Age of Ambition
Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China
Reviewed by Samuel Victor on
The book Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos sheds a fascinating light on the ebbs and flows of the social and political scene in a country surging towards an undeniable leading role as a major global player.
But there is much more going on in China than just economic development.
Osnos is an American journalist and staff writer for The New Yorker who spent eight years living and working in China as the magazine’s China correspondent. I think that his account of today’s China does an amazing job of painting a multidimensional picture that we can really learn from.
China certainly seems like one of the hardest nuts to crack and the West’s relationship with it, either in history as a political rival or today as a formidable economic competitor, is often so shallowly politicized by media outlets that it's difficult to get a meaningful idea of what is really going on in China today.
Osno’s insights from extensive experience living in Beijing and traveling throughout the country while working as a journalist help to dispel many misplaced presumptions and oversimplified explanations we in the West may have about today’s China.
This book offers a captivating account of the relationship between light-speed economic development, reckless corruption, brutal political oppression ,and the wildly enthusiastic ambitions of a new “Me” generation whose passionate individualism and materialism are clashing with the old values of Communist China.
Written through in-depth, on-the-ground experience, an appreciation of history, and sensitivity to the human element, Osnos targets the daunting complexity of modern China and translates it into an accessible, palatable narrative that deepens meaningful understanding and guides readers away from black and white perspectives.
Osnos leads us to ponder and to begin to see the reality average Chinese citizens now inhabit, and how they perceive and navigate that reality. It’s a fascinating story of surging personal fortune and desire encouraged for those in the right position to chase it, but still in nervous friction with an authoritarian government whose eyes and ears are always looming above.
I think that Age of Ambition does a great job bringing us closer to a place that couldn’t be farther away, both geographically and culturally, yes, but more importantly in how Western media and politics frame our perception of China.
Osnos achieves this closeness through interviews with locals from widely varying perspectives and offering enlightening (and not condescending) historical comparison of present-day China and America’s “Gilded Age” that saw governments and citizens going through similar motions.
Osnos paints colorful portraits of figures such as Ai Wei Wei and Han Han to elaborate on the different cultural and political perceptions of what it means to be a dissident or an activist in the West and in China. Osnos’s experience working as a journalist in China meant he had a uniquely intimate relationship with the Censorship Bureau for a foreigner, and his reflections on this relationship are captivating.
I came across the book in a quest to learn more about my new surroundings upon moving to Shanghai for work, and I think it provides a great introduction and backdrop to the world I've just entered.
I’d recommend it to anyone interested in broadening their view on today's China and to anyone looking for a guide that will help them to peer through the language and cultural barriers that can be difficult to overcome independently as a foreigner living abroad.
Osnos targets the daunting complexity of modern China and translates it into an accessible, palatable narrative