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.
©2014 Evan Osnos (P)2014 Audible Inc.
"Evan Osnos, Beijing correspondent for The New Yorker (2005-2010) has written an outstanding book covering the political, economic, and cultural aspects of China. Narrating his own work is a wonderful addition as his command of Mandarin and in-depth knowledge of the country are apparent. Observations and interviews are crisp and timely whether the subject is a billionaire online matchmaker or the dissident Ai Wei Wei, who has many critical and pithy comments. Osnos's apt delivery of humor--both his own and Chinese--adds authenticity and fun. Most revealing are his observations during a European tour with a Chinese group. (He was the only non-Chinese person.) Osnos excels at getting people to open up; he then adds luster with his spirited delivery of their thoughts." (AudioFile)
After living in China for four years I didn't think I would learn much from this book, boy was I wrong!
As a journalist with insider access and as a long-time China hand, Evan Osnos is uniquely qualified to share his insights on what is fast becoming the world's most dynamic country. In this work, he provides striking insights from personal interviews conducted with Chinese from all walks of life, from movers and shakers in China, like Hu Shuli, Han Han, Ai Weiwei and Li Yang, to more obscure individuals, such as nationalistic doctoral students, corrupt officials and aspiring poets moonlightling as street sweepers. At the same time, Osnos brings the listener up to date on most of the major events in China over the past 5 years and makes a solid analysis of why the country has thus far not complied with Western expectations of Democratic reform.
For me, learning more about well-known figures like Han Han and AI Weiwei was a treat. In China, one could frequently hear conversations about Ai's conviction or Han's latest post, but rarely could I find a local who knew much else about the disidents themselves. I had no idea that Ai became a disident after the government corruption revealed by the Sichuan earthquake I was also pleased to be introduced to some I had never heard about on campus such as the editor of Caixin Hu Shuli. Now I know one more source of Chinese news when I don't feel like reading propaganda.
It was also nice to get caught up on current events, I used to watch Chinese news every night, but only had a partial picture of what was actually going on due to censorship. Osnos filled me in on all the details I missed from the Tibet protests in 2007 to the fall of Bo Xilai last year.
The Narrator for most of the book (which is not Osnos!) is a wonderful reader, but I can only give him 4 stars due to his unreliable Mandarin pronunciation. True, he's lightyears beyond most narrators on Audible when pronouncing Chinese propper nouns but he tended to botch the phrases throughout the book. He also didn't do well with some of the names of major characters, such as his annoying habit of pronouncing Han Han as Haan Haan. This could have been overlooked if only Han wasn't mentioned multiple times every chapter. In short, if you are a fluent Mandarin speaker this narrator's occasional mistakes may bother you a little, but otherwise he was a fantastic choice for this production.
I have read up to 10 books about the evolution of China and it's current status in the world since my daughter went to live there 6 years ago, and this book was by far the best!
It covered the current problems of political and religious repression of the government and mentioned many famous Chinese dissidents and their stories. I learned so much.
The narrators, although American, could pronounce all of the Chinese names, and places so well that you felt the passion of the writer and his command of Mandarin.
well worth the listen!
I've lived in China for the most recent period that Evan has been living here. He manages to go into depth on several stories that I'd had some familiarity with, but did not fully understand. He then weaves these into the general theme on the good and bad of China's rise.
My favorite character was the phone with special messages from the government to journalists. Every time it would buzz, rest assured hilarity would ensue.
Evan only reads the preface. Someone else narrates the book. This person sounds older (I think they have done other books I have listened too.) You can watch Evan's interviews on youtube and you will hear that it is not him. This is the first book (that I know of) where the narrator is not the person they say it is. It is weird because they say Evan is the narrator at the end in the audio conclusion. It would have been nice if he had narrated the whole book as he would have been more accurate with the Chinese pronunciation and the age of the voice would have better matched with the experiences he is describing.
"Not available in Chinese cinemas"
Age of Ambition is now firmly established among the books on China that I will recommend to people that want to understand the place better. It will be included among books by the authors Peter Hessler and Jung Chang. Evan addresses macro points with personal stories that not only makes the material easier to retain, but also makes it hard to stop listening.
Letting the rest of the world go by
The last ten years of China is told by mostly telling the stories through second person accounts of people the author has interviewed. He tells the story with three different perspectives at play, China's phenomena growth, the corruption and intimidation the government uses, and the third perspective of what the author refers to as faith, by that he means a belief in tradition and a distrust in the system working fairly for the individual.
At first, I thought the author was giving too many second person accounts, but then I started to realize he really did have a central overriding narrative tying all the stories together in a cohesive whole. The concept of freethinking never seems to enter in his stories. Respect for authority and tradition usually seems to permeate all the stories.
The book does seem very up to date and it seems that China (as represented by its Politburo) is trying to transition from an autocracy to an aristocracy. They are doing everything in their power to shut down free speech on the internet (e.g. banning the search on the word "The Truth"), sometimes their corrupt official defense is "they were sisters not twins", and a young child can grow up saying "I want to become a corrupt official".
The second volume of "Political Order and Political Decay" made me realize how different China is from the rest of the world and how little I knew about what was going on today in China. I would recommend reading Fukuyama's book before reading this one.
The book does a lot in bringing me up to speed on where China is today. I'm anxious to see what steps China takes in the future and because of this book I'll be able to put future articles in to their proper context.
If you have spent a lot of time in China, particularly around the time that Osnos was there, this might be one to skip. But if you have never been, and are going for the first time, or are interested in US-China relations (or whatever), then definitely get this!!! I gave it three stars for me, but would give it five stars for someone who didn't already know most of the the stories in the book.
A series of small tales that give a surprisingly amount of depth on the tale that is the evolution of modern China
Age of ambition is a good book if you have any level of interest toward modern China. Evan Osnos mostly focus on the human element in the change that China is ongoing, making is work stand apart and makes you more understandable of the subject presented. His journalistic background is reflected in the righting by presenting form short stories to multiple chapters on major cultural Chinese personalities, evens or regular citizen.
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