Friday, October 19, 2007

Books for the 2008 Olympic Games

Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom, Professor of History at the University of California, Irvine and author, most recently, of China's Brave New World — And Other Tales for Global Times, has an interesting article in Outlook India about preparing for the forthcoming Beijing Games:
For years now, intellectually curious people who are about to head off to China — and happen to know that I teach and write about that country for a living — have occasionally asked me a variation of the same question: "Can you point me toward a good book to read in advance or take along on the trip, which will offer a perspective different from both that offered by a standard guidebook and that given by reports in the mainstream media?" And with the Beijing Olympics drawing near and interest in China rising for other reasons, the frequency with which I get asked this sort of question has picked up. Sometimes now the people doing the asking aren’t even planning to go to the PRC, but just want to know more about the place.
One answer Wasserstrom could give:
"Why China’s Brave New World—And Other Tales for Global Times, of course." (That’s my latest book. It’s also my first that is playful and footnote free enough to have the potential to divert a China-bound traveler who isn’t an academic, and is short enough that someone going from Chicago to Shanghai or Bombay to Beijing could not just start but also finish it while en route.) But I don’t actually give that response, since it feels tacky to flog my own wares.
Instead, he's developed "a twelve-step reading program ... organizing [his] scheme around a dozen titles that will help anyone serious about preparing to watch the Games (up close or on television) get in shape mentally."

The first installment of the reading program:
[Jonathan] Spence’s Mao Zedong (Penguin, 1999) is doubly appropriate to read this month. It is natural to begin things with a book on the past (Mao lived from 1893 to 1976), and in China the first day in October is when ceremonies are held to commemorate the moment in 1949 when Mao proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic. Spence manages to give us a thoroughly human as opposed to demonic Mao (early chapters even quote from some of the love letters the future leader wrote in his youth) who accomplished important things. But he does not minimize the venality of Mao’s actions at certain moments (such as his ordering brutal purges of rivals). Nor does Spence gloss over the horrific consequences of some of the campaigns Mao launched late in life, such as the ill-conceived Great Leap Forward of the late 1950s (that was responsible for an astronomical number of famine deaths) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).
Read more about the crime novel in Wasserstrom's reading program.

The Page 69 Test: China's Brave New World.

--Marshal Zeringue