This is a terrific memoir from a freelance journalist whose wife was transferred to Beijing to head the China bureau of the Wall Street Journal. Author Alan Paul, his wife Becky and their three young children lived in China for nearly four years. What began as a great and scary adventure ended up being all that and more, as the family became attached to their host nation and its people, as well as to several other Western families who were part of their expat community.
While Becky went to her office most days and the kids were either at school or in the care of a nanny, Paul did house husband things like grocery shopping and wrote columns for several music magazines, with which he had an established relationship going back many years. He also began to reinvigorate his own performance career by organizing a jazz/blues band composed of Western and Chinese members. As the band got better and better they became quite popular in Beijing and environs, eventually being voted the best band in Beijing and getting as many bookings as they could reasonably play -- sometimes two or three in a week. Paul tells some very funny stories about how he and his group became "big in China," which is the origin of the book's title.
Paul also tells some good tales about his friends, wife and kids and how they adapted to Chinese customs, food and lifestyles. The family had open minds about everything that they came across, which seems to me to have enhanced their experiences in China a great deal. I very much enjoyed reading about the markets, foods, pastimes and other facets of Chinese culture that are under reported or ignored by most mass media outlets. Since Paul is a professional journalist, the book reads well and has that feel of immediacy that engages readers and gives us a reason to keep turning the pages.
If you read much about globalization, especially nonfiction tomes and serious news reports, the prevailing view of China as an economic competitor to the US, while perhaps true, is a narrow and biased perspective that can get a bit depressing. Big in China will give you a different (and for me much appreciated) point of view about our 'global village' and the basic goodwill of the people in it. Highly recommended.
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About the reviewer
Bonnie McEwan (BonnieMcEwan)
I own a communications consultancy in NYC called MAKE WAVES, which serves nonprofit organizations and foundations. I also hold a Visiting Lecturer position at Milano: The New School for Management & … more