Dreaming in Chinese

Deborah and James Fallows describe a culture of physical peril that they encountered during their stay in China. (2 min., 56 sec.)

NEW YORK, October 5, 2010 – "Xiaoxin" is Mandarin for "Look Out!" And that's the reaction that two American writers had toward China's rapid urbanization and frenetic industrialization.  

Deborah Fallows, linguist and author of Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, and Language, and her husband James Fallows, a national correspondent for The Atlantic, lived in China for three years and observed the pace of change that has come with its economic rise. 

They came to Asia Society and spoke of their experiences, how they studied Mandarin, and how they viewed the changing relationship between China and the rest of the world.

Moderating the discussion was their longtime friend and China watcher, Orville Schell, Arthur Ross Director of Asia Society's Center on U.S.-China Relations

In her book, she explores the unique characteristics of the language and culture of the world's most populous nation and grapples with some Western misconceptions. 

"We quickly came to realize that it was really 1.3 billion people, [over] 50 ethnic groups and six major languages and countless dialects," said Deborah Fallows. "It was unfair to generalize, and much more real and genuine to think of them as 1.3 billion individuals instead of a unit or a whole."

"You don’t know about a place unless you live there," said James Fallows. As a reporter, he researched factories across the country as well as manifestations of nationalism—both the good and the bad, as he saw it.

Like the United States, "it [China] is mostly interested in itself," he said.

All three panelists emphasized that the American people should embrace this relationship with China, and not fear it.

Reported by Elizabeth Reynolds