Age of Ambition Summary By Evan Osnos

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Age of Ambition by Evan Osnos is a groundbreaking book that looks into the remarkable changes and transformation that have taken place in China over the last three decades.

In this book, Osnos carefully examines how the lives of everyday Chinese citizens have been affected by the country's rapid economic development.

The book takes readers on a journey through China's cities and rural villages, highlighting some of its new social and economic realities while also highlighting some of its successes and failures.

With an insightful (and at times critical) eye, Age of Ambition paints a vivid picture of how modern Chinese society has been shaped by its ambition and drive to become an international superpower.

Age of Ambition

Book Name: Age of Ambition (Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China)

Author(s): Evan Osnos

Rating: 3.6/5

Reading Time: 19 Minutes

Categories: Economics

Author Bio

Evan Osnos is a renowned American journalist who has worked with some of the most distinguished outlets in the industry.

He was the former bureau chief of the Chicago Tribune and the New Yorker’s China correspondent, and he even contributed to a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative report.

His expertise has also bagged him two Overseas Press Club prizes and his first ever book, Age of Ambition, earned him the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2014.

It's safe to say that Evan Osnos is an esteemed figure in the journalism world.

His years of experience, awards, and recognition make him an authority on news writing, giving his words and insights even more impact when they appear in print or online media.

What’s Behind China’s Phenomenal Economic Growth? Uncovering the Secrets of One of the World’s Biggest Economies

Economic Growth

The Age of Ambition Book Summary will give you an in-depth look at what’s behind China’s recent rise as one of the world’s leading economies, and how this growth is transforming Chinese society.

In this book, you will learn how the nation is transitioning from its centralized and autocratic model to a more open and individualistic society.

You will also gain insights into how Chinese officials use gift shops to discretely funnel money in the form of bribes, why China’s media department no longer officially exists, and why the Chinese Communist Party employs professional internet trolls.

This book provides invaluable insight into one of the most dynamic nations in the world today, giving readers an appreciation for both what was driving China’s meteoric rise and what it’s doing to its own citizens.

The Astonishing Success Story Behind China’s Dramatic Economic Growth

Since the 1980s, China’s economy has grown exponentially and continues to show no signs of slowing down.

In terms of GDP, the Chinese economy has doubled in size every 7 to 8 years, averaging an annual growth rate of around 8 percent – a rate which is unprecedented in today’s world.

The Chinese population has seen an income rise that goes hand-in-hand with the GDP growth.

From only $200 per capita in 1978, the average yearly income for a Chinese citizen now stands at a remarkable $6000 – 30 times more than it was 40 years ago!

China has also become increasingly important as an exporter;within just 10 years (1999-2009) it managed to outrank all other countries as the leading global exporter by leapfrogging from 9th spot up to 1st!

How Xiaogang Farmers’ Secret Pact Led to China’s Enormous Economic Growth

Economic Growth

China’s spectacular economic jumpstart didn’t come as a result of some masterful political plan formulated at the top.

Instead, it was the peasants who ultimately triggered this success.

The late 1950s saw Mao Zedong launch the Great Leap Forward program in an effort to lift China out of poverty and modernize its economy.

Initially, production rose, but ultimately this program backfired – leading to a recession and famine that killed 30-45 million people.

In desperate times, farmers turned to innovative means to survive – like in Xiaogang Village where 18 destitute villagers made a secret pact to divide the land amongst themselves and cultivate it separately in order to sell their surplus yield secretly at the markets for profit.

By doing so they earned 20 times more than before.

This served as an example for others, leading similar schemes across China that allowed farmers to turn a profit outside of working on state farms.

Eventually, the government discovered these activities but recognized their benefit and even expanded them allowing 800 million Chinese farmers access by 1979 which had an incredibly positive impact on GDP growth.

Building upon this success leaders such as Deng Xiaoping allowed freedom of enterprise into other areas further aiding in the transformation of the country’s economy into what we see today.

The Chinese Strive for the ‘Bare-Handed’ Fortune: A Cultural Obsession with Success and Education

The Chinese people have an unparalleled ambition for success.

It has become a common characteristic of the Chinese culture, and Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution in 1966 is a testament to that drive.

Many Chinese people aspire to the “bare-handed” fortune, which mirrors the idea of the American dream—hard work equals success.

The self-made millionaires mentioned in newspapers are proof of this phenomenon.

Take Gong Haiyan as an example—she came from an illiterate family but later founded China’s largest online dating site and earned $80 million by 2011.

Other self-made millionaires in China even started out with no formal education, such as one street food vendor who became a fast-food tycoon.

