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By Delano on 10-23-11
Good for China Beginners
This is the memoir of someone who worked in the Chinese foreign service during and after the Mao era, and still resides in China with his family. The result is a book that gives a moderate version of the official Communist Party story of Chinese history and diplomacy in the 20th century.
Someone who doesn't know much about recent Chinese history would probably learn quite a bit. The book would be especially helpful for someone who couldn't imagine why the Chinese government joined the Korean War, or why Taiwan has been made such an issue--and why most people in China agree with the government position on these topics. As someone already quite familiar with the history, I didn't get any new information from this book.
The author's description of his personal experiences are rather monotonous, without much reflection or psychological detail. Expect to spend a lot of time hearing about the health problems of every member of his family. His political insights are limited to categorizing all the people he discusses as either good (Zhou Enlai, Peng Dehuai, Deng Xiaoping) or bad (Mao, the Gang of Four, and their supporters), and so he explains political events by attributing them to whether the "good" or "bad" people happened to be in control of government at that time. This was much too simplistic for me to feel that the book had deepened my understanding of how the tumultuous politics of the Mao years really worked.
The narrator made some effort to learn how to pronounce Chinese, so about half the names came out fairly well (except for the tones), and half are mangled. This is still better than most audiobooks on China.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
By Adam on 03-27-10
I teach modern Chinese history to high school students and this audiobook has been very helpful in understanding this chapter in China's history. The unique perspective of the author's time in America as a college student and his eventual return to Beijing gives a nuanced, informative outlook that illuminates the 100 Flowers Bloom movement, the Great Leap Forward (Backward, really), and the intensity and insanity of the Cultural Revolution. Very engaging to listen to on my commute every day.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful