Sunday, September 23, 2018

Book Review: 'Dueling the Dragon: Adventures in Chinese Media and Education' by Abdiel LeRoy

‘There are a kind of people among whom beer is a social currency.’

The handsome actor/former journalist/religion correspondent/author Abdiel LeRoy is a British-American whose life is largely inspired by the Bible, Shakespeare, and the great epic poem, 'Paradise Lost'. As a poet Abdiel embraces giant tasks – the lives of Elijah, Obama, Bush, and Trump in his VERSES VERSUS EMPIRE series, as well as fascinating historical novels and culinary guides. He also has worked as a broadcaster, financial analyst, and market commentator, while his passions also include Argentine Tango, Yoga, and competitive swimming. His voice both as a narrator for dramatic readings and on stage is being recognized as a brave new presence in the politics of the globe.

From Abdiel’s Introduction we accept an invitation to tour China as a country and as a different world; ‘Looking back over these chronicles, I tingle with embarrassment sometimes — at my naivety, overreactions, and missed opportunities. I even wonder what readers will infer about my psychological makeup at the time! But rather than revise this book with the benefit of hindsight, I have favored giving voice to my former self as he was then. After all, Dueling the Dragon has its origins in a series of emails written to friends overseas, in which I was unfolding events more or less as they occurred. Nor have I seen a need to change anyone’s name in these accounts. I have also retained most of the original expletives, as they help to encapsulate my emotional responses at the time. I shun legalism in language as well as in life, and I am rather of Shakespeare’s view that “there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” 1 In any case, I trust readers will find the language less shocking than what it is responding to. I have witnessed universities complicit in honoring exam cheats, students sold into slavery while teachers pocket the proceeds, and farmers driven off their land by unscrupulous developers. My own direct experiences include false charges alleged by Beijing police, and persecution at China’s state-media institutions. And I have not made any of this up! Yet, from this nation of extremes, I also hope to offer some rays of light, including romantic encounters and moments of comedy. Which brings me to the central theme of the book — reflected in the title — that China is a nation of extreme contrasts. Though magical in all cultures, the Dragon is generally regarded as a benevolent being in China and as a malevolent one in the West. In my experience, the Chinese Dragon is fully both! Dueling the Dragon is really five books in one, each covering a distinct period. The first, Dispatches From Chengdu, starts in 2005 with my early days as a teacher in the western province of Sichuan, followed by Laments From Leshan, a nearby city in the same province. My third teaching assignment is described in Chidings From Changping, a city near Beijing. The fourth and fifth books, Briefings From Beijing and Perspectives From Peking, respectively, center around my experiences at Chinese state-media giants China Radio International, beginning in 2007, and China Central Television, 2 in 2015. It is perhaps too much to hope that my observations about China will be prescriptive, but at least I can offer the perspective of an outsider, and sometimes it takes an outsider to observe the obvious! In the end, if adventure stories contain both miracle and monster, friend and foe, then this book can justly claim to describe an adventure!’

An adventure, a memoir, and certainly one of the more entertaining books about China before us today. Read, laugh, gasp, and chuckle along with Abdiel as he offers us insights into the country that daily seems to be becoming America’s closest observed potential foe.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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