THE EARLY ARRIVAL OF DREAMS: A Year in China by Rosemary Mahoney


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Engaging and splendidly written chronicle of a Radcliffe student's year as an English teacher in China. Mahoney spent 12 months in 1987-88 at Hangzhou Univ. in eastern China, where she was selected to teach as part of a Radcliffe exchange program. Here, she frames rather than analyzes experience, allowing Chinese students, colleagues, and friends to ""speak"" of and for the country. The standout personality among them is Ming Yu, a vibrant young teacher and poet who befriended Mahoney early during her visit. Learned and anti-Communist, able to quote Tolstoy and Shakespeare at will, Ming Yu educates the author about inequalities in sexuality and politics in China. By contrast, Mahoney's students are shy but inquisitive, naive, and chauvinistic. One asks why the US invented AIDS; another claims there are no homosexuals in China. Few support the Communist Party, but all are nationalistic and proud. Meanwhile, Chinese academic life suffers as a result of poor facilities, bureaucratic bungling, political intervention, and trivial pursuit: one of Mahoney's colleagues is translating a book by Jackie Collins in the mad rash to capitalize on Western influence. The most resonant moment here is in the postscript--where letters Mahoney received from students after her return speak of their frustrations during the early repression of student revolts and anticipate the mood and events of Tiananmen Square. Mahoney's concentration on brilliant surface detail often limits deeper analysis and understanding, but her luminous style and her sympathy for China and its people make for a fine account.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1990
Publisher: Ballantine