Postcards from Tomorrow Square

James Fallows is brilliant. I first heard about this book on Fresh Air, and it has been a thoroughly investigated, thoughtful account of life and business in China. And of course, it was a great read because Fallows is an irreverent, fun writer.

All of Fallows’ essays are online, but I enjoyed reading them all in one place.

I was saddened to discover many of my bookmarks fell out of the pages I marked for quotes. The ones that remained wound up not being the quotes I was looking for. Here’s an important, one, though, which I pull for my friend who said, “You’ll have to tell me what you think of China, because I hate China.”

Almost everything the outside world thinks is wrong with China is indeed a genuine problem. Perhaps not the most extreme allegations, of large-scale forced organ-harvesting and similar barbarities. But brutal extremes of wealth and poverty? Arbitrary and prolonged detentions for those who rock the boat? Dangerous working conditions? Factories that take shortcuts on health and safety standards? Me-first materialism and an absence of ethical values? All these are here. I’ve met people affected by every problem on the list, and more.

But China’s reality includes more than its defects. More people are far better off than they were 20 years ago, and they are generally optimistic about what life will hold 20 years from now. This summer’s Pew Global Attitudes Project finding that 86 percent of the Chinese public was satisfied with the country’s overall direction, the highest of all the countries surveyed, was not some enforced or robotic consensus. It rings true with most of what I’ve seen in cities and across most of the country’s provinces and autonomous regions, something I wouldn’t have guessed from afar.

One of Fallows essays, “China’s Silver Lining,” which is about pollution in China, is directly related to an article about climate change in this week’s Economist. I love when the books I read actually help me understand complicated current events!

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I’m not quite ready to reflect on the school year yet, in case you’re wondering why I’m not writing about my kids. That post is coming, and I wish my students in summer school all the best! (Today’s their first day)

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