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Paperback Foreign Babes in Beijing: Behind the Scenes of a New China Book

ISBN: 0393328597

ISBN13: 9780393328592

Foreign Babes in Beijing: Behind the Scenes of a New China

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Format: Paperback

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Book Overview

Determined to broaden her cultural horizons and live a "fiery" life, twenty-one-year-old Rachel DeWoskin hops on a plane to Beijing to work for an American PR firm based in the busy capital. Before she knows it, she is not just exploring Chinese culture but also creating it as the sexy, aggressive, fearless Jiexi, the starring femme fatale in a wildly successful Chinese soap opera. Experiencing the cultural clashes in real life while performing a...

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Well done, Rachel!

This is not a travel book about China. It is too specific about a time (the 90s) and a place (Beijing), about social interactions among "expats" and "locals", and very much about roles and confusing roles. RDW tells us how she came to Beijing as a very young expatriate executive in 1994, how she got "discovered" as a TV actress, how she met Chinese and foreign friends, how she left after 5 years that must have changed her. It is a very personal recollection. Since I can relate to many of the elements of the "story", I enjoyed RDW's book very much. I was there at the same time, in the same office building, in the same party places, markets etc. Probably we met at least in the CITIC elevator, but we did not meet due to too many other differences - age maybe the most important among them. I remember vaguely the stories about her soap experience. I never watched the Foreign Babes show, but I remember the press coverage. RDW is a great writer, very observant and with a tremendous sense of humour. Every China expat should be interested. Everybody with an interest in intercultural encounters should be very interested. Everybody interested in China beyond the numbers should love it.

A great book for any American student planning to study and live in China!

I teach modern Chinese history at a Midwestern university. I discovered Foreign Babes in Beijing: Behind the Scenes of a New China by Rachel DeWoskin when I heard the author's interview on public radio earlier this summer. I was intrigued by De Woskin's comments in the interview and wanted to know more about her experiences. I have to admit that I have watched many a trashy soap opera in China whenever I visit and so I picked up the book for fun this summer expecting a light summer read. I was quite surprised by DeWoskin's insights, however, and will definitely assign this book for my class, "The United States and China." This is not a book by a China specialist for an audience of China specialists but DeWoskin clearly did her homework for this book. This is one of the best memoirs ever written by a casual American visitor to China. DeWoskin explains early in the book that she felt a connection to China. Her family often spent time in China when she was growing up due to her father's academic research interests in China. Yet this book goes far beyond most visitor memoirs I have seen. It carefully interweaves common language phrases in use during her stay with aspects of pop culture, business and social interactions, Chinese perceptions of Americans, and key political events. The overall effect is a rich mosaic of China in the 1990s that Americans all too often miss or mis-read. What makes this book so useful to students is that DeWoskin presents an honest and often very entertaining view of her life in Beijing as she tries to find her way. She does not try to hide the mistakes she makes adapting her "classroom Mandarin Chinese" to Beijing slang (not the usual vocabulary students learn in school!) or relationship difficulties with Chinese business associates, friends, and intimates. I would recommend this book for anyone planning to work or study in China.

Dead-on, descriptive, humorous account of 1990s Beijing

Rachel DeWoskin spent a great part of the 1990s in Beijing, China first as a post-college lost soul looking for a good job opportunity, and finally becoming a national soap opera star and remaining within the powerful and frustrating lure that China holds over many Western expats. I myself spent the year 2000 in Beijing as a study-abroad from college and a part-time English teacher. I gobbled up "Foreign Babes" as soon as I read the review in EW magazine. I can categorically say, as a relatively kindred spirit to Ms. DeWoskin in many respects, that she nailed Beijing in every possible aspect 100% correctly. I usually refrain from overgeneralizations, but let me put it this way: my personal journal from my time in China reads almost exactly like this book. There is a bizarre love-hate that most Americans in China have with their host country. At once exotic, larger-than-life, enormous, confining, frustrating, ancient, ultra-modern and flagrantly obsessed with Western imports the China of DeWoskin's pages is the China that anyone who up and goes to Beijing right now will find. She even hits on and offers some fascinating analysis on the difference between Chinese and Western patriotism, linguistic nuances that make intimate communication nearly unattainable between the two cultures, and delivers beautiful character studies of wily Western expats and locals from all walks of life. Her characterizations of the people that populated her dusty, seamy Beijing are so honest and human that I could swear I've met them (in some cases I probably have, of course). Oh, and she's right about the ease of attaining celebrity in China. Though I wasn't on TV, I had a friend who wound up a talk show host in southern China and I myself never was able to shake off the constant stares and comments from Chinese shocked that I could speak their language. There was a slight slow point in the last quarter of the book, in which the expansive nature of the narrative caved in a tad as the author focused in on a small group of her friends, however I took this in stride and do not fault her for it, as it becomes apparent after some reflection that the individuals on whom she focused were integral to her life there. The culmination of the narrative in the awful Chinese embassy bombing incident in Serbia in 1999 is absolutely perfect even in its dreadful raminications, as it affords DeWoskin an opportunity to wrap up her story with a bang, and certainly no pun is intended here. I can see where some of the negative reviewers may be coming from, as I myself am biased in my inclination toward acceptance and engrossment in this book considering my own experience in Beijing. Perhaps not all readers will find the story and characters as real and endearing as I, but for the reader seeking to know what it is like to live in Beijing as an American or even for those who, like me, are looking to revisit the miasmic cultural enormity that is Beijing, China I can offer my highest recomme

