I recently finished reading Postcards from Tomorrow Square by James Fallows, which I found out about while reading Dreaming in Chinese by Deborah Fallows, his wife. James Fallows, a journalist for the Atlantic, moved to China for a few years and produced Postcards from Tomorrow Square as a collection of essays about various topics that struck him while he was there. Ranging from rural developmet, and internet censorship to cultural issues like the nouveau riche, Fallows addresses issues that would be of interest to those who have developed a curiosity about China.
I was entertained by Fallows relatively short and easily readable essays. However, reading this book in 2011 seems to be a little too tardy to absorb any profound learning from its pages – simply because I have the distinct impression that journalistic accounts of the “China experience” written before the Beijing Olympics in 2008, by their nature, fail to take into account important developments in the issues that they once sufficiently addressed. Admittedly, I feel bit slighted by the fact that I waited until now to read this book and I have this unfortunate hunch that if I discuss the details of its contents with Sinophiles or Sinologists, I will come across as a recently buried time-capsule.
In an effort to not be overly dismissive, however, I will say that I found his assessment of the way that Americans view China to be quite accurate and still very relevant. Fallows asserts that Americans don’t really understand China’s trajectory and drastically overemphasize the “threat” that it poses to what Americans feel is (but do not refer to as) a sort of Pax Americana. In the same vein, most Americans fail to see the significant progress and accomplishments that have been made in China during its unprecedented push for development. Fallows points specifically at environmental regulation and China’s efforts to actively deal with environmental degradation as it happens (whereas Fallows claims that no other industrialized nations have engaged in this degree of environmentalism during industrialization).