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Foreign Babes in Beijing: Behind the Scenes of a New China Hardcover – May, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
DeWoskin moved to Beijing in 1989, shortly after the military squashed the democracy movement in Tiananmen Square, but just as China's younger population began embracing Western ideologies and commodities. This entertaining romp through her five-plus years in Beijing details her life as a PR consultant—and as the star of the wildly popular Chinese nighttime television drama Foreign Babes in Beijing. After getting the gig on a lark, DeWoskin became known, sometimes even in her real life, as the character Jiexi, an American who falls in love with a married Chinese man, in the 20-episode drama, which aired to an estimated 600 million viewers. Her memoir weaves humorous tales of Sino-U.S. culture clashes both on and off the set with astute observations of the two cultures, as well as a significant amount of Chinese history. Though she admits frequently to being homesick for New York, DeWoskin feels for the loss of more traditional Chinese culture: "Consumerism became a religion; companies arrived like missionaries... seducing the average Zhou Schmoe with products he had never known he needed." The book offers a generous helping of Chinese words (along with their English translations and insights into the young people's "Chinglish"), as well as Lost in Translation–esque glimmers of the differences between the Chinese and American acting worlds. Agent, Jill Grinberg. (May)
From The New Yorker
DeWoskin's memoir takes its title from a popular Chinese soap opera in which she starred in the mid-nineties. Working for a P.R. firm in Beijing, she was approached by a producer at a party and was cast as Jiexi, a sexually liberated American girl who embodies China's simultaneous excitement at and nervousness about the spread of Western influence (she seduces a married Chinese man). DeWoskin's cleverly layered account thus charts parallel culture clashes, one that she experiences as a Western woman in modern China, and the other, a TV-ready version of the first, tailored to Chinese expectations. The daughter of a Sinologist, DeWoskin has considerable cultural and linguistic resources, allowing such insights as an implicit comparison between Jiexi and the wilder entries in "Biographies of Model Women," a two-thousand-year-old text of the Han Dynasty.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
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Top customer reviews
I can still recommend the book if you have an afternoon or two to kill, its a light read and enjoyable enough. I have been living in China since 2007 and many of the situations she encounters are still valid. I think people who have an interest in China or have lived there will find it a mostly entertaining read (but skim the history lessons).
Where the book excels and is really enthralling are the stretches where the author details the making of the show and the reaction to it on the streets of Beijing. DeWoskin has a great eye and ear for people's reactions to her (and their inability to seaprate her off- and on-screen personas).
Where the book bogs down is where (as other reviewers on these pages have noted) DeWoskin's circle narrows and she focuses on a small group of close friends. These stretches feel claustrophobic. Because they end in a tragedy and are undoubtedly deeply personal to the author, I feel like a cad saying that these latter sections are "Foreign Babes" weak links.
Regardless, I think Foreign Babe's overall feel is best summed up by a quote provided on the back cover by Amy Richards and Jennifer Baumgardner which reads: "Anyone who has ever traveled beyond their comfort zone will relate to DeWoskin's insightful, delightful story of being an American transplant in China, the most foreign of nations." Yeah, that's got it exactly right. Rachel DeWoskin boldly decided to live an exciting life, plunged right into it at age 22, got it all down on paper, and convinced noted publisher W. W. Norton to distribute and promote the tale. Hats off to her.
RDW tells us how she came to Beijing as a very young expatriate executive in 1994, how she got "discovered" as a TV actress, how she met Chinese and foreign friends, how she left after 5 years that must have changed her. It is a very personal recollection.
Since I can relate to many of the elements of the "story", I enjoyed RDW's book very much. I was there at the same time, in the same office building, in the same party places, markets etc. Probably we met at least in the CITIC elevator, but we did not meet due to too many other differences - age maybe the most important among them. I remember vaguely the stories about her soap experience. I never watched the Foreign Babes show, but I remember the press coverage.
RDW is a great writer, very observant and with a tremendous sense of humour. Every China expat should be interested. Everybody with an interest in intercultural encounters should be very interested. Everybody interested in China beyond the numbers should love it.