To make up for these shortcomings, many Chinese parents enroll their children in prestigious American high schools and colleges instead; 5,000 more students were enrolled between 2005 and 2011 alone!

The demand for higher education is also so great that the government has had to double the number of colleges and high schools in just 10 years, although only 1 in 4 aspiring students can matriculate each semester.

It’s obvious that Chinese people are hungry for success—and they’ll do anything to get it.

The Unequal Reality of the Chinese Dream: How Income Disparity Exacerbates Social and Economic Inequality in the People’s Republic

Economic Inequality

In China, the wealth is distributed unevenly across its population, leading to a growing public dissatisfaction.

The gap between cities with the most abundant resources and those with the lowest income levels is astonishing, particularly when compared to the gap between the US and Ghana.

For instance, statistics from 2007 revealed that the top ten percent of urban Chinese earned 9.2x more than their lowest counterparts.

Even more sobering is that it’s estimated that a whole group of 8-10 average Chinese citizens would have to pool their full incomes for just one year in order to buy an average apartment in any city in China!

That disparity has impacted Chinese life drastically, as evidenced by work done by scholars Yinqiang Zhang and Tor Eriksson.

Their study determined that opportunities available to Chinese children often depend largely on their parents’ social connections rather than their merits or hard work alone – thus preventing many people from climbing up the social ladder.

This became evident through surveys conducted among members of China’s emerging middle class, who voiced an increasing dissatisfaction over this lack of equal opportunity.

In response to this issue, citizens released such strong discontentment in form protests and riots, until even culminating at near 500 incidents per day during 2004 and 2009.

This has pushed forth questions onto the way the state manages these disruptions; leading them search for new solutions to provide its citizens better access into wealthier lifestyles!

The Grim Reality of Chinese Censorship and Repression: A Breaking Down of Recent Examples

The “Age of Ambition” book summary paints a very clear picture of how Chinese authorities deal with dissidents and protesters.

Writer and civil rights activist Liu Xiaobo, for example, was arrested just for launching a peaceful civil rights movement that encouraged people to sign their names to Charter 08, a declaration on civil rights supported by thousands of Chinese intellectuals.

Blind self-taught lawyer Chen Guancheng faced even worse consequences as local authorities implausibly charged him with destruction of property and disrupting traffic, leading to a four year prison sentence.

And the repercussions don’t stop there.

In 2011, the Chinese Jasmine Revolution protest organized through social media saw an influx of police officers who beat and arrested protesters.

Later that same week in their attempt to silence the movement, journalists were pulled by their legs, kicked and punched in the face while 200 people were interrogated or placed under house arrest.

35 dissidents were then either sent to prison or simply disappeared from public view altogether– a clear reminder that dissent will not be tolerated in China with harsh sanctions awaiting those who challenge authority.

The Secretive Department Behind China’s Media Control System

The Central Publicity Department of the Chinese government seeks maximum influence and control over China’s public life.

It operates in a mysterious manner and has no official address or presence on public charts, yet its reach is vast.

The Department handles more than 2,000 newspapers and 8,000 magazines, films, and tv programs.

It even holds weekly priming sessions at its headquarters to instruct chief media representatives on how to approach news stories, dictating what to emphasize or leave out.

This was exemplified in 2003 when news of the SARS epidemic broke out in Guangdong; newspaper editors were told to publish only reassuring stories with no criticism of the response given by the government.

In addition, it oversees some of China’s biggest endowments for social sciences research and tasked with banning words like “totalitarianism” from such studies that relate to China’s political system.

It likewise has the power to ban books, films, fire editors and manage large-scale events like beauty pageants and amusement parks.

Over time, the Central Publicity Department has expanded into an organization with sophisticated methods formed from studying works of international PR specialists like Harold Lasswell as well as foreign governments.

In fact it is believed that there is roughly one propaganda officer per 100 citizens today in China – truly displaying just how expansive this department’s control really is.

The Chinese Government Attempts to Control the Internet, but People Still Find Ways to Exchange Ideas and Information

Chinese Government

The Chinese government, through the Central Publicity Department, is determined to control and limit information and ideas exchanged over the internet.

To do this, they block influential international news sources like the New York Times and Facebook; search results that contain politically sensitive words are automatically filtered on Baidu, China’s version of Google.

Even discussions related to topics such as Tibetan independence, freedom of speech or police brutality get blocked.

Moreover, the government actively tries to influence online political discourse by having “ushers of public opinion” infiltrate social networks and discussion boards.

Henever these individuals detect unwanted conversations about various issues such as rising oil prices for example, they will post provocative replies in a bid to derail those conversations.

Despite all these efforts though, users still manage to find ways to exchange ideas and information anonymously over the internet.

