You could have a long debate on whether we're in anything like a Golden Age for China itself. But beyond debate it is a golden age of writing about China, and therefore of things to read. There are overviews; universe-in-the-particular microcosmic accounts; memoirs; novels; long-suppressed histories; Chinese literature in translation; foreign-language accounts, more in English than in any other language.
You hardly need make an actual visit to the country! Although of course you should. Here's the latest entry in the golden-age chronicles: Wealth and Power: China's Long March to the Twenty-First Century, by Orville Schell and John Delury.
I'm biased, in that one of the authors, Orville Schell, is a long-time colleague and close friend. But until this evening -- when the two of them, with another friend, Evan Osnos of the New Yorker, did an event at Politics & Prose in Washington -- I had not met his co-author, John Delury. And even if I'd never heard of anyone involved with the book, I'd suggest you read it if you're at all interested in China. It's both historical and current, and it does a better job than most other books of answering a basic question the rest of the world naturally asks about China's recent rise: What does China want? (Granting the preposterousness of this question, as applied to a diverse group of a billion-plus people.) What is all the building and bustle and sacrifice and preening for?
You may not be certain of the answer to that question by the time you finish the book, but you'll be in very good position to discuss it. Also, you can hear the authors tomorrow morning (as I write), 11am EDT July 18, talking about the book on the Diane Rehm show.
Update: My friend Christina Larson has a nice examination on the trend of translated books back and forth between China and the Western world.
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