Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Big in China: My Unlikely Adventure in Raising a Family, Playing the Blues, and Reinventing Myself in Beijing” as Want to Read:
Big in China: My Unlikely Adventure in Raising a Family, Playing the Blues, and Reinventing Myself in Beijing
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Big in China: My Unlikely Adventure in Raising a Family, Playing the Blues, and Reinventing Myself in Beijing

3.66  ·  Rating Details ·  447 Ratings  ·  57 Reviews
The inspiring story of a man, a family, a band, a foreign country, and a new beginning

When Alan Paul's wife was offered the job as the Wall Street Journal's China bureau chief, he saw it as an amazing opportunity to shake up their increasingly staid suburban New Jersey life. Excited and not a little scared, they packed up their three children—ages two, four, and seven—and
Published 2011 by HarperCollins
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Big in China, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Big in China

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,226)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Alan Paul
Mar 28, 2012 Alan Paul rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)  ·  review of another edition
Alan Paul

I'm the author and I'm sure there is somewhere else I should be posting this, but until I figure that out...

I figured I might as well bump my average rating up, but I certainly don't think the book is perfect. A year after its release, I certainly see some things I wish I had done differently, but I remain proud of it and thankful to all of you who have read it and especially those who have taken the time to review. I'm pleased that most of you enjoyed it, and take some of the critical
Ann Fisher
Jul 21, 2013 Ann Fisher rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Pure coincidence that I read this so soon after Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, And Language. Like Deborah Fallows, Alan Paul was a "trailing spouse," living and working in Bejing because that's where his wife's job had taken him. Like Fallows, he makes the most of it. His descriptions of raising kids in a community of other ex-pats. struggling with the language, trying to pass the drivers exam, and traveling around the country with the family would have been entertaining en ...more
Gets especially high rating as the author tried hard to get to know China and the Chinese, rather than just leading a completely cosseted expat life. I confess I wasn't all that interested on the musician aspect of the story, but I knew that going in, and was able to skim through a bit of that towards the end.

Bottom line is that Alan's a really nice guy, presenting the details in an engaging manner. Definitely not "just another expat in China" story at all. Recommended!
Mar 04, 2012 Laura rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Big in China is Alan Paul's memoir of his three-and-a-half years in Beijing living as an expat with his wife and three young children. His wife Rebecca was offered a job as the Wall Street Journal's China bureau chief, and Alan was a stay-at-home dad and freelance writer. They saw this move to China as an opportunity and they embraced it by working hard and taking frequent trips off the beaten path into the villages in China and mingling with the people.

I simply loved reading about these trips a
Jun 28, 2013 Ensiform rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A music writer, Paul travels to Beijing with his wife and their three children when she is offered a job as the Wall Street Journal’s bureau chief there. He works hard at the language, gets a driver’s license, enjoys the food, writes columns, and becomes the stay-at-home parent in the foreigner’s compound, complete with servants. With a new perspective and perhaps more time on his hands, he takes up guitar again and hangs out in music clubs. After being called on stage and performing a few class ...more
Jun 01, 2013 S. rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
apparently quickly written for profit, lacking any drama, pacing, buildup, or insight. Paul through massive efforts and the heavy support of his wife who held down the tough job apparently just about became a minor regional talent in Beijing, but his lack of Mandarin, musical ability, personal aesthetic sense prevent this from being a China classic such as the four-star Foreign Babes in Beijing or even three-star Mr. China. it was worth the 1.99 ebook special but not more. moreover, having had a ...more
Apr 18, 2011 Anne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fun and interesting memoir by a friend of mine. I worked with Alan and his wife, Rebecca, at the University of Michigan's student newspaper, The Michigan Daily. Alan details the 3+ years he and Rebecca spent in China while she was Editor for the Wall St. Journal, and he was full-time dad, part-time bluesman and 100% immersing himself into a new world. It's an interesting take on a country that few Americans really know. I found the crazy paths that Alan took amazing to believe and I think you ...more
Mar 16, 2011 Evelyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loved it - took me back to Shanghai days. The book discusses many of the issues shared by many expats living in China and elsewhere but the added layer of interest and culture brought to bear by Alan Paul's experience of playing in a successful band makes the books much more than another expat memoir.
Carla King
Mar 06, 2014 Carla King rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't expect to like this book about a husband and music journalist following his wife on assignment to China. But his eagerness to get out of their American-style complex into the "real" China won me over immediately. His eagerness to seriously pursue a music career sometimes clashed with his responsibilities as husband and father but not too often and when it happened he was so full of angst and regret that I found it easy to forgive him, as did his wife. With Chinese language lessons to ad ...more
Apr 29, 2012 Alex rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle, non-fiction
Interesting enough. I got bored halfway through with his band stuff though, and I started skimming. Mostly I was interested in his China experience, which while fine, seemed a little lacking at times. He's no Peter Hessler, that's all I'm saying.
Phil Howard
I was familiar with Alan Paul because of his writing about the Allman Brothers Band and other musicians in the Allman extended family. This book is about the three and one half years he and his family spent in China while his wife Rebecca was posted there with the Wall Street Journal. During the time, he, another expatriate and three Chinese citizens formed a band and played together. He also immersed himself and his family in the Chinese experience.

