This review was written by Miriam Roth, who recently joined our international law firm as a legal assistant/paralegal. Miriam graduated this year with a degree in English Literature from the University of Maryland.  When not working with us, she is an assistant editor at PIF Magazine.

By Miriam Roth

In her newly published book, The Chinese Dream, Helen Wang explores the rise of China’s new middle class: an up-and-coming force that is growing and changing at an unprecedented rate, and also opening a Pandora’s Box of social, political, and environmental issues. As this powerful demographic continues to grow, Chinese ideas and values are becoming increasingly important on a global scale. But to many Westerners, especially those who fear Chinese competition, those ideas can seem strange or threatening.

Taking this reality into account, Wang argues that “oneness” — understanding and collaboration between East and West — can and should happen. And the key to this “oneness,” she suggests, might well lie in the very differences that have alienated us in the past.

Having grown up in China and lived most of her adult life in the U.S., Wang speaks from a uniquely informed perspective. Not only is she fluent in both English and Mandarin, but she also clearly understands the subtleties of each nation’s attitudes and values. The Chinese Dream shows the depth of her knowledge in these areas.

But besides her professional expertise, Wang is a talented storyteller with a knack for turning the abstract into the tangible. A truly enjoyable read, the book brings foreign concepts to life through a blend of facts, reflections, and personal experiences.

Wang manages to make sense out of modern-day China’s most baffling paradoxes. Especially interesting is her discussion of the ways in which communist and capitalist values coexist within a single nation — even within individual minds. Interviewees like Wu Haitao, a Party member who plays the American stock market, show a culture that, Wang explains, is full of ambiguity. One cannot read this book without putting at least a dent in the idea of a stereotypical Chinese.

The Chinese Dream looks at the tensions that trouble China and its relationship with the world: the tensions between old and new, collectivism and individualism, growth and preservation, East and West. Wang understands that though these issues are not going to disappear and may be handled badly, she nonetheless presents a hopeful picture of the future.

 

Wang’s call for unity never suggests that total agreement can or should be possible. Instead, she argues that ideological struggle is necessary for positive change. She explains how, like Yin and Yang, conflicting countries and ideologies can interact to form a more balanced whole. The U.S. and China, for instance, can capitalize on their different economic policies to counteract their respective trends of overconsumption and over-saving. In this and other ways, the two countries can benefit from one another, not despite, but because of their differences.

The Chinese Dream describes countless possibilities for shared growth, on both national and international levels. For those looking to gain a deeper understanding of modern Chinese society, and those looking to prepare for a new age of globalized collaboration, Helen Wang’s The Chinese Dream is an exciting and timely resource.

 

  • The Critic

    I am getting the sense this book is pretty simplistic and contrived and I am hesitating to give it a chance. Look at her quote on Amazon: “I believe that the world’s stability and prosperity will depend on how well China and the West understand each other, trust each other, and learn from each other.” Give me a break.
    You should also look how the only people who endorse her book (http://helenhwang.net) are all part of the “China can do no wrong other than be misunderstood by the stupid Americans” crowd.
    Dan, did you even read her book or did you just pawn it off on your legal assistant because you saw what was coming?

  • Maggie

    @Critic – It is not fair to criticize a book you have never read.

  • emerich

    I thought the review well-written and though I haven’t read the book, wouldn’t be surprised if it does have interesting insights. That having been said, I wonder if the paradoxes within Chinese minds are much different from those of Americans, who like low taxes and snap up the fruits of entrepreneurship, but like government freebies if they can get them. In short, we’re all–whether American or Chinese– capitalists when it comes to our own money, time, and resources, but happy to be socialist with other people’s money.

  • Twofish

    You can resolve a lot of “paradoxes” by not oversimplifying the world. For example, in the US, is so happens that people that believe in gun ownership happen to also be against gay marriage. Now there is no particular reason other than random historical accident that these two beliefs are connected, and if you go to some other country, you may find that these two beliefs *aren’t* connected.
    You can sort of figure this out by asking the question, was Julius Caesar a Republican or a Democrat or is Obama an optimate or a populare, and the answer is that this is a silly question, because those political terms don’t make any sense outside of a particular context. You get into similar problems if you ask “Is China capitalist or socialist?” because you are using a political framework that just doesn’t make any sense (and one of the things that people should do is to open up a Chinese textbook to see what the Chinese definition of socialism and capitalism are.)
    Also, China isn’t a unified whole. Neither is the West. Germany and China agree more on currency and Iran policy than Germany and the United States. China and Brazil and more similar economies, than Brazil and the US.
    One annoyance that I have is when people use “the West” to mean the “United States”. And then you get into boundary issues. Is Poland part of the West? Russia? Japan? Hong Kong? Singapore? What about China? I mean, the concept of Marxism and the Communist Party weren’t invented in China.

  • How exactly do Americans have, as Wang believes, respective and concurrent trends of over-consumption and over-saving?

  • Wei

    I did not read that book, but I am sure it is not a book deserving serious discussion, although it might be interesting a little.