Ben Chu’s Chinese Whispers debunks the top seven myths or “whispers” that are supposedly circulating about China and its people. These cover topics including Chinese racism, civil liberties, and the heavy hitter, will China take over the world? The title refers to a British children’s game, also known as “Telephone”, where a group of people sit in a circle and try to whisper a word or phrase without distorting the message. Chu compares this to “whispers” about China becoming distorted in the Western world.
In each chapter, he dissects a different aspect of China and why what “we” know about China is wrong. Who this “we” is that he continually refers to throughout the text remains a mystery. I can only assume he is referring to the western world as a whole, but this did get annoying after a while. He describes his book as, “An iconoclastic portrait of modern China and a counterblast to Western assumptions,” yet anyone who has spent time in China will grimace at more than one of the assumptions he is claiming to counterblast.
I’m not saying the book isn’t informative. Chu has done huge amounts of research into the “whispers” and it shows. Each one is carefully dissected, and well-explained, which leads me to realize that his intended audience is not people who live in China, or have studied China at all, but those who know little to nothing about China and it’s people. The myths he is attempting to dispel are slightly outdated and overblown, and in this way the book reads more like Chu’s earnest exploration of his own heritage, and a desire to share this reflection versus a debunking of “common” Western assumptions about China.
Ultimately, this is another book claiming to give you China in a nutshell; if you have studied Chinese culture, or lived here for any period of time, you might find this frustrating. However, if you have a friend coming to China for a visit, or simply want a well-researched overview of the nation, Chinese Whispers is not a bad place to start.
By Lauren Holdcroft
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