|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?