Award winning author and journalist discusses his time in China

Erin McGroarty/ Sun Star Reporter
November 20, 2012

Deborah Fallows accompanied her husband, James, to speak about the cultural and political structure of China, in the Wood Center Ballroom on the evening of Tuesday, Nov 13. Erin McGroarty/Sun Star

“It was always more interesting than it was horrible,” said award winning author and journalist James Fallows, to the crowded Wood Center Ballroom Nov. 13. Fallows visited UAF  to talk about his recent book, “Postcards from Tomorrow Square.”

The book discusses China’s continuously changing economy, recent governmental changes, environment and culture. Fallows’ wife, a linguist and China expert, Deborah Fallows, accompanied him on the trip to Alaska and introduced the presentation with her own experiences living in China.

Due to James Fallow’s work as a journalist for The Atlantic, he and Deborah Fallows have spent an extensive amount of time in China and other countries in both Africa and Europe. Over the years, he has reported on many different aspects of life in China, from the change in government structure, China’s journey toward partial democracy, fluctuations in the economy and Chinese culture.

Deborah Fallows opened the presentation by discussing her background in linguistics and how that affected their time in China. After spending a year at Georgetown University taking beginning Mandarin Chinese, Fallows found every bit of the newly learned language useful.

“For me as a linguist, learning Chinese was a really interesting experience, because the language was so different from any other language I’d ever studied,” Deborah Fallows said.

Following her description of life in China, Deborah Fallows read a passage out of the book about their observations of the yearly Cherry Blossom Festival, how different parts of  Beijing celebrate it and how that corresponds with the seemingly peculiar definition of the word “love” in Chinese culture.

James Fallows began his presentation by discussing the election that recently occurred here in the United States, and how that compares to the Chinese election that is happening in China right now, comparing  it to the process of selecting a pope.

Fallows then discussed how he has found the current leadership of China to be “a bit technocratic” but is pleased that it is continuing to expand beyond the previous communist view of politics.

“In a single human generation, hundreds of millions of people have gone from really tough, rural poverty to also tough but more modern, urban, Keynesian, working class life,” James Fallows said.

Fallows explained how he felt that this gradual transition started approximately 60 years ago with the Mao dynasty. While things may have gone temporarily down hill during the dynasty itself, improvements continued following the dynasty as China realized change was possible.

The presentation was a balanced mixture of political analysis, economic insight and cultural observation.  The mix of the three left the crowded audience eager for more, with questions for both James and Deborah Fallows regarding all three of the  subjects and more, that lasted another 45 minutes after the presentation was scheduled to end.

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