I would probably never do what he did, but re
Francesca Beretta
First of all my stars interpretation (since nowhere within Goodreads I found it defined...) 5 stars means for me a book who changed my life (a copernican revolution!) not necessarily aesthetically beautiful; 4 stars means a masterpiece; 3 stars: I enjoyed it very much. 2 stars and 1 I don't usually use it because now thanks to Goodreads I filter the books and buy only books above 3.75 read by many people. So I liked BIG IN CHINA very much, read it in few days and found it very useful for better ...more
What I liked:
Interesting story, some good insight into expat life in China as well as some "off the beaten trail" stuff, pretty easy engaging read, some good emotional stories as well as just some everyday life observations.

What I didn't enjoy:
I didn't find the author particularly likeable. I found him quite entitled and a little whiny at the beginning .. whinging about being considered a "trailing spouse" (what they call the spouse of the person who has the big foreign job - Paul's wife, Rebecc
If you are interested in what American ex-pat living is like, particularly in China, this is not bad. The blurbs etc focus on how the author became successful with a group of mostly Chinese musicians, but I think that works out to less than half the book overall, becoming more central as he describes the roughly three and a half years he and his family were in China.

His energy level is rather amazing. Just reading about all the stuff they did was tiring.

The author blogged while in Beijing about
From Publishers Weekly

In this entertaining memoir, Paul recounts an unanticipated life-changing experience that began when his wife accepted a three-year work assignment in Beijing. After resettling their three young children from suburban New Jersey to China, Paul, a music and basketball journalist who played guitar only as a hobby, embarked on an exploration of local culture and music. The search prompted his transition from writing about music to being a bona fide rock star in the band Wood

Apr 07, 2011 Carol rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As soon I saw the title of this book, I wanted to read it!

In 1993, I had gone on a three week tour of China and now my son works there. China has changed so much since I was there so I was really excited to find this book. I wanted to see if Alan Paul had similar experiences and did he become attached to the people like I did. I was so sad to leave that tears were streaking my face when the return flight was over.

Alan Paul, the author went with his wife and family when she accepted a job as t
Apr 05, 2011 Converse rated it really liked it
Allen Paul, a journalist who worked for Guitar World and the basketball magazine Slam, got the opportunity to live in China for a little over 3 years when his journalist wife, Rebecca, applied for and got a posting in Bejing with her employer, the Wall Street Journal. They were in China during the 2008 Olympics. Allen, in the lingo of expats the "trailing spouse," found his time in China the opportunity to play music instead of just covering it and found himself in a mostly Chinese blues band. T ...more
Oct 04, 2011 Barbara rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Let's be clear - this is not a book about China. This is a memoir about what it means for your family and identity to move to another country.
Alan Paul, freelance journalist, spent more than 3 years in Beijing when his wife accepted the post of Bureau Chief for the WSJ. Before the move, they lived in suburban NJ, where he juggled his work assignments with being the primary caregiver for their 3 children (aged 7, 4 and 2 at the time of the move). But in Expat World, where the relocation packages
Feb 15, 2012 Christina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012-christina
I truly enjoyed this book. The author was a "trailing spouse" whose wife was assigned to work at the WSJ in Beijing for 3-1/2 years (during the Olympics!) with three small children similar in ages to mine. I enjoyed reading about Alan's embrace of the assignment, the culture, and the opportunities for his work and his interests. Some of his travel plans and ambitions (to get a driver's license!) were outside my comfort zone but made for fun reading.

