From the Mao Generation to the Me Generation: Tales From the New China

New Yorker correspondent Evan Osnos answers questions about censorship, street sweeping poets, and his new book on the world’s most populous country: Mother Jones

When Evan Osnos first arrived in Beijing as a college student in 1996, China was a different country. The economy was smaller than Italy’s. The Internet was a nascent, little-known thing. Despite nearly 20 years of economic reforms and opening up to the West, Chinese people still rejected imports like Hollywood and McDonald’s.

“Cameras had failed to convey how much closer it was, in spirit and geography, to the windswept plains of Mongolia than to the neon lights of Hong Kong,” Osnos writes of that time in Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China, his new book on modern China. Soon, everything would change.

Two years later, Osnos returned for a summer to find that a feverish desire to consume—houses, Cokes, meat—had taken hold. A new magazine called the Guide to Purchasing Upscale Goods published stories with titles like “After the Divorce, Who Gets the House?” A new Communist Party slogan proclaimed “Borrow Money to Realize Your Dreams.”

By the time Osnos relocated to China in 2005, first as a reporter for the Chicago Tribune and later as one for the New Yorker, “China was building the square-foot equivalent of Rome every two weeks.”

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