China Beat Archive



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January 15, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright January 15, 2008. Used by permission.


This list is for an imaginary couple who are about to take their first trip to China and have made it clear to me that they only have a limited amount of time to spend reading up on the country in advance. Or, perhaps better yet, they’ve been honest enough to tell me that they won’t start to read up on China until their plane actually takes off, and they want some ideas of what to cram into the limited space of their carry-on bags. Though busy, these imaginary friends (I do have real ones, but none that have asked me to do precisely this) are intellectually curious, so they want to be exposed to varied aspects of China, and while mostly concerned with the present and very recent past, they are willing to go back about a century in time on the page.

Here’s the list I’ve prepared for them (with a bit of explanation—also kept short for this era of limited attention spans):

1. The True Story of Ah Q

China’s greatest modern writer (Lu Xun), telling a dark but also comic tale linked to a major event in Chinese modern history (the 1911 Revolution) in only 68 pages. Need I say more?

2. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Dai Sijie’s elegantly written 176 page coming-of-age tale set during the Cultural Revolution.