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Chinese Lessons: Five Classmates and the Story of the New China    by John Pomfret order for
Chinese Lessons
by John Pomfret
Order:  USA  Can
Henry Holt, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

In 1981, at the age of twenty-two, John Pomfret was an exchange student at Nanjing University. One of the first American students to be admitted to China after the Communist Revolution, he lived in a cramped dorm room. While his living conditions might have been considered below the poverty level (by Western standards), he developed a deep and long-lasting love for China.

Twenty years later, he returned to the university for a class reunion. His memories were revived, but he also, as a journalist, was intrigued by current conditions - the changes that had taken place over those twenty years. Chinese Lessons recounts the life histories of five of his classmates as well as chronicling the changes. It is hard to believe the manner in which the Chinese people were forced to live and are still being forced to live.

Pomfret was a spectator at Tiananmen Square - actually caught in the middle of that out-of-control mob of a million people. Lucky to survive the crush, he could understand the principles involved but could also see the futility of such a move. Able to travel, he saw much of Chinese rural life and the appalling conditions in which people lived. The one-child per family edict brought much heartbreak and anger. As did the forced marriages - where the advantages of the couple being man and wife far outweighed any chance of love and a happy life.

Pomfret writes knowingly of his subject. His pain is recognizable as he discusses the treatment of the Chinese people by their government. Though China is becoming a large world market, it does not seem to have helped the average man to better himself. There are entrepenuers in China and they have fared well. Well enough for foreign investors to have moved in to profit. Chinese Lessons is a book well-written about a country in flux.

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