Since I’m flying back from Asia, perhaps this is the time to mention two China-related books I’ve recently finished. A little over a month ago, the MIT Club of Boston sponsored a talk and book signing by Robert Buderi & Gregory T. Huang, authors of Guanxi (The Art of Relationships) - Microsoft, China and Bill Gates's Plan to Win the Road Ahead. And about the same time I picked up a copy of the 2005 book by Rachel DeWoskin entitled Foreign Babes in Beijing - Behind the Scenes of a New China.
The Guanxi title attracted me and the talk at MIT was definitely worth attending, however the book didn’t add much for me. It’s full of detail on Microsoft people which I don’t really care about and it’s written by two US-based reporters for Technology Review magazine who certainly traveled to China and interviewed many people, but who are basically US reporters.
Foreign Babes has nothing to do with high tech, but much to say about the ongoing modernization of China, the differing views of young & old in China, and local attitudes to foreigners. Rachel DeWoskin is an American who studied Chinese in college in the US and then upon graduation took a job with a public relations firm in Beijing, in 1989. She spent the next five years in China. Several things distinguish her stay there, not the least of which are her relationships with her Chinese boyfriend, their circle of 20–30 year old friends and with specific older Chinese, especially the woman who was her Chinese tutor.
But her unique perspective arose when, without fully understanding what she was signing up for, she auditioned for and won a part in a Chinese nighttime TV soap opera, Foreign Babes in Beijing. She played Jiexi, an American woman in Beijing who falls in love with a married Chinese man. As Jiexi, she becomes a local celebrity. Meanwhile she struggles to learn her lines each week, relying on her tutor who is,at times, shocked by parts of the evolving script.
As a foreigner myself, who’s been to China multiple times and has an assortment of Chinese friends and business associates, I found Foreign Babes far more interesting. A lot has changed since Rachel’s 1989–1994 stay in Beijing whereas Guanxi covers recent events through 2005. If you get the chance to hear Buderi and Huang speak as part of their book tour, by all means do so. But if you want to read one of these books, read Rachel DeWoskin’s Foreign Babes in Beijing.