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Postcards from Tomorrow Square: Reports from China

3.84 of 5 stars 3.84  ·  rating details  ·  397 ratings  ·  67 reviews
“Americans need not be hostile toward China's rise, but they should be wary about its eventual effects. The United States is the only nation with the scale and power to try to set the terms of its interaction with China rather than just succumb. So starting now, Americans need to consider the economic, environmental, political, and social goals they care about defending as...more
Paperback, 262 pages
Published December 30th 2008 by Vintage (first published December 24th 2008)
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Aaron Arnold
My main takeaway from this book is that anyone who tries to generalize about China doesn't know what they're talking about, and indeed can't know what they're talking about. I feel comfortable making that generalization about generalizers because China is just so big, so complex, and changing so fast that attempts to summarize what's happening there not only inevitably obscure the facts, but are also out-of-date nearly as soon as they're printed. Superlatives evaporate as soon as they leap off t...more
Rebecca Martin
I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of articles and learned so much I hardly know where to start describing the book. This is a series of articles written by Fallows and published in The Atlantic Monthly December '06-November '08. The subjects range from China's self-made manufacturing billionaires, to how Macau became the gambling Mecca of the East, to what's really going on with Internet access in China. Every essay offers fascinating information that I have not come across elsewhere. Here ar...more
Garrett
I really enjoyed this book as Fallows does a great job exploring the complexities and contradictions of modern China. Most people, and I include myself, tend to think of China as one monolithic State where everything and everyone is very similar. Nothing could be further from the truth. The variety of people and places in China is nearly limitless.

As a collection of essays, this book works very well. The essays included were originally published elsewhere and are now 5 years or older. However, t...more
Haley
Wonderful collection of stories of Fallows adventures of living in China. It certainly gives a view of China that is vulnerable, funny, and uncertain, all perceptions that I don't think most Americans would have of the country. It was good to see that while China is progressing in so many ways it is also experiencing all of the growing pains that can come with becoming one of the more powerful countries in the modern world. Also, a great perspective on how their history continually influences ma...more
Catherine Woodman


Fallows lived in China starting in 2007 and watched the nation ride the boom years upward, much as he had in Japan in the 1980's. His essays for The Atlantic magazine from that time are published here, back to back in the order that they were written to give the reader a sense of what the reader a sense of who were the early winners and losers on the roller coaster going uphill.


Fallows is neither simple in his approach to the rising giant, nor is he in awe of it. He addresses some of the things...more
Kay
This was the third book of contemporary essays on China that I've read recently, and it is by far my favorite so far. (The other two were Oracle Bones: A Journey Between China's Past and Present by Peter Hessler and China in Ten Words by Yu Hua.) Fallows journalistic training gives this book an edge and insight that the other two books, which seemed to me to be mired in personal circumstances, lacked.

Each of these essays appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, and while in the past I've been underwhe...more
Qmmayer
Decent read but overall forgettable, I have to say.
Kai Lukoff
"Postcards" is promising, but ultimately not as rich as it could have been. Fallows is a good thinker and writer, whose analysis would benefit from more time in China, better Chinese, and a deeper understanding of economics.

The format of his book, a series of essays and vignettes, is lively and the topics are well-chosen. It suits Fallows' aim to combat the perception of China as "one big supercoordinated hive" (p. xvi).

He asks fascinating questions (some that I have wondered about myself):
--...more
Liam
"I suspected before coming to China, and now know for sure, that no one can sensibly try to present the 'real story' or the 'overall picture' of this country. It is simply too big and too contradictory." (xiv)

"Lawrence Summers calls today's arrangement 'the balance of financial terror.' and says that it is flawed in the same way that the 'mutually reassured destruction' of the Cold War era was. ... China can't afford to stop feeding dollars to America, because China's own dollar holdings would b...more
marcus miller
Most of these are essays written between 2006 and 2008 so some may be a bit dated, but Fallows provides excellent insight into the Chinese economy, culture, and process of development, along with thoughtful asides into the United States.
I was able to spend a month in China in 2005 so it brought back memories of the air pollution, the crazy traffic, the pride expressed in building things fast, the bullet train in Shanghai, and though Fallows doesn't mention it, the toilets, or lack of toilets. T...more
Graham Mulligan
Post Cards From Tomorrow Square; Reports From China.
James Fallows, 2009

