If Chairman Mao came back to life today, what would he think of Nanjing’s bookstore, the Librairie Avant-Garde, where it is easier to find primers on Michel Foucault’s philosophy than copies of the Little Red Book? What does it really mean to order a latte at Starbucks in Beijing? Is it possible that Aldous Huxley wrote a novel even more useful than Orwell’s 1984 for making sense of post-Tiananmen China—or post-9/11 America?
In these often playful, always enlightening “tales,” Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom poses these and other questions as he journeys from 19th-century China into the future, and from Shanghai to Chicago, St. Louis, and Budapest. He argues that simplistic views of China and Americanization found in most soundbite-driven media reports serve us poorly as we try to understand China’s place in the current world order—or our own.