Foreign Babes in Beijing: Behind the Scenes of a New China

Overview

Determined to broaden her cultural horizons and live a "fiery" life, twenty-one-year-old Rachel DeWoskin hops on a plane to Beijing to work for an American PR firm based in the busy capital. Before she knows it, she is not just exploring Chinese culture but also creating it as the sexy, aggressive, fearless Jiexi, the starring femme fatale in a wildly successful Chinese soap opera.

Experiencing the cultural clashes in real life while performing a fictional version on-screen, ...

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Foreign Babes in Beijing: Behind the Scenes of a New China

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Overview

Determined to broaden her cultural horizons and live a "fiery" life, twenty-one-year-old Rachel DeWoskin hops on a plane to Beijing to work for an American PR firm based in the busy capital. Before she knows it, she is not just exploring Chinese culture but also creating it as the sexy, aggressive, fearless Jiexi, the starring femme fatale in a wildly successful Chinese soap opera.

Experiencing the cultural clashes in real life while performing a fictional version on-screen, DeWoskin forms a group of friends with whom she witnesses the vast changes sweeping through China as the country pursues the new maxim, "to get rich is glorious." In only a few years, China's capital is transformed. With "considerable cultural and linguistic resources" (The New Yorker), DeWoskin captures Beijing at this pivotal juncture in her "intelligent, funny memoir" (People), and "readers will feel lucky to have the sharp-eyed, yet sisterly, DeWoskin sitting in the driver's seat" (Elle).

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
When Rachel DeWoskin moved to China in 1989, little did she know she would become the American star of Beijing's hottest nighttime soap opera. In one of the most original books we've come across -- a deft mix of social history and coming-of-age memoir -- DeWoskin describes her "fish out of water" life as an unlikely media sensation, while providing an insightful outsider's look at the changing, increasingly Westernized face of Chinese culture.
Booklist
Exhibiting sensitivity and uncommon wisdom, DeWoskin delivers a candid and valuable portrait of a China few Westerners get to see.
William Grimes
Why did the Chinese adore a barely competent nonactress whose voice was dubbed to make her Mandarin sound even worse that it was? Why did the producers dress her in a bright-red business suit and a fur coat when she was supposed to be an exchange student? And how could it possibly be that she earned only $80 an episode on a series watched by some 600 million viewers in China?

These and other imponderables perplex Ms. DeWoskin as she recounts, in this deft, daffy comedy of errors, her improbable adventures as a soap opera queen and her fumbling journey through the new entrepreneurial China.
— The New York Times

Publishers Weekly
DeWoskin moved to Beijing in 1989, shortly after the military squashed the democracy movement in Tiananmen Square, but just as China's younger population began embracing Western ideologies and commodities. This entertaining romp through her five-plus years in Beijing details her life as a PR consultant-and as the star of the wildly popular Chinese nighttime television drama Foreign Babes in Beijing. After getting the gig on a lark, DeWoskin became known, sometimes even in her real life, as the character Jiexi, an American who falls in love with a married Chinese man, in the 20-episode drama, which aired to an estimated 600 million viewers. Her memoir weaves humorous tales of Sino-U.S. culture clashes both on and off the set with astute observations of the two cultures, as well as a significant amount of Chinese history. Though she admits frequently to being homesick for New York, DeWoskin feels for the loss of more traditional Chinese culture: "Consumerism became a religion; companies arrived like missionaries... seducing the average Zhou Schmoe with products he had never known he needed." The book offers a generous helping of Chinese words (along with their English translations and insights into the young people's "Chinglish"), as well as Lost in Translation-esque glimmers of the differences between the Chinese and American acting worlds. Agent, Jill Grinberg. (May) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Expat TV star takes readers on a tour through a China in transition. When dyed-in-the wool Sinophile DeWoskin graduated from Columbia University, she headed to China and took a job in public relations. But before long she landed the leading role in what became China's hottest soap opera, whose name in English gives this memoir its title. The author lived in Beijing for the last half of the 1990s, when China was changing. As evidenced by her hit show (which sounds like a combination of Friends and Dynasty), Western culture was encroaching. By the time DeWoskin left, there were no more donkey carts in downtown Beijing, and street vendors had given way to cafes at which trendy Chinese sipped lattes. Her co-workers believed that all Americans were fat, but during the author's years there the Chinese gained an unprecedented amount of weight and suddenly had an obesity crisis of their own. Both on the TV show and off, the Chinese all around DeWoskin wrestled with the institutions of daily life. Should marriage be based on love, or to please the family and the state? Should people dress in traditional garb, or opt for Timberlands and Levis? The author both chronicles and participates in this new Chinese revolution. The cast includes her delightful friends Anna, a hard-core expatriate, and Kate, a quirky, questioning Chinese woman. DeWoskin herself makes a charming, rather humble narrator, and her prose is as gripping as the content. Describing her attempt to understand rapid Chinese speech, she writes, "listening to people speak was like standing on my tiptoes and trying to catch their gists with a butterfly net." Neither straight reportage nor navel-gazing memoir, her account slips in historyhere and there, as well as an analysis of America's foreign policy. A babe's-eye view turns out to be surprisingly substantive.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393059021
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/9/2005
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.88 (w) x 8.56 (h) x 1.13 (d)

Meet the Author

Rachel DeWoskin
Rachel DeWoskin was a soap-opera star and a consultant in Beijing for five years. She now divides her time between New York City and Beijing, teaches poetry, and writes Chinese rap.

