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Chinese Culture Books

China Book Reviews: Chinese Culture & Society

Foreign Babes
In Beijing

Foreign Babes In Beijing

by Rachel DeWoskin

W. W. Norton

ISBN: 0393328597
389 pp

This an intriguing and entertaining story by Rachel DeWoskin who lived in Beijing as a 21-year-old American whose father was a Chinese cultural specialist. DeWoskin was working for a local PR firm while wanting to broaden her grip on Chinese language and her understanding of life in China. She accepted a role in a Chinese soap opera playing the part of a "foreign babe" who falls in love with a charming, good-looking, married Chinese man in a 20 episode drama aired to hundreds of millions of viewers across China.
DeWoskin's on-screen life and real life experiences often become intertwined to a point where they demonstrate huge cultural differences regarding expectations in relationships and daily life. DeWoskin manages to convey the confusion and illusions of a "foreign babe" trying to understand a China that has the motto "to get rich is glorious" as it rushes headlong towards modernization.
Set during the 1990s, there were bound to be conflicts ahead for DeWoskin who was "open minded" to learn more about China and its cultural customs, but she wasn't open minded in the way that Chinese people expected to her to be as a foreign babe, i.e. sexually free and easy to the point where she would take her clothes off in a taxi. She often felt more American in China than she did at home because of the way that she had to defend America.
DeWoskin helps the reader to understand that cultural conflicts are a normal part of life in China for an expat, there are conflicts but one has to work toward at least achieving an understanding so that 'harmony' can ensue. This is evidenced by the examples, she writes about her friends Kate and Anna in their relationships with newly found male Chinese friends. DeWoskin clearly misses the culture of her hometown New York but feels even more strongly about the cultural changes happening in Beijing. She writes of the loss of old Chinese customs to consumerism as people are seduced by products that they had never known or needed in the past but now pursue with blind vengeance. There is clearly a clash in DeWoskin's mind as she sees traditional Chinese culture challenged by liberated and economically driven values from the West supported by slogans like, "to get rich is glorious".
Reading a book like this can set the stage for some of the experiences and attitudes you could encounter as an expat living and working in China. DeWoskin found people wanting to be more like those of another culture, almost like cross cultural jealousies as she met Americans wanting to be more Chinese and Chinese wanting to be more American. The book is not a subjective account of life in Beijing, but certainly gives many ideas of the realities and flavours of life with a good dose of wit and insight throughout.

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One Billion

One Billion Customers: Lessons from the Front Lines of Doing Business in China

by James McGregor

Free Press

ISBN: 074325841X
355 pp

A must-read for entrepreneurs and CEOs wanting to do business in modern China. McGregor, a former Wall Street Journal journalist and head of the American Chamber of Commerce in Beijing, with over 15 years of experience in China, lays out the many failures and few successes of business people hoping to crack the Chinese market.
The author charts the history of China's rise to its present position as an Asian economic juggernaut and debunks many of the myths about the country held in the West. To understand the way the Chinese do business, you must understand something of the history and culture of the people. This of course seems obvious but McGregor details in depth why it is particularly so in the China context.
The book is structured around a series of case studies charting western business initiatives and joint-ventures in China: Morgan Stanley, Rupert Murdoch, Dow Jones, Boeing and China Unicom are a sample. Each chapter lists a "what this means for you" section and a useful "Little Red Book" at the end.
A well-researched book full of tips for good practice for those interested in working or doing business in China.

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Books on Beijing & China