound political, economic, and cultural upheaval. In Age of Ambition, he describes the greatest collision taking place in that country: the clash between the rise of the individual and the Communist Party’s struggle to retain control. He asks probing questions: Why does a government with more success lifting people from poverty than any civilization in history choose to put strict restraints on freedom of expression? Why do millions of young Chinese professionals—fluent in English and devoted to Western pop culture—consider themselves “angry youth,” dedicated to resisting the West’s influence? How are Chinese from all strata finding meaning after two decades of the relentless pursuit of wealth?
     Writing with great narrative verve and a keen sense of irony, Osnos follows the moving stories of everyday people and reveals life in the new China to be a battleground between aspiration and authoritarianism, in which only one can prevail.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:27 -0400)

"A vibrant, colorful, and revelatory inner history of China during a moment of profound transformation From abroad, we often see China as a caricature: a nation of pragmatic plutocrats and ruthlessly dedicated students destined to rule the global economy--or an addled Goliath, riddled with corruption and on the edge of stagnation. What we don't see is how both powerful and ordinary people are remaking their lives as their country dramatically changes. As the Beijing correspondent for The New Yorker, Evan Osnos was on the ground in China for years, witness to profound political, economic, and cultural upheaval. In Age of Ambition, he describes the greatest collision taking place in that country: the clash between the rise of the individual and the Communist Party's struggle to retain control. He asks probing questions: Why does a government with more success lifting people from poverty than any civilization in history choose to put strict restraints on freedom of expression? Why do millions of young Chinese professionals--fluent in English and devoted to Western pop culture--consider themselves "angry youth," dedicated to resisting the West's influence? How are Chinese from all strata finding meaning after two decades of the relentless pursuit of wealth? Writing with great narrative verve and a keen sense of irony, Osnos follows the moving stories of everyday people and reveals life in the new China to be a battleground between aspiration and authoritarianism, in which only one can prevail"--"A vibrant, colorful, and revelatory inner history of China during a moment of profound transformation"--… (more)

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