Reviewed by Graham Mulligan

Fallows is the Atlantic Monthly correspondent for China. In his introduction to the book he categorizes some of the collection of essays as ‘policy’ oriented explorations of the tremendous variety of cultural developments that so frequently lead Western observers to take positions about ‘China’ as though it were one, indivisible reality. His portraits of individuals constitute another category and t...more
Louise
Here is a book that actually tells you (in a way you can understand) how China gets all those US dollars and how things actually work from the gambling industry in Macao to internet filtering nationwide.

Many westerners tend to think of China as a well oiled monolith. James Fallows debunks this. One example he gives is of the reservation of 3 places for people to protest during the Olympics. Everyone who applied for a permit to actually protest was arrested. He speculates that the top people were...more
Ms.pegasus
Apr 16, 2011 Ms.pegasus rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those interested in economics, China, globalization
Shelves: nonfiction, china
The art of looking into the future is in part understanding the events of today. Monolithic China, Tiananmen Square and The Great Firewall of China (internet censorship) are some of the images Fallows seeks to balance in this collection of extended essays about the people of China. Introducing a theme of nascent energy, Fallows compares Japan's internalization of orderliness with China: “... China seems like a bunch of individuals who behave themselves only when they think they might get caught....more
Santo
I got James Fallow’s “Postcards from Tomorrow Square: Reports from China” on sale from a local bookstore in Pondok Indah. At Rp. 35.000, it was a bargain not to be missed. I actually have had my eyes on this book for some time. But somehow I had never found the right reason to buy yet another publication on China, especially when many of them have remained unread ‘til this very day.

In the end, I was happy with my purchase. It was worth all Rp. 35.000, and probably more. After reading just the fi...more
Jen
This would be "the book I forced myself to read for book club that felt like homework for an econ class." And yet...I'm glad I read it, because I learned a lot about China that I didn't know before. I would never have picked it up on my own though, and I certainly doubt I'll ever read it again. It's already in the hands of my boss, who asked to borrow it, and then I'm giving it to my father-in-law, who is interested in both China and economics, so I'm guessing he'll be fascinated.

The book is a c...more
Amy
Feb 19, 2012 Amy rated it 4 of 5 stars
Shelves: china
I like the book, I was a bit worried that it would be too dated, because in China something 4 years old is already dated! So I wasn't sure that it was all up to date, but I thought some of the essays were really good. I thought the one about Environmental stability was good - it was interesting to hear about the Broad company and their air conditioning, I then saw an article about them, and now they are into overall sustainable building - and you can find a video of them building a hotel in 360...more
Colin
I wasn't too thrilled by James Fallows' book of essays on China. I've read a fair amount on China by Western authors in recent years and this was somewhat disappointing. Despite his entreaties that this piece doesn't encapsulate "all" of China, at the end of each essay, I was left with the feeling that Fallows was trying to tie all of this stuff into a bigger picture, mostly that China doesn't represent quite the rival many in the US believe it to be. This isn't so much a collection of essays ab...more
Michael
Some interesting essays from James Fallow's time living in China. Being an expat in China myself, much of what he write comes as little surprise to me. Well written, though. I found the chapter about the Great Firewall particularly interesting, as it helped explain some of the functional aspects of the firewall better than I previously understood.
Jeremy
Originally written as a series of articles for The Atlantic Monthly, 'Postcards' offers snippets of modern Chinese life intended to provide the reader with a glimpse of the diversity of challenges and triumphs that the nation faces. Fallows does an excellent job of bringing the reader along on his journey into China. It's not a single smooth, seamless journey, but rather a series of excursions into different aspects of China, from the tale of a successful entrepreneur to the often dangerous fact...more
craige
My parents both just read this book and really liked it. There are even some sections highlighted by one of them. My mom loaned the book to Jeff, but when looking for a new book to start this morning, I grabbed it.