Good To Know

Some interesting outtakes from our interview with DeWoskin:

"I'm an unapologetic feminist."

"I spent my childhood summers on a farm in the Ozarks where my brothers Jake and Aaron and I collected tadpoles and cultivated them in a wading pool. Once, we left the wading pool in the sun during the ‘dangerous hours,' and the frogs boiled. We wept, and my mom stacked all three of us on her lap and explained that sometimes, scientific experiments require sacrifice."

"I love and can spend hours poring over family photographs, whether my own or those of total strangers."

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    1. Hometown:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      December 1, 1972
    2. Place of Birth:
      Kyoto, Japan
    1. Education:
      A.B., Columbia College, Columbia University, 1994; M.A., Boston University, 2000

Table of Contents

Author's Note 9
1 Drop Trou 17
2 As You Wish 39
3 Concubines 70
Interlude: Biographies of Model Babes One: Anna 102
4 Passion 122
Interlude: Biographies of Model Babes Two: Kate 156
5 Love Business 169
Interlude: Biographies of Model Babes Three: Zhao Jun 187
6 Embracing Foreign Babes 205
Interlude: Biographies of Model Babes Four: Zhou Wen 225
7 Model Workers 251
8 Two Balls 277
9 Power of the Powerless 306
Notes 327
Acknowledgments 331
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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions from the Publisher
1.How did being American shape Rachel's experiences in China? How might things have been different if she had been Asian, African, or European?

2. How do Rachel DeWoskin's experiences on-screen compare to those off-screen? What do you gain from the similarities and/or differences?

3. Why are the reactions to Jiexi so varied?

4. What are the different stereotypes/fantasies of what it means to be American, and what it means to be Chinese--particularly for women? How have these stereotypes/fantasies been shaped? How do the individuals in the book both contradict and exemplify these stereotypes? Are these stereotypes/fantasies positive in any way? Have they ever been an inspiration for you? Why might Anna want Rachel to meet Khalid in a restaurant that serves western food?

5. What is the role of the media in Foreign Babes in Beijing? How does entertainment play an increasingly important role in cultural discourse?

6. What does the author's attention to trying to understand and speak the Chinese language add to the story? If she didn't make this effort, what would be lost?

7. The individuals in Foreign Babes in Beijing have a complicated relationship with their respective countries of origin. How do you feel about your country of origin? Does your relationship to it alter when you leave it? How so?

8. What moments in the narrative were most familiar to you if you've ever travelled abroad?

9. What is good about being an "outsider"? What is bad about it?

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 7, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Foreign Babes a BUST

    When I travel, I like to bring a book with me that would be considered "light reading." I picked up FOREIGN BABES IN BEIJING because it was described as a "Sex and the City" set in China on the dust jacket. The author moves to Beijing to work in PR and suddenly finds herself on a Chinese soap opera called "Foreign Babes in Beijing." Sounds fun, right?

    As I started to read it on the airplane, I was suddenly transported back to my freshman foreign governments class in college. I wasn't expecting a dull history lesson on Chinese government, culture, and word definitions. I'm sure the information presented is fantastic...if that's what you're looking for. I, on the other hand, was looking for humorous stories and adventures in China, a la Chelsea Handler. I felt quite misled by the book's title, summary, praises, and photo on the dust jacket.

    After 50 pages in, I realized that the memoir wasn't going to be full of lighthearted humor and debauchery as I was led to believe. I gave up and said zài jiàn (goodbye) to Foreign Babes.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 17, 2007

    A reviewer

    The story of this American girl learning to adjust and cope in the China when China is at a momentous crossroads in its history. The growing pains of both the writer and the country offer us a comedy of manners and cultural mores. The sense of China's explosive growth and change is palatable. The author really makes you feel like China is the place to be, right now!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2006

    Hilarious book.

    Rachel is such a great writer. She takes the viewpoint of a western girl's chance opportunity to become famous in china-- on a soap opera. Her tales of love and relationships in china and how they differ from American culture are the true meaning of this book. This is about much more than the soap opera she was in. She learned a lot about herself and life in her China experience, and she portrays that beautifully to the reader. You really feel like you are right there with her through all the odd twists and turns that her life takes in the years she spent in Beijing. I really loved this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 5, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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