What’s the value of comparing 1893 and 2008?
First, it adds a new twist to a theme explored in some of the best recent China reportage—namely, that Americans should think of the People’s Republic of China as following a trajectory unprecedented in world history yet also undergoing shifts that should be familiar from our past.
In Leslie T. Chang’s excellent forthcoming book, “Factory Girls,” the former Wall Street Journal reporter listens to the stories of cell phone-using, sneakermaking migrant workers in Chinese boomtowns and is reminded of the heroines in tales by Theodore Dreiser—who, incidentally, covered Chicago’s fair as a cub reporter.
In his best-selling novel’s subtitle, Larson says Chicago’s was the “Fair that Changed America.” This may be stretching the point. But the controversial, sometimes overly ambitious mega-event of 1893 dramatically altered how the host country was viewed, and how it viewed itself.
Surely the same could be said of the Beijing Olympics.