With a few tweaks here and there, it is possible for users to unblock sites on their own; replacing Chinese characters with similar sounding ones in search queries can also bypass digital filters.

Additionally, users can download and share content before censors have an opportunity to block it due to facilities that enable people to publish texts and photos online without needing approval from the government whereby followers of dissident artist Ai Weiwei managed just that in 2009 before his websites were taken down or deleted.

The Emergence of the Citizen Journalist: How the Internet is Helping to Uncover Chinese Government Propaganda

Today, many Chinese people are using the internet as a means to expose government manipulation of information and censorship.

Thanks to the power of the internet and social media, it is now much easier for individuals to identify doctored photos or videos that have been created by Party propagandists for their own gain.

For example, when President Hu Jintao allegedly visited a low-income family, some citizens were able to prove that the entire visit had actually been staged – proving just how easy deception can be in this day and age.

As well as this, whenever censorship is taking place it gets documented and shared across multiple platforms like blogs and websites.

Many of Han Han’s followers even witnessed his posts being manipulated or deleted real-time with a click of the ‘Refresh’ button or censorship orders being leaked within minutes.

However, even though these acts of disclosure against the Chinese government’s censorship exist online today, they still remain unsafe due to potential repercussions such as repression and persecution.

Despite Government Attempts to Control, China’s Growing Economy Has Led to Increased Bribery and Personal Wealth Accumulation

In Age of Ambition, the author highlights just how rampant corruption is in China.

As soon as the government began allowing private ownership of land and factories, bribery skyrocketed.

People paid huge sums of money in exchange for licenses and other opportunities.

In just one year after privatization started, average bribes rose from $2,000 to $6,000!

The evidence is clear that public servants are profiting off this system too.

Gift shops surround the headquarters of China’s planning agency and when sessions at the National People’s Congress are held, high-end boutiques run out of stock – all despite public servants officially only earning an annual income of $30,000.

Furthermore, Chinese leaders like former Prime Minister Wen Jiabao have built up suspicious amounts of wealth despite quite modest backgrounds.

It’s clear from The Age of Ambition that corruption is a major problem in China and unfortunately it doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon.

The Rise of the “Me” Generation in China: How Increased Freedom of Choice Led to a Newfound Individualism

Generation in China

Modern China is seeing a dramatic change in the way its people view themselves and their freedom of choice.

Gone are the days when Chinese citizens were defined by the collectives and families they belonged to.

Now, young people from the Me Generation believe in personal experience and self-determination more than ever before.

This shift can be found in popular culture, as demonstrated by books such as Triple Door which provides an autobiographical glimpse into one student’s struggle to break away from conformity.

Its success resulting in it selling over two million copies amongst other accolades shows that it has resonated with many people today for reflecting their individualism.

People have access to more freedom and opportunities such as receiving higher education or opening their own businesses due to relaxed restrictions on what they can do compared to their predecessors generations ago.

Even social life has changed drastically with the invention of online dating sites such as Jiayuan allowing people to choose who they want to marry instead of having arranged marriages determined by local matchmakers or even family members and employers.

In conclusion, modern China is seeing an increasing trend towards individualism across all aspects of life – from choices about education and business opportunities,to having access to more ways for finding relationships outside of traditional married couples – suggesting people’s priorities are shifting away from collective values towards personal fulfilment instead.

How Chinese Communism Spawned a New Variety of Religions and Cults

Before Mao’s Cultural Revolution, widespread belief systems such as Buddhism (Lamaist), Daoism, and various folk religions existed in harmony in China.

But when the Revolution began, all of these systems were actively stamped out or forbidden.

Religious officials were persecuted and temples were destroyed.

Mao also stepped into the spiritual void he had created and was treated like a god; his Little Red Book of quotations was believed to have magical properties.

People even confessed their sins at the foot of his statues!

But when Mao died in 1976, another massive spiritual void was left that people wanted to fill.

As a result, old temples were rebuilt and new ones were erected, leading to the myriad of religions and cults that exist today in China.

It’s clear that Communism’s destruction of belief systems left a lasting impact on Chinese culture – an immense spiritual void which people are still trying to fill today.

Wrap Up

The Age of Ambition paints a comprehensive picture of modern China and how it has changed.

In this book, author Evan Osnos documents how Chinese people are embracing individualism but facing barriers to political expression.

Through his own experiences, interviews, and storytelling, Osnos reveals the complexities of a nation in rapid transition.

His final summary is clear: While opportunity and choice abound in today’s China, there are still significant tensions surrounding politics that need to be addressed.

This book shows us why we should all be paying close attention to this growing superpower and its impact on the world.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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