Fallows is a very easy writer to read and I have enjoyed reading his essays in The Atlantic for years. I also know that he's a good guy because my first job out of college was at US News & World Report where he was editor-in-chief at the time. The highlight of that job, for sure,...more
Jmolentin
These seemed to be reprints of Atlantic articles that have appeared during the time Fallows lived there. And, that'w where all my knowledge of modern China comes from. Thanks Jim.
Irenecsi
Quite interesting reading. Though some of the idea are still rather cliche, I enjoy to see how China is viewed differently in western journalist's eyes.
Gary
Fallows has some interesting tales about his two years living in China, but it's not a travelogue. Instead it's a collection of pieces he wrote for The Atlantic. As a pretty regular reader of that periodical, I had seen most of these before, which made me enjoy the book less than I would have otherwise. Nevertheless, his chapters on the "Great Firewall of China" and the recurring themes of China's environmental catastrophe, a non-monolithic Chinese society, a great divide between rich and poor,...more
Liz
An interesting cross-section of modern China investigating themes of censorship, technology, manufacturing, employment culture, and innovation, this book is a non-fiction account of Chinese-American relations circa 2009. I liked Fallows' ability to remain objective to both countries' strategies while evaluating pros and cons, while still maintaining an Ameri-centric voice. This book was a bit dry at times, but I appreciated the insight into modern China given its promising developments as well a...more
Sofia
I knew as I was going to like this book, as China is a topic I'm very interested in. But I ended up finding most of the articles that comprise it absolutely fascinating (and the rest are pretty good too). Fallows is a very smart writer who doesn't simply report but also analyses his subjects. Said subjects range from expat living, internet censorship, and factory life, to environmental issues, local government and a lot more. Regardless of how many books you've read on China and your level of in...more
Kathryn Bashaar
This book was both entertaining and enlightening. The chapter about how the Chinese government blocks internet content was especially interesting. I also like the point Fallows made that China has plenty of problems of its own to address, but America's problems are not China's fault, and we need to get our own house in order if we want to remain an economic force in the world. An excellent book; I would recommend it to anyone who wants to really understand more about China, as opposed to substit...more
Phil
Jun 14, 2009 Phil rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone interested in the economic and social development of China today.
Shelves: china
Went to China two years ago - still trying to understand it.

Fallows book is a collection of a dozen essays from the Atlantic Monthly, written while living there from 2006 to 2008. The essays address cultural and economic themes - internet censorship, pollution, the development of gaming in Macau, etc. While written for the magazine articles, the author probably saw a book in the future and plannaed accordingly - the material flows well.

Easy reading style, enough statistics to make the point with...more
Carrie
Interesting read, even though it's already quite out of date (published in 2009), given how quickly China has been changing in the past couple decades. I'd recommend for anyone interested in China in particular or travel-writing more generally. Book is comprised of short (20-30 page) stories on a variety of topics, which makes it an easy book to read in short bursts.
Mara
Before and since my visit to China, I've found this vast and ancient country of contrasts extremely intriguing. This compilation of "reports" on a variety of aspects of modern China provided a well-balanced overview of the challenges, mis-perceptions, and opportunities associated with China's scale and massive growth/development surge. The implications for the world and the role we all play was a consistent message that linked the topics and proved both moving and motivating.
Tricia
Written accounts of an American journalist in China from 2006-2008. Especially interesting after reading Wild Swans and wanting more insight on current China and the aftermath of all of the events described in that book. Fallows writes with an economic/political point of view. He covers topics such as the Chinese Internet Firewall, China's investment in US Treasury Bonds, environmental issues, and entrepreneurial efforts by Chinese citizens.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has reported from around the world and has worked in software design at Microsoft, as the editor of U.S. News & World Report, and as a speechwriter for President Jimmy Carter. He is currently a news analyst for NPR’s Weekend All Things Considered and a visiting professor at the University of Sydney.
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