Friday, June 24, 2011


Bird's Nest Stadium, Beijing, August 8, 2008

A true story about an American who moves to Beijing and finds herself starring as the Western bad girl in a hit soap opera.


This travel memoir captures a totally unique experience at a precipitous moment in Chinese history. Rachel DeWoskin moves to Beijing in the 1990s at a time when the runaway economic growth of the country was just beginning and China was just starting to open up to the world. She is young and culture-shocked, but soon becomes the face of a cheesy TV drama that was watched by 600 million viewers. She finds herself representing foreign women who are in love with Beijing and Chinese culture, and gets to know the city in the process.

Rachel describes her experiences in China with a sharp tone and a thoughtful mind. She writes about the complicated relationship between China and the West, and peppers her story with accounts of her own relationships in Beijing. She analyzes what made this show so appealing in a country that was determined not to be swallowed up by "Western immorality" while still being seduced by it. She stayed in Beijing for years and spoke Mandarin, so she had some insights into the culture of the local people as well as the expatriates.

I thought Rachel's descriptions of her expat and Chinese friends were the most interesting parts of the book. Her friends were young and rebellious, and they found themselves at the forefront of a new China. Some resented the presence of foreigners and the actions of America, while others looked to the West as the solution to all their frustrations with their own culture. She writes about the crazy things that people do that don't make sense from another worldview, while recognizing that her own understanding of the world isn't always best. The observations about China at the time from the perspective of an outsider on the inside were fascinating.


Rachel DeWoskin's website


I bought the paperback copy at Flow Bookshop for $46 HKD (about $6 US). The Kindle edition is listed for $10.46.


To what extent do you think popular TV shows represent the values of a country? Do you form your opinions of other cultures based on their entertainment offerings?


  1. +JMJ+

    That's a fascinating question, Shannon!

    Two people I know from Malaysia are very familiar with Filipino telenovelas (which must be as cheesy as DeWoskin's soap opera), and I cringe a bit at what they must think of the Philippines based on what they see of those shows. The poor are often idealised, the wealthy demonised, the acting wooden, the dialogue cliched, and the themes what I'd call "lowest common denominator." Heck, I don't watch the shows myself!

    And now I'm reminded of one of my American friends, who hasn't had a TV in years and probably cringes in the same way when he meets foreigners whose ideas of the US are taken almost entirely from pop media.

    But while I know from my own experience and his exasperated e-mails that a country's entertainment is not the best showcase for its culture, it's hard to discount these sources: they're often the only media we can get!

  2. Thank you for such a thoughtful and thought-provoking comment Enbrethiliel. I really appreciate the time you put into answering these questions.

    I always hope that people don't think all Americans are like the reality TV stars that have been multiplying over the past few years. Plenty of people are normal and boring and rational. However, we sure seem to like watching the drama, and that says something about our culture too.

    I've never watched Filipino television, though we probably get some of the shows in HK. I've formed most of my ideas about the country from my dad's memories because he lived there for all of middle school and high school. I have an aunt and uncle who are still there and it's always interesting to hear what they are up to.

  3. I really like this article and enjoyed reading. Nice article, love the post.


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