Friday, February 6, 2015

Age of Ambition by Evan Osnos

Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New ChinaI don’t think anyone could argue that Evan Osnos wasn’t ambitious in this, his National Book Award-winning compendium of current Chinese political culture. Subtitled Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China, this book extends and expands essays he’d already published in The New Yorker magazine and gives outsiders a glimpse into the confusion and mad, exciting reality that is China today.

Osnos covers a lot of ground and at the risk of appearing to be a ping-pong ball in the hands of a giant, he patiently and persistently over a period of years pursues big questions about what China culture is and is becoming. We can extrapolate from his work to consider what change in China means to us around the world. I admit to exhaustion when contemplating China’s development because of its overwhelmingly big, populous, and uncontrollable aspects. But one thing is sure: ordinary Chinese people have a kind of “get ahead” entrepreneurial mentality that swamps the vitality of ordinary American life. The distance from their basic living starting point and ours is so great that their desperate energy is going to be the propulsion for societies around the globe. We can’t keep pace but we can gain in their slipstream.

Osnos makes reporting in China look easy even when it clearly is not, even now. The state has loosened its grip a little but there is still the possibility of community or state backlash on individuals who speak to him openly. Those people are courageous souls. Osnos managed to corral the size and scope of his story to a manageable level and yet was able to give us an idea of the great energy being unleashed among the populace and the Chinese government’s pride and fear. I am currently reading about the North Korean regime in Pyongyang (A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator's Rise to Power by Paul Fischer) and so the Chinese government looks far less effective and controlling by comparison. But the richness of Osnos’s life in China comes through.

I especially liked the reportage in the Epilogue that shows from several long term studies over two decades
"no evidence that the Chinese people are, on average, any happier. If anything, they are less satisfied than in 1990, and the burden of decreasing satisfaction has fallen hardest on the bottom third of the population in wealth. Satisfaction among Chinese in even the upper third has risen only moderately." Overall, they found, "economic growth is not enough; job security and a social safety net are also crtitical to people's happiness."
Ah. Well, both Chinese and American officials could learn something from this.

This book won the 2014 National Book Award for Nonfiction, and was a Finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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