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Beijing Welcomes You: Unveiling the Capital City of the Future Hardcover – August 4, 2011

3.5 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, August 2011: Beijing Welcomes You is a portrait of the future. The city of Beijing embodies China's rise as a political and cultural superpower, and during his stay from 2004 to 2010, Tom Scocca attempts to make sense of Beijing as it modernizes at a dizzying pace. He converses with architects, athletes, and artists, but Scocca is at his best when he's discussing the 2008 Olympics--China's boldest push yet for national identity and international recognition. Scocca isn't interested in generalizations, and, in fact, takes great pleasure dismantling them (on the stereotype that China is tradition-bound: "A thirty-year-old Chinese citizen has seen more disruption and change than a sixty-two-year-old American has; a sixty-year-old Chinese citizen has seen more than a two-hundred-year-old American would have"), while his personal experiences give a human touch to his often unflattering sociological analyses. But Scocca knows when to defer to the real star of the book, Beijing itself. It's a constantly changing, overwhelming city that may be the strongest signal of things to come, not just in China but all over the world. --Kevin Nguyen


"A brilliant cultural study written in a surprisingly poetic style, this is highly recommended to all interested readers." - Library Journal

"Equal-opportunity irreverence"... "A spirited portrayal of an old metropolis being turned inside out"... "Brought both Twain and Dave Barry to mind." - Time.com

"A very good book"... "[Scocca] has a keen eye for the oddities with which Beijing is abundantly endowed." - The Washington Post

"Excels at straddling the line between the personal and sociopolitical." - Publishers Weekly

"Tracking his experience on the dual planes of resident and journalist, Scocca explodes the dichotomous East-vs.-West narrative that's endemic to reports from China." - The Onion A.V. Club

“A revealing and well-written report on what we should know and understand about twenty-first-century China.” — Gay Talese

“Blindingly brilliant insights . . . Scocca writes with grace, texture, nuance, wisdom, and wit. Don’t skim this book, savor it.” — Gene Weingarten

“Wry [and] knowing . . . Beijing Welcomes You is a street-level introduction to a city that’s at once the world’s center and its back office, a place where you can feel ‘on the top of the pile and on the bottom, all at once.’” — The Christian Science Monitor

“Lively . . . [Scocca] has a keen eye for the oddities with which Beijing is abundantly endowed.” — The Washington Post

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; First Edition edition (August 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594487847
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594487842
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #964,745 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Journalist Tom Scocca spent several years in Beijing prior to the 2008 Olympics and wrote about his observations in this book. He is a fairly good writer and parts of the book make for a moderately entertaining read. But he really doesn't tell us very much about Beijing that is interesting or surprising. Often, Scocca only seems to be scratching the surface of the events and people that he describes without getting at their deeper cultural and historical roots.

Many of Socca's observations are the kinds of things that any tourist who has been to Beijing would notice. He begins by telling us that the "first important fact to know about China is that it has a lot of Chinese people." No, really!?! And here I thought that the capitol city of the most populous nation in the world was virtually empty. He also spends a lot of time talking about the basic architecture of Beijing, pollution and other things that anybody who has spent even a short time in China would be familiar with.

I have nothing against Scocca. He didn't say anything that was outright wrong or offensive. But he doesn't quite have his finger on the pulse of Chinese society to the same degree that Peter Hessler (River Town, Oracle Bones, Country Driving) or, to a lesser degree, Robert Gifford (China Road) and Simon Winchester (The Man Who Loved China) do. If you want to read a journalistic account of social change in contemporary Chinese society I would recommend one of those books over Scocca's.

"Beijing Welcomes You" isn't a bad read. I wonder why Amazon made it a "Book of the Month" over Ezra Vogel's forthcoming biography of Deng Xiaoping and Aaron Friedberg's recent "A Contest for Supremacy," however. Both of these promise to be considerably more insightful and more likely to teach us something about China's rise that we didn't know already.
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Format: Hardcover
I always enjoy Tom Scocca's writing on Slate. But not this.

If you want to hear a long list of complaints about life in Beijing, this is your book. Yeah, there is a bureaucracy you have to deal with as an expat, they make it annoying to keep your visa, there is constant construction noise, debris, and garbage, etc. etc. Scocca seems to mention the air pollution on virtually every page. And while he is perhaps understandably bitter about how the pollution triggered his infant son's asthma, that doesn't necessarily make for the best reading at times.

And while this book is very recently published, its focus on the run-up to the 2008 Olympics makes it feel already-dated. All of Pete Hessler's books are more relevant. If you want to actually learn something about China, read those. Or Rob Gifford's.
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Format: Hardcover
You can read news articles about China, its politics, and its economy every day, but if you want to get a real sense of what's going on there you need to read Tom Scocca's outstanding _Beijing Welcomes You_. Scocca's book gives you the nitty gritty of everyday life in Beijing as the 2008 Olympics approached and the city turned itself inside out. Scocca has a novelist's power of description and a stand-up comic's eye for the absurd detail. And he's not afraid to ask the tough questions to the leader of a dance squad trying (with hilariously mixed success) to bring Western-style cheerleading to Chinese sports, or to the artist whose lifetime of creative work is overshadowed by the Olympic mascots he designed. Not the ordinary travel book, not an ordinary writer. Highly recommended.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Scocca's nonfiction account of the time leading up to the Beijing Olympics is a portrait of a particular moment in a particular place, and does a very good job of that mission. It's not a "deep" examination of any sort of simplified or stereotyped Chinese soul, it's a series of sketches about real life, as it was lived in the latter half of the first decade of the 21st century.

I bought "Beijing Welcomes You" before traveling to Beijing for work in late 2011, and read it on the plane over to Beijing and on my Kindle while traveling on the Beijing subway. I found it both echoed and expanded my own sense of what Beijing was. If you're not familiar with Beijing and/or are uninterested in Chinese culture, you'd probably enjoy it less than I did, although it was still an interesting read, and Scocca's prose is eminently readable without feeling dumbed-down.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Tom Scocca has written an interesting, insightful, and consistently amusing personal account of his four years living in Beijing--from 2004 to 2008, which happened to be the years leading up to and culminating in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. In fact, the title of the book, which makes it sound like a guidebook or tourist introduction to the city, is a translation of "Beijing Huanying Ni," the city's Olympic slogan and the basis of the names of its five official Olympic mascots (Beibei the fish, Jingjing the panda, Huanhuan the flame, Yingying the antelope, and Nini the swallow). Given the book's increasing focus on the Olympics--paralleling the city's increasing focus--as the chapters and months go by, the choice of title was understandable--especially since there is a constant undercurrent in the book questioning the slogan's premise. Does Beijing really welcome foreigners? Which foreigners? Or even which workers and peasants from which parts of rural China? Is there something inherently ironic about the idea of welcome in an authoritarian and bureaucratic police state? To what extent was the welcome simply the flip-side of self-promotion, the inescapable need for an audience by the proud and the accomplished?

But the book is not a guidebook, and in fact can probably be best appreciated by readers who themselves have had to breathe Beijing's thickly polluted air and crawl through its traffic. But what the book does provide--something that's very rare in travel writing--is a cross-section across time.
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