Through these stories Osnos traces the cadence of everyday life that often gets lost amid modern China’s played-out superlatives.
Now living in Washington, DC, Osnos spoke to : What are the most notable ways China has changed since you first visited?
When Evan Osnos first arrived in Beijing as a college student in 1996, China was a different country. “Cameras had failed to convey how much closer it was, in spirit and geography, to the windswept plains of Mongolia than to the neon lights of Hong Kong,” Osnos writes of that time in , his new book on modern China. Two years later, Osnos returned for a summer to find that a feverish desire to consume—houses, Cokes, meat—had taken hold.
Despite nearly 20 years of economic reforms and opening up to the West, Chinese people still rejected imports like Hollywood and Mc Donald’s.
There was a woman named Gong Haiyan who I wrote about when she was just out of graduate school, and all of a sudden she was taking her company public on the stock exchange, and got very wealthy.
That seemed like in its own way a symbol of this moment in China.
Were you surprised at by this, given the book prominently features Tiananmen and the June 4th protests, and dissidents like Chen Guangcheng, Liu Xiaobo, and Shi Tao?
They imagine themselves to be the actor at the center of this drama. It’s meaningful in all kinds of ways—politically, economically, socially.
So let’s just not talk about that.’ I felt like I couldn’t do the equivalent in Chinese.
MJ: One of the themes you return to throughout the book is how decades of economic development has unleashed a sense of ambition among Chinese citizens, to seek fortune, information, and a sense of self.
, you wrote about trying to publish a Chinese edition of this book.
Local publishers wanted to significantly revise or censor politically sensitive sentences.