It is commonplace these days for visitors to be swept away by the breathtaking energy and dazzling high-rise vistas of Shanghai and Beijing. Even for Sinophiles like myself, who have been watching China for decades, the amazing development of this erstwhile People’s Republic can have an intoxicating way of obscuring the contradictions beneath. China’s progress also makes us forget that China did, in fact, undergo a “socialist revolution,” a protracted period of brutalizing class warfare that now can all too easily seem like an irrelevant prelude to a new and invincible future.
It is, of course, na√Øve to imagine that a nation can escape the gravity of its history. John Pomfret’s “Chinese Lessons: Five Classmates and the Story of the New China” arrives as a timely antidote to this tempting form of amnesia. Why, Pomfret asks, have so “many in China, including some of my classmates, believed that not looking back was good for the country?” [Full text]