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He found out he couldn’t do that, and in some sense my interactions with Ai Weiwei focused my attention on that confrontation, on that collision.It wasn’t just unfolding in the lives of people as unusual as Ai Weiwei, it was in fact unfolding in microscopic ways all over the country., you wrote about trying to publish a Chinese edition of this book.Local publishers wanted to significantly revise or censor politically sensitive sentences.But as you point out, these forces have run up against limits under China’s authoritarian regime. EO: When I first moved there, I was overwhelmed by the sense of aspiration.All of a sudden, people who had never really had the opportunity to define their own goals in life had embraced that.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.
It’s rare, if you look back through history, there are these moments—we had one in the United States, there was one in the UK—where countries just physically transform themselves. MJ: In your book, you also talk about China’s intangible transformations.
In his book, released just last week, Osnos argues that the country’s remarkable growth has unleashed an age of possibility for Chinese citizens, an unprecedented fervor for chasing dreams and soul-searching.
For eight years, Osnos followed the lives of Chinese people tugged by these tides of change: A peasant’s daughter turned online dating tycoon, a young political scientist and ardent defender of China’s one-party system, a street sweeper moonlighting as a poet, a political dissident revered abroad but erased at home, corrupt officials that make Washington look like child’s play.
Today, the Chinese call it the “Me” generation, because that’s exactly what it is, people who are able and quite determined to think about their own lives in ways that are specific, idiosyncratic, and infused with personal choice.
They imagine themselves to be the actor at the center of this drama. It’s meaningful in all kinds of ways—politically, economically, socially.