Five Books: Evan Osnos on China

As part of the Browser’s series, New Yorker correspondent (and blogger) offers his suggestions of crucial reads on China:

The first book you’ve recommended visitors read is To Change China by Yale historian Jonathan Spence. It’s about all the foreigners – missionaries, soldiers, doctors, teachers, engineers and revolutionaries – who tried to change China over a 300-year period…

At its core this book is about humility and understanding what is possible here as a foreigner. I don’t really know why, but going back to the very origins of foreigners coming to China, there’s something about setting foot on Chinese soil that stirs all of our most extravagant ambitions for changing the world. I think that’s partly because of the size of the place, and because it really does capture our imaginations. People come here intending to have a lasting impact on China and one of the smart things about the book is that it doesn’t tell you that that’s a bad idea – to be hopeful, or to try to help solve problems in China, whether they’re medical problems, or social problems or whatever. But what it does is plays out to you the ways in which a foreigner might be able to help here, and the ways in which a person might run into problems.


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