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

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

by Rachel DeWoskin


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“For a real insider’s look at life in modern China, readers should turn to Rachel DeWoskin.”—Sophie Beach, The Economist

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 onscreen, 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 sharp-eyed, yet sisterly, DeWoskin sitting in the driver’s seat”(Elle).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393328592
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 04/17/2006
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 1,321,755
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

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.


New York, New York

Date of Birth:

December 1, 1972

Place of Birth:

Kyoto, Japan


A.B., Columbia College, Columbia University, 1994; M.A., Boston University, 2000

Table of Contents

Author's Note9
1Drop Trou17
2As You Wish39
Interlude: Biographies of Model Babes One: Anna102
Interlude: Biographies of Model Babes Two: Kate156
5Love Business169
Interlude: Biographies of Model Babes Three: Zhao Jun187
6Embracing Foreign Babes205
Interlude: Biographies of Model Babes Four: Zhou Wen225
7Model Workers251
8Two Balls277
9Power of the Powerless306

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?

Customer Reviews

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Foreign Babes in Beijing: Behind the Scenes of a New China 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
eak321 More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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!
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
skinglist on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An interesting look at expat life in Beijing in the mid - late 90s. Young American college grad, ends up acting in a Chinese soap as she watches China evolve and grow.
Shiva on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Despite the fact that I am part Chinese, and I have lived in China(I am Canadian) for almost 3-4 years.., I don't recommend this book.If you have lived/worked in China extensively, you will know that most of what she says/talks about is only from the perspective from a super upper class white female in Beijing. I bought this book on a trip to HK because I was interested about more stories from Expats like us in China. True stories, down to earth, and from multiple perspectives. I want stories from people that have really gotten a feel of China and know what they are talking about. She didn't accomplish any of that. I was treated to a story of a upper class white female's wanna be attempt at a sex and the city in Beijing. If that was the point, fine, write me something saucy, spicy and exciting. But it wasn't. China memoirs from expats usually take the form of 4 stages. Random interest in China, difficulty fitting in/understand, finally getting a hang of things/having fun, the crash with something absolutely un-opposible in China, and reflection. She never passed stage 2. Even to the end of the book, this TV star only got as far as "I can understand how you feel", and "bitter sweet memories". I have the feeling that she never got passed her xenophobic feelings that immigrants feel when they move to another country. People like that never survives. In the end, her book showcases why a lot of people fails to understand about China. It also felt like a book about a girl trying to sow her oats in a country where nobody knew her so it won't come back to hunt her. If her father is who she says he is, I feel bad because she could have done better than this.I don't recommend this book, not even if you want to know how life is like in China. I would recommend it if you are trying to figure out what NOT to do in China. It's unrealistic, boring, and a bad attempt to capture the wave of recent interest in China.
nakedsushi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When I first saw the title of the book, Foreign Babes in Beijing, I didn¿t know what to expect. Its cover was racy but facetious. I was confused about the title. Was it implying local Chinese women weren¿t babes?The first few chapters cleared up the confusion. This non fiction book is about the author, Rachel, and her first few years as an expatriate in China. Foreign Babes in Beijing is actually the title of a Chinese soap opera she acted in.I had read and grown tired of the usual books I read about China. Mostly written by Chinese Americans, the stories they shared were good and usually touching, but after reading so many of them, they soon started melting together in my mind. Foreign Babes, written by a western hand offered a different perspective of China. Sometimes I identified with Rachel, since I¿ve lived in the US for most of my life, and sometimes I identified with the Chinese locals.Rachel¿s view of China shows Chinese perception of foreigners and their treatment of them. It¿s something that I had an inkling of, but not the full details. Each chapter contains an excerpt for the script from the soap opera. Some of them are amusing because of the Chinese stereotype of how foreign women are like.Foreign Babes in Beijing is an entertaining and eye-opening read and is a nice change of pace from the usual books on China written by Chinese Americans. It made me think about moving back there, but not living the typical expatriate life ¿ I¿d rather live like a local.
