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

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"A highly personal, honest, funny and well-informed account of China's
hyperactive effort to forget its past and reinvent its future."—The New York Times Book Review

As one the first American students admitted to China after the communist revolution, John Pomfret was exposed to a country still emerging from the twin tragedies of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Crammed into a dorm room with seven Chinese men, Pomfret contended with all manner of cultural differences, from too-short beds and roommates intent on glimpsing a white man naked, to the need for cloak-and-dagger efforts to conceal his relationships with Chinese women. Amidst all that, he immersed himself in the remarkable lives of his classmates.

Beginning with Pomfret's first day in China, Chinese Lessons takes us down the often torturous paths that brought together the Nanjing University History Class of 1982: Old Wu's father was killed during the Cultural Revolution for the crime of being an intellectual; Book Idiot Zhou labored in the fields for years rather than agree to a Party-arranged marriage; and Little Guan was forced to publicly denounce and humiliate her father. As Pomfret follows his classmates from childhood to adulthood, he examines the effect of China's transition from near-feudal communism to first-world capitalism. The result is an illuminating report from present-day China, and a moving portrait of its extraordinary people.

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About the author

Formerly The Washington Post's bureau chief in Beijing and Los Angeles, John Pomfret was named editor of the Post's Outlook Section in 2007. In 2003, he was awarded the Osborn Elliott Prize for Excellence in Asian Journalism and in 2007 won the Shorenstein Prize for coverage of Asia. He lives near Washington, D.C., with his wife and family.

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Additional Information

Henry Holt and Company
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Published on
Aug 8, 2006
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History / Asia / China
Travel / Asia / China
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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While Hong Kong's spectacular economic growth and political development have been well documented, the social and cultural lives of the ordinary people swept up in the changes have not found a significant voice. Through the personal experiences of Stanley Kwan and those around him, this book gives such a voice to people whose lives have been profoundly affected by the dramatic changes, as Hong Kong transitioned from an entrepôt to an international financial centre and from a colony to become a part of China. Wedged between the East and the West – the Dragon and the Crown – Stanley Kwan's life experiences reflect the forces pulling at Hong Kong. He was born into a traditional Chinese banking family but attended King's College under the British colonial system. Fired up by patriotism during the war, he joined the Nationalist Chinese army and served as an interpreter for American forces in southwest China. In 1949, two of his brothers went to the Mainland to join the socialist revolution. Although tempted to join, he stayed in Hong Kong, worked for a British firm and became a "China watcher" at the American Consulate General. He finally joined a local Chinese bank – Hang Seng Bank where, as head of the Research Department, he launched the Hang Seng Index and witnessed the dramatic cycles of the Hong Kong economy. With the prospect of 1997, Stanley Kwan deliberated on his future and decided to retire to Canada in 1984, joining the tide of immigrants from Hong Kong. The book contributes to the ongoing search for Hong Kong identity in the Special Administrative Region and will resonate among people in Hong Kong as well as those interested in the fate of the former colony.
Route 312 is the Chinese Route 66. It flows three thousand miles from east to west, passing through the factory towns of the coastal areas, through the rural heart of China, then up into the Gobi Desert, where it merges with the Old Silk Road. The highway witnesses every part of the social and economic revolution that is turning China upside down.

In this utterly surprising and deeply personal book, acclaimed National Public Radio reporter Rob Gifford, a fluent Mandarin speaker, takes the dramatic journey along Route 312 from its start in the boomtown of Shanghai to its end on the border with Kazakhstan. Gifford reveals the rich mosaic of modern Chinese life in all its contradictions, as he poses the crucial questions that all of us are asking about China: Will it really be the next global superpower? Is it as solid and as powerful as it looks from the outside? And who are the ordinary Chinese people, to whom the twenty-first century is supposed to belong?

Gifford is not alone on his journey. The largest migration in human history is taking place along highways such as Route 312, as tens of millions of people leave their homes in search of work. He sees signs of the booming urban economy everywhere, but he also uncovers many of the country’s frailties, and some of the deep-seated problems that could derail China’s rise.

The whole compelling adventure is told through the cast of colorful characters Gifford meets: garrulous talk-show hosts and ambitious yuppies, impoverished peasants and tragic prostitutes, cell-phone salesmen, AIDS patients, and Tibetan monks. He rides with members of a Shanghai jeep club, hitchhikes across the Gobi desert, and sings karaoke with migrant workers at truck stops along the way.

As he recounts his travels along Route 312, Rob Gifford gives a face to what has historically, for Westerners, been a faceless country and breathes life into a nation that is so often reduced to economic statistics. Finally, he sounds a warning that all is not well in the Chinese heartlands, that serious problems lie ahead, and that the future of the West has become inextricably linked with the fate of 1.3 billion Chinese people.

“Informative, delightful, and powerfully moving . . . Rob Gifford’s acute powers of observation, his sense of humor and adventure, and his determination to explore the wrenching dilemmas of China’s explosive development open readers’ eyes and reward their minds.”
–Robert A. Kapp, president, U.S.-China Business Council, 1994-2004
A lively survey of Cuba's past and present, and a "must-have" companion to any Cuba travel guide 

"Cuba has the same effect on American administrations
that the full moon has on werewolves." 
-- Wayne Smith, former head of US Interests Section in Havana

"Cuba for the Misinformed is extraordinarily educational and enlightening."
 - Midwest Book Review

For more than 50 years, the US government and mass media have misrepresented, hidden or ignored the truth about Cuba. In Cuba for the Misinformed, Mick Winter brings together a fascinating array of facts and anecdotes about Cuba's history, its government, its people, and the actions that the United States has taken against the well-being of those people.

Citizens of other countries do know many of these facts. That is why every year at the United Nations almost every country on the planet (the 2012 vote was 188-3) demands that the United States end its embargo of Cuba. 

As you read this book, you will recognize that for more than fifty years something very interesting has been happening just ninety miles offshore from the United States. You may not agree with everything-- or even anything-- that has happened since the Cuban revolution, but you will likely admit that this small island country of eleven million people has had a global effect that reaches far beyond its size. 

This book presents information that is little-known (particularly to most Americans) about Cuba and its relationship with the United States. It offers this information clearly, succinctly and in a style that's enjoyable to read, and backs it up with helpful footnotes and links to resources. Whether you're a student, educator or journalist; planning a trip to Cuba (this book is an essential companion to your Cuba tour book); anticipating future business dealings; or simply want to know more, you'll find Cuba for the Misinformeda treasure of interesting--and often fascinating--information, facts and anecdotes about Cuba and its people. 

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