Tuesday, May 26, 2009

So is China Happy or Not?

A recent bestseller in China entitled Unhappy China (中国不高兴) created a stir a few months back. Not having read it, my understanding is that it was written by five authors who think that China is more qualified to lead the world, and that the West should just step aside and let that happen. I'm not sure exactly why a collective China should be unhappy, but the title of the book just never set well with me.

Even though it comes from a Chinese source, to me the title seems to perpetuate what I thought was a uniquely Western myth, that of China as a monolith. If I have learned nothing else in my years of living in, and traveling to, China, it is that the Chinese are about as individualistic as any other group of people one would ever meet.

From what I understand, though the book has sold well in China, it hasn't been universally well-received in China -- further confirming the fact that not all Chinese are unhappy. Or maybe it's just the fact that the overwhelming majority of China's population probably cannot afford to buy the book.

Like bestsellers in the US, this one apparently had enough legs to spawn a few offshoots. Yesterday I saw these three books at a bookstore in Raffles City, Shanghai.

The first book is the original, Unhappy China. In the middle is Happy China. And on the right is Why is China Unhappy?.

So is China happy or not?

Stupid question.