allison.sivak on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There is much interesting in this book, a chronicle of DeWoskin's years in China post-college-graduation, working for a PR company and as an American seductress in the soap opera, Foreign Babes in Beijing. DeWoskin went to China with some understanding of both language and culture, but even so, faced a substantial number of difficulties in living in Beijing. This was a quick and enjoyable read, with much interesting detail on the author's struggle to understand and be understood, to hook up utilities and learn to bargain, and to find a community of friends and lovers in a rapidly-changing city. DeWoskin's growing patriotism could be irritating; any sort of anti-American sentiments seemed to rouse her ire, with less reflection on what it means to be an American abroad. Interestingly, she seems to be more hesitant about any possibility to appear as an American stereotype (rich, rude, obnoxious) at the beginning of her time in China, and this comes through less during the course of the memoir. The difficulty of living in another culture appears to wear on her as time goes on. To her credit, she is an honest writer, and doesn't flinch when recounting events that she regrets. One of the most powerful moments in this memoir comes when one of the author's friends dies in a car accident, after leaving a party drunk, and post-confrontation with his ex-girlfriend (whom DeWoskin had introduced to him). DeWoskin describes her inability to see him in the hospital, and her (and her friend's) subsequent trips home to the United States (thereby missing their friend's funeral) in a manner that distills the experience of "foreignness" regardless of one's level of acculturation to a different country.
BudaBaby on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A recent graduate moves to Beijing for a job in public relations and takes a second job starring in a Chinese soap opera. Little did she know that she would be watched by tens of millions of viewers. One of the most hilarious expat memoirs I've ever read.
malthus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I thought the title and cover art for this fine memoir were misleading. DeWoskin is a keen observer of a certain slice of 1990's Beijing life. Her prose is clean and she has a good feel for telling a dramatic story.
ThatsFresh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I bought this book on a whim in the San Francisco airport on my way to Bali this past summer. I didn¿t start it until November, but my friend read it before me and spent every chance she got telling me all the funny parts in it and how interesting it was. When I finally got around to picking it up for myself, I was no less impressed. I actually had a bit of buyer¿s remorse after I first bought it, since I was afraid I had bought a click lit novel, but just as the quote says on the exterior, ¿there¿s wisdom inside.¿ Reading this book taught me so much about China that I never knew or even thought about before. I know a lot about Japanese culture, but I had never read anything about the Chinese lifestyle before and was amazed by all the interesting facts the author pointed out and all the awkward (and usually funny) situations she got in. I plan on moving to Japan sometime in the next 5 years, and I expect my life will be a lot like hers; living in a small apartment, struggling with the language and becoming culturally confused around every corner, just to leave in 3 or 4 years from the culture shock catching up to me.I gave this book 3 ½ stars because though there¿s not a lot of plot, you learn so much about China it¿s like you¿re reading a textbook sometimes, but it¿s all explained while being intertwined with the author¿s life, friends and daily struggles.
name99 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I guess the main thing I took away from this book was the ordinariness of life in Beijing for most people (or at least DeWoskin's friends). There certainly seems to be no climate of fear. There is grumbling of course, anger at the government, at foreigners, at poverty, but that's a human universal.Even the standard village-level political corruption one always hears about in China seems muted in Beijing (again, at least for her friends, maybe for the poor it is much more of an issue). The thing that struck me most about this book (reinforcing what has struck me reading other material) is that China is changing faster than both the US and Islamic countries. Yet it doesn't seem to be generating the political backlash one sees in these other countries. Why should this be so? One possibility is that the government clampdown, limits to what people can do and communicate with each other, prevents it, but this seems unlikely.Arab regimes appear to be more aggressive in this respect, although, of course, they may be less competent. The reason, I suspect, is the past, in particular the fairly recent Cultural Revolution, and that this has made people mistrustful of simple, sound-bite solutions to complicated problems, and basically more sensible and politically mature, more willing to accept imperfection and compromise. The question of interest, then, is how long till these lessons are forgotten?
allthesedarnbooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The description makes the book sound fascinating. But the writing is dry, boring, and skips from the narrator to her friends, leaving me wishing for a more linear storyline. Disappointing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago