Jonathan Franzen on the Yangtze Delta

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Copies of The New Yorker arrive in our Beijing bureau at the speed of a steamship. Since I usually wait to read it in print form I just today saw the Jonathan Franzen article about golf club covers, manufacturing, environmentalism and birdwatching in the Yangtze delta. It’s a wonderful, bizarre tale. Unfortunately the story isn’t available online, though there is an audio interview and an abstract on the magazine’s website.

The abstract doesn’t really do the story justice. When the abstract says, “The writer describes arriving in Shanghai the week before,” this is the passage to which it refers (I’ve hyphened out one word for our more sensitive readers):

The week before, when I’d arrived in Shanghai, my first impression of China had been that it was the most advanced place I’d ever seen. The scale of Shanghai, which from the sky had presented a dead-flat vista of tens of thousands of neatly arrayed oblong houses–each of which, a closer look revealed, was in fact a large apartment block–and then, on the ground, the brutally new skyscrapers and the pedestrian-hostile streets and the artificial dusk of the smoke-filled winter sky: it was all thrilling. It was as if the gods of world history had asked, “Does somebody want to get into some really unprecedentedly deep s—?” and this place had raised its hand and said, “Yeah!”

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