The 'Sleeping Chinese' exhibit (updated)

The first picture below is from the Qingdao Beer Festival in the summer of 2006 -- back when I made the rookie error of thinking that a "beer festival" would offer a greater variety of brands than I could find in the local shops. (The most exotic brew I found at the festival was Pabst Blue Ribbon, which had its own promotional tent.) This photo is of some construction workers who, as I later determined, had not been laid low by drink but were just taking a little break. The following shot is a standard street scene in Shanghai from about the same time. More in similar vein after the jump.

I mention this in connection with the fascinating collections of photos on the "Sleeping Chinese" site. They're similar to what I'm showing here but vastly more numerous. In an introduction to the collection, the site's author, Bernd Hagemann, a German living in Shanghai, says this:

I gotta warn you! Before you click through my large collection of photos,you should not forget, what you hear and read daily in of your home country's media about China's boom.
They talk about "The Sleeping Giant". About "The Birth of the New Super Power" or "The Awakening of the Red Dragon". Often with a strange kind of undertone, which is supposed to frighten us. The reality definitely looks more peaceful.

Obviously this kind of analysis can be taken too far. Probably people have been sneaking catnaps even in the most aggressive, malign and dangerous of history's powers. But the sheer abundance of napping photos on the Sleeping site is one more illustration of why it's hard to maintain a 24/7 state of alarm about China's ceaseless rise if you're exposed to the way most people in China actually live and behave.

More photos below.

Another Qingdao beer festival scene, of beer waitresses resting; then another from Shanghai's French Concession area; then cross-national bonding mediated by beer in Qingdao. (Beer is fresh-from-the vat Tsingtao Dark, which in the circumstances seemed very good. Qingdao and Tsingtao are new and old spellings of the same place, like Beijing and Peking -- the beer retains the old name for branding purposes, much as a leading university in Beijing calls itself Peking University in English.  Thanks to Lawrence Wilkinson for lead to the Sleeping site.) . to remove a possible mis-interpretation in the mind of some readers, mainly Chinese: the implication of these photos is not at all that life in Chinese is stress-free and easy, or that people don't work hard. On the contrary! In many cases, people fall asleep in public places because they have been working so hard at so many jobs. Still, I think the accumulation of pictures at the Sleeping site is a useful corrective to many outsiders' views of today's ceaselessly rising new power.


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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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