I think the basic premise of his story is by le
Jackie Morales
Former expat

I am a former expat so I experienced many of the same experiences and emotions described in this book. Returning to the USA after living in southeast Asia for 3 years was quite difficult for me. I wanted to share my experiences, but people who have not lived abroad were not interested. In a few months I will return for an extended visit to the places that I lived in Thailand, Indonesia, and Singapore.
Mar 05, 2014 Jonathan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a real treat. Paul is an excellent writer who gives you the whole 360 degrees of his life so you get a real sense of the journey he went through from entering "expat world" to the food and travel bureaucracy etc. Many writers misjudge their sense of place in the middle of events and situations but Paul is spot on. What gives this book the extra edge, of course, is the blues band he formed in Beijing and the way it took him - and us - into an unexpected side of China with an interest ...more
Aug 01, 2011 Agatha rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Memoir written by a stay-at-home dad who travels with his spouse and 3 children to China when wife is offered a job as head of the Wall Street Journal China bureau. While there, he writes a column called “The Expat Life” for (2005-09) and also freelances for two music magazines and forms a blues band called Woodie Alan with another expat and 3 Chinese musicians. Book was interesting to me for its inside look at life in Beijing, its funny and amusing insights as a US expat abroad; to thei ...more
This is a fine story, told by a nice guy who is a decent writer. It touches on all sorts of topics - what it means to be American, what it means to be Chinese, how experiencing a different culture changes our views, how music is a universal language, the longing for adventure, the pain of loss - but doesn't go very deep on any of them. The book began as a blog, and the author/narrator is a writer for a magazine. This style comes through in the book, which feels a bit episodic, and lacks the cent ...more
May 14, 2011 Pam rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography-memoir
3.5 stars. Alan Paul's wife is posted to Beijing as the Wall Street Journal Bureau Chief & their family of 5 lives the expat life -- with a twist. Although they reside in an enclave of non-Chinese whose standard of living is immensely increased by the disparity in salary to expenses (servants! huge house! fancy car! private schools!), they truly do try to sample some of "actual" China. His own journalistic creds (writer for Guitar Player & Slam magazines) made for very engaging writing. ...more
Feb 06, 2014 Kate rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fun look back at an expats time in China. Alan Paul clearly loves the adventure of living in Beijing, and his infectious spirit makes it a pleasure to join him on the ride. Having spent years in China, I found myself laughing and empathizing with many of his trials in Beijing. A fun memoir for anyone whose spent time overseas.
Joe z
I loved this book and thoroughly enjoyed it. It is touching and entertaining at the same time. The author really gives a good insight into the (atypical) expat life in China.
T.l. Harris
A pleasant read with compelling insights into the life of expats in China and some particularly harrowing characters. That said, I would have enjoyed reading more about the reasons blues became successful in China and what people are seeing in the form.
Oct 22, 2014 Lesley rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book left me wanting much more. It didn't nourish my reading soul the way other memoirs of China typically do. I also found the author to be extremely self absorbed.
Linda Books
Mar 30, 2012 Linda Books rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Full disclosure: I know Alan Paul, and my son, who lives in Beijing, is mentioned in the book (friend and proprietor of bar where the band first practiced). I'd read many of the WSJ blog posts while the family was in China and enjoyed them, resonating often with the feelings expressed about his and Rebecca's lonesome and/or visiting parents. The book I found to be not just evocative of the family's experiences in China but also insightful about expatriate life and its effects on their nuclear an ...more
So. Much. Fun! I don't care about China and I don't care about music. I care about people having fantastic opportunities in life and making the most of them. Most people are like: no, no, no not that either and complain that nothing interesting ever happens to them when really it is that they REFUSE to let anything interesting happen. This is about the opposite, and about that fear when life is fantastic that really it is just the circumstances of them moment and if anything changes you might ne ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 40 41 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • Kosher Chinese: Living, Teaching, and Eating with China's Other Billion
  • A Heart for Freedom: The Remarkable Journey of a Young Dissident, Her Daring Escape, and Her Quest to Free China's Daughters
  • Beijing Welcomes You: Unveiling the Capital City of the Future
  • Married to Bhutan
  • Home is a Roof Over a Pig: An American Family's Journey in China
  • Speed Tribes: Days and Night's with Japan's Next Generation
  • Postcards from Tomorrow Square: Reports from China
  • 十個詞彙裡的中國
  • Radio Shangri-la: What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth
  • Baby, Let's Play House: Elvis Presley and the Women Who Loved Him
  • Turn Left At The Trojan Horse: A Would-Be Hero's American Odyssey
  • Who's Buried In Grant's Tomb?: A Tour of Presidential Gravesites
  • Chairman Mao Would Not Be Amused: Fiction from Today's China
  • Radiohead and Philosophy: Fitter Happier More Deductive
  • Alice in Wonderland and the World Trade Center Disaster
  • Begin Again: A Biography of John Cage
  • The Red Hot Chili Peppers: An Oral/Visual History
  • The Battle for Gotham: New York in the Shadow of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs
Alan Paul is a senior writer for Guitar World magazine and has interviewed the members of the Allman Brothers Band hundreds of times. No one has written more frequently about the band.

He is the author of Big in China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising a Family, Playing the Blues, and Becoming a Star in Beijing (Harper), which is currently being developed as a film by Ivan Reitman's Montecito Pictures
More about Alan Paul...

Share This Book