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Postcards from Tomorrow Square: Reports from China Paperback – December 30, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Fallows (Blind into Baghdad) offers a candid outsiders take on contemporary China in this entertaining and richly illustrated investigation of what distinguishes China from other Asian nations and what causes the dissonance between how China sees itself and how it is viewed by the rest of the world, particularly the U.S. The authors range is admirably broad—he takes on Chinese reality television, school systems, incisive economic analysis—and uncovers a raft of surprising similarities between the East and West. Fallows compares Shenzhen—the manufacturing and migration capital of southern China—to New York, where once youve left the airport and stashed your suitcase, its difficult to tell if youre a tourist or a native. In the gambling mecca of Macau (whose revenues recently exceeded those of Las Vegas), the author finds strains of Atlantic City. What Fallows lacks in expertise, he makes up for in a truly global vision and a magicians chest of social, economic and political insight. (Jan.)
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From Booklist

Fallows, national correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly, lived in Asia for a period in the 1980s, visiting China occasionally. Beginning in the summer of 2006, he and his wife moved there, and he was able to witness firsthand the changes that brought China from a nation of drabness and conformity to an emerging economy and international financial power player. He was there as China prepared for the Olympics, facing international scrutiny of everything from its repressive politics to its polluted environment. He was also there as the nation coped with a devastating earthquake in Sichuan Province. In this series of articles, Fallows reports on interesting trends and personalities in China—ambitious entrepreneurs and the rise in popularity of reality shows on state-run television. Despite the Western view of a powerful, single-minded China, Fallows presents a portrait of a huge and complex nation with such a vast range of ages and regional, geographic, and cultural differences that it defies simple definition. --Vanessa Bush

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (December 30, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307456242
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307456243
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #644,373 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 46 people found the following review helpful By PeterB on January 11, 2009
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James Fallows does a masterful job of explaining the China that we rarely see on the evening news or read about in the daily newspaper. He provides insight into what things are really like in practical terms and with a human dimension. As a journalist and author in residence in China, he tells us why China is so important and tackles some interesting issues, everything from censorship to manufacturing. He's objective in both his praise and criticism, and, like his other books, it's hard to put down. As a person that develops products in China, I've never read a better explanation of how things work. One of the best books I've read on China in a long time.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Thom Mitchell VINE VOICE on May 14, 2009
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Continuing his tradition of excellence - in both reporting and writing - Mr. Fallows' collection of essays on China is well put together on a variety of topics that will give the reader a snapshot of China in the build-up to the Beijing Olympics including coverage of the Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan province.

What separates Mr. Fallows work from so many other essayists on China (many of them excellent as well) is his detailed and insightful reporting providing context for his observations. If you are traveling to China this book will help prepare you for the China of the 21st century - especially if you've never been or if has been a long time since you have visited China.

This book belongs on your China shelf besides other classics such River Town, The Last Days of Old Beijing, Mr. China and The Search for Modern China.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Joshua Campbell on May 2, 2009
Format: Paperback
Living in both Shanghai and Beijing from 2006 up until the present (2009), James Fallows of The Atlantic Monthly has an amazing understanding of modern China. He brings a unique perspective to his China reporting, having also lived in Japan for an extended period of time. Fallows' comparisons between the situations in China, Japan and the U.S. account for some of his most original material.

This slim volume is a quick read but packs a tremendous punch, accurately describing the good, the bad and the ugly in China. Fallows is understandably impressed by China and the amazing amount of progress made over the past 20 years, including bringing millions out of poverty, and in areas where China often is criticized such as the environment. But he also accurately describes the many problems this growing superpower faces; from poverty, to Internet censorship, pollution to creativity.

His views on the China / U.S. currency issue and the effects are very clear and understandable. Perhaps his most moving chapters are towards the end of the book, regarding efforts to modernize China's impoverished western regions, and the creation of a more charitable culture in China following the May 12, 2008 Wenchuan earthquake; Fallows argues persuasively that this was a more significant event for China than the much publicized success of the Beijing Olympics. The last chapter is also remarkable about a range of topics, including China's great diversity, strength and openness, while still having a global perception problem and very limited understanding of how the world views it.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Joseph M. Powers on August 1, 2009
Format: Paperback
Following a month's stay in Beijing, I've been reading several books about China. I enjoyed this one the most for many reasons: 1) Fallows rings true with my limited experience. He caught many of the same fine scale details I noticed (e.g. how the Chinese media reacts to a variety of things, 2) he displays a keen grasp of some of the basic technological issues facing China and the world, especially with regard to energy and the environment, 3) he gives a fine exposition of the macro-economic forces shaping China and the US today, especially with regards to currency and trade issues, 4) he has travelled extensively throughout China and has come to know the people quite well, and 5) he writes in a way which draws the reader to turn the page and seek more. I had read about half of these articles when they first appeared in The Atlantic Magazine. The new ones were a delight, and the old ones were pleasant to re-read. This is a fine piece of journalism.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By George Bush HALL OF FAME on February 25, 2009
Format: Paperback
Fallows wrote these essays between the summers of 2006-2008 while living in China; he had also traveled there in 1986.

Clearly, Fallows is impressed with China - noting that Shanghai (in 2006) has five subway lines, with better features than anywhere in the U.S., and is supposed to have 13 lines by 2010. While quite concerned about its pollution, he also reports being impressed with the efforts underway to deal with the problem. Fallows finds China's efforts to limit Internet access somewhat puzzling - they are not that difficult to get around, but most don't bother.

China spends just over 3% of its GDP on education at all levels - about half as much as the average for developed countries. (Other sources estimate U.S. expenditures at about 8% of GDP.) Most of the money goes to the top ten schools.

Returnees from the U.S. bring not only their experience and learning, but a sense that bribery is wrong, support for open academic debate (even with one's elders), and techniques for funding start-ups.

Some economists believe letting the yuan's value rise sharply would drive down import costs (including energy), and not reduce experts much since many of its exports are no longer made in the U.S. or Europe.

Broad Air Conditioning corporation uses natural gas and lithium bromide - this creates little transmission line load (problematic in China), is more energy efficient (fewer energy conversions), and relies on natural gas in the summer when it is cheapest. Workers are paid about $175/month + room and board; typically off two days/month, and work up to 14 hours/day (about 336/month). Yet, Chinese workers have a great sense of hope and save about 50% of pay - something not possible with American minimum-wage workers.
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