Five Classmates and the Story of the New China
By John Pomfret
(Henry Holt and Co., Hardcover, 9780805076158, 336pp.)
Publication Date: August 8, 2006
List Price: $26.00*
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"A highly personal, honest, funny and well-informed account of China's
hyperactive effort to forget its past and reinvent its future."--The New York Times Book Review
As one the first American students admitted to China after the communist revolution, John Pomfret was exposed to a country still emerging from the twin tragedies of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Crammed into a dorm room with seven Chinese men, Pomfret contended with all manner of cultural differences, from too-short beds and roommates intent on glimpsing a white man naked, to the need for cloak-and-dagger efforts to conceal his relationships with Chinese women. Amidst all that, he immersed himself in the remarkable lives of his classmates.
Beginning with Pomfret's first day in China, Chinese Lessons takes us down the often torturous paths that brought together the Nanjing University History Class of 1982: Old Wu's father was killed during the Cultural Revolution for the crime of being an intellectual; Book Idiot Zhou labored in the fields for years rather than agree to a Party-arranged marriage; and Little Guan was forced to publicly denounce and humiliate her father. As Pomfret follows his classmates from childhood to adulthood, he examines the effect of China's transition from near-feudal communism to first-world capitalism. The result is an illuminating report from present-day China, and a moving portrait of its extraordinary people.
Formerly The Washington Post's bureau chief in Beijing and Los Angeles, John Pomfret was named editor of the Post's Outlook Section in 2007. In 2003, he was awarded the Osborn Elliott Prize for Excellence in Asian Journalism and in 2007 won the Shorenstein Prize for coverage of Asia. He lives near Washington, D.C., with his wife and family.