Own worst enemy, Tomorrow Square edition

I've mentioned once or twice, or maybe fifty times, my wonderment at the contrast between the sophistication with which Chinese officialdom can address domestic audiences and sensitivities, and the comic-if-it-weren't tragic cluelessness of many official efforts to explain China's views and "feelings" to the outside, non-Chinese-speaking world.

I don't have time for a full presentation-and-gloss at the moment, but see if this recent item, which I found while leafing through back copies of my favorite newspaper, the China Daily, rings any bells. It was about the nomination of Gary Locke, former governor of Washington, as US Commerce Secretary, and it  featured "inside" analysis from an experienced Chinese diplomat:

Story as it looked on the page, showing the local Chinese angle:


Near the end, the experts step in, displaying their perfect ear for the nuances of the way race is lived and discussed in Obama-era USA. Analytical conclusion of the story, from someone with that indispensable on-the-ground knowledge of America:

Ah, the talents with the yellow skin. In a similar development, the new issue of the local That's Shanghai magazine has a rundown of events for the Shanghai International Literary Festival, including a talk I'm giving at 3pm today. Most of the items list the writer and the name of his or her most recent book. In my case, that proved to be awkward -- since the title, Postcards from Tomorrow Square, includes the now-sensitive word "Square," which officials feel might stir up emotions about unpleasant events that happened twenty years ago this June in another Square. I am not kidding (and I'm also not just guessing about this). A friend has suggested that perhaps the Tomorrow Square building, 明天广场, in central Shanghai -- right on People's Square, as it happens -- will have to have its nameplate removed during the sensitive period ahead. It is sometimes unbelievable but never dull here.

The building formerly known as Tomorrow Square. Maybe everyone will agree not to notice it:

Presented by

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.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book


The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"


This Japanese Inn Has Been Open for 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.


What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.

More in Technology

From This Author

Just In