Age of Ambition is… a riveting and troubling portrait of a people in a state of extreme anxiety about their identity, values and future, [and] a China rived by moral crisis and explosive frustration. (Judith Shapiro, New York Times).
For those new to China, Mr Osnos beautifully portrays the nation in all its craziness, providing a ringside seat for the greatest show on earth. (The Economist).
Discussion questions for Evan Osnos’s “Age of Ambition”: A Street-Level View of China’s Transformation
Age of Ambition follows the lives of ordinary and extraordinary Chinese citizens during Osnos’s tenure there, split along the large-scale trends of Fortune (China’s economic rise), Truth (challenges to state authoritarianism), and Faith (the search for meaning in changing times). The book’s structure is a series of vignettes where we meet compelling characters who are emblematic of changes China is experiencing. Did you find the book’s structure and vignette style effective?
- What are some similarities between today’s China and the U.S. Gilded Age of the late 1880s? What are some key differences?
- Is the lure of social mobility, and the freedom to “transform oneself”, a universal value? How does this shape political and social relationships in Western countries, and how might it contribute to reshaping Chinese society?
- Recently many China books have focused on relatively narrow topics. Osnos wrote a book that covers a big swath of the country and its recent history. Was this a good choice? Why?
- How is the prevalence of online tools reshaping Chinese citizens’ connection to the state? Which groups are empowered by these tools?
- In the book Osnos notes the “the problem of proportions” in covering China. How do you weigh the rising economic success story against the repressive authoritarian state? Is there are argument to be made that a authoritarian state may be a better mode of government for China given its unique cultural history, large population, and the extreme challenges faced by the Maoist government after World War II?
- Over the course of the book it seems like the sense of these two themes, repression and economic growth, shifted in terms of which was dominant. Towards the end, does the book determine whether the tradeoff, loss of liberty for economic prosperity, is a good choice for China?
- Lastly, have your feelings and beliefs about China changed because you read this book?