Star of the popular Chinese television show “Foreign Babes in Beijing,” Rachel DeWoskin boldly attempts to present the cultural allegory that’s embedded in the series in her first novel of the same title. Uh, that’s a troubling, sticky gray area if there ever was one.
DeWoskin’s memoirs of her experiences while acting in “Foreign Babes in Beijing,” a Chinese show rife with cultural stereotypes, lacks the focus and general reserve necessary to provide a well-assessed cultural critique of the world’s oldest continuous civilization. The author’s work demands credibility as a source to understand China’s modernization in the early ’90s, but it contains too many personal biases and blatant ignorance to warrant this authority.
The novel is a detailed chronicle of DeWoskin’s trip to China, not just her experiences in playing the role of Jie Xi in the series. Her television persona is a promiscuous American woman who threatens the marriage of a Chinese couple and its cultural foundations. Surprise, surprise: she’s not happy with it. Utilizing the series as a microcosm of China’s growing relationship to “Western” values is clever, but after she finishes filming the television series, her memoir meanders and fails to depict an outsider’s invaluable insights into Chinese culture.
The worst part of the novel are the interjections of Chinese. Sometimes their use captures connotations that cannot be conveyed in a single English word. But how does “Jin Lai,” roughly translated as “come in,” portray the ineffability of the Chinese language? That’s not cultural curiosity — it’s a lazy way of pushing a foreign culture away. The book is loaded with anecdotal information doused in damaging apathy.
“Foreign Babes in Beijing” reinforces the common apprehensiveness that often characterizes America’s attitude toward a non-European way of life. The book contains DeWoskin’s perceptions of how the Chinese stereotype Americans, and her own biases of the Chinese. DeWoskin also addresses issues that often are commonly used to delineate China, such as suppressed individualism and anti-American sentiment. But she hasn’t won the reader over at this point, and pontificating on a 5,000-year-old culture just makes everyone feel stupid.
Rating: 1 out of 5 stars