Social Commentary - Served Hot and Spicy

Rachel DeWoskin arrived in Beijing during the mid-90s, among the first wave of Westerners to see the city since the protests and reprisals at Tiananmen Square a few years earlier. During her stay, China relented from rigid socialism, opened up to foreign capital, and incorporated western business practices. On one level, "Foreign Babes" is the story of this process. DeWoskin's descriptions of these cultural convulsions are pithy and delightful. From the introduction of Coke and McDonald's (and the resulting obesity epidemic), to the latest trends in Chinese rock music and performance art, she was a witness and an insider - the perfect guide. DeWoskin was not just an anonymous tourist, though, she was a pop-sensation. Starring as an American temptress in China's version of Beverly Hills 90210, her weekly seductions were seen by half a billion people each week. Hundreds of fans mobbed her on the streets of Beijing and followed her through stores, buying whatever random products she put in her bag. But the heart of "Foreign Babes" is not the fascinating backdrop of Beijing in bloom, or the glamorous and sexy soap opera, but the relationships between the characters. Sparring across a huge divide of language, politics, and culture, they must shed stereotypes and find a personal space in which to understand each other - not as American or Chinese, but as individuals and friends. DeWoskin possesses an astute social sensibility, a pitch-perfect ear for conversation, and the gift of spot-lighting the most awkward - and revealing - moment in any interaction. Just going to China after college was adventurous. Signing on for the TV-show was audacious. Most impressive, however, was DeWoskin's ability to bridge the gaps and surround herself with friends in a foreign country. Impressive, but not surprising, since the author's warmth and grace are apparent on every page.

A Telling Look at Late 1990's Beijing

Having lived for much of the period from 2001 - 2004 in Suzhou, (about 50 miles west of Shanghai), I can categorically say that Rachel DeWoskin's new book, FOREIGN BABES IN CHINA, gets nearly everything right when it comes to Chinese culture and interpersonal relations. Her book is a fascinating account of a city, a country, and a culture in transition. The people around her, and she herself, suffer the contradictions of tradition versus modernity, socialism versus entrepreneurial capitalism, blind patriotism versus Westernization, and government control versus individual freedom, yet everyone zooms ahead to find their own way even as the book's timeline approaches the millennium. Ms. DeWoskin arrives in Beijing on something of a lark, a college grad with an English degree, a little Mandarin, and a desire for something adventurous. She has taken a position with the Beijing office of an international public relations firm (we later learn that "P.R." sounds uncomfortably like the Chinese word for an unflattering body part) but quickly finds the work empty of content. She unexpectedly gets offered a spot as one of the two foreign female leads in a new Chinese soap opera entitled "Yang Niu Zai Beijing," or "Foreign Babes in Beijing." She is duped into signing a contract for far less than she's worth to the producers (there are still relatively few attractive young Western women in Beijing in 1995), and a series of acting misadventures and cast romances ensue. DeWoskin can barely separate her real-life feelings for her hunky co-star Wang Ling from their respective romantic roles in the soap opera. In the end, "Foreign Babes" is a huge success throughout China, and Ms. Dewoskin is recognized everywhere she goes as Jiexi, the "loose" Western woman who steals a married Chinese man (Wang Ling's character, Tianming) from his wife and takes him to America. The author eventually quits her P.R. job and takes on a series of small acting and spokesperson roles, and even takes a brief turn as a runway model. Along the way, she meets and briefly profiles four young Beijingers (two female and two male, despite oddly labeling their chapters, "Biographies of Model Babes") and describes their lives, beliefs, and aspirations. Each is fiercely independent and nontraditional, seeking to find their own identity and purpose in a newly-opened society. These four people are sometimes misinformed and often obstinate, even foolishly obstreperous, but there's no doubt they are brave, going where relatively few in their country have gone before. DeWoskin develops close relationships with each of her four Beijingers, including a live-in relationship with the actor/screenwriter Zhao Jun. The last one-third of the book details her post-Jiexi life, which seems to devolve into clubbing and bar-hopping punctuated by occasional vague hints at working. Two tragedies -- the sudden death of a close Chinese friend juxtaposed against the mistaken U.S./NATO bombing of the Chinese emba
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