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Dreaming in Chinese: And Discovering What Makes a Billion People Tick [Hardcover]

Deborah Fallows
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 April 2010
Why can't the Chinese say "I love you"? Can you wear pyjamas on the streets of Shanghai? Why is it so difficult to hear Chinese tones? <P>In this charming, original book, Harvard linguist Deborah Fallows provides the answers to these puzzles and many more, based on her experiences of three years living and travelling in China. <P>Using her own struggles and triumphs with the study of Mandarin as a guide, Fallows manages to describe the workings of the language in a way that is intelligible to the non-expert; and her anecdotes and stories illustrate how Westerners do have to think in a fundamentally different way to survive in China. <P>This is a book to appeal to anyone with an interest in China, be they first time tourists, seasoned business people, or even the idly curious. Accessible, revelatory and entertaining, it will help you discover this extraordinary nation for yourself.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Short Books Ltd (1 April 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1906021554
  • ISBN-13: 978-1906021559
  • Product Dimensions: 18.6 x 13.6 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 192,315 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


"In Dreaming in Chinese, Deb Fallows opens up a window onto Chinese urban life through its notoriously difficult language. A charming and insightful book." Susan Shirk, author of China: Fragile Superpower

About the Author

Deborah Fallows has lived in Shanghai and Beijing and travelled throughout China with her husband, the writer and journalist James Fallows. She is a Harvard graduate and has a PhD in Linguistics, and is author of A Mother's Work (Houghton Mifflin). When in the US, she and her husband live in Washington DC. They have two sons. <BR>

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars sad 23 Jun 2011
Short review: shallow and disrespectful

This book is a real disappointment. It is stated that the author has a Ph.D in Linguistics and from this you could have hoped for some good reflections and analysis. At least that was what I expected when I bought the book. Sadly, the book is a collection of erroneous statements and what appear to be random recollections of her time in China. Her reflections seldom go beyond the most obvious.

Time and time over she conveys her ignorance and lack of cultural understanding. The highlight of disrespectfulness: It took two years in China before the author understood that Chinese people care about each other (the chapter about the earthquake).

She claims that since Chinese characters are written with uniform spacing reading Chinese is as awkward as reading English with no spacing between words. She admits that she cannot read and write Chinese. I do, I can assure that her statement is nonsense.

She suggest "..the Chinese should learn to imagine words without the proper tone". Since tones in Chinese in effect provide different sounds, finals (a part of a syllable that contains vocals) with different tones are as different as different vocals are to English speakers. Try this: Yas thut us I vyri geed adoa! ("Yes that is a very good idea").
Her lack of understanding of Chinese characters and the importance of these as an important cultural heritage is remarkable. In this context she characterize the "deconstruction" (yes, "deconstruction" in the meaning of understanding a character) of characters as "complete madness". And this is even though she does not read or write these characters. Madness, - I will not comment her statement.

There are plenty of other issues I could mention. However, I believe the examples above give you an understanding of the qualities of the book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars insight to chinese 1 July 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Enjoyed the book well written light and amusing. BEWARE. author has another book listed on Amazon which by inference is list as "a peolple who bought this also bought" Its the SAME book with slight title modification. Save your money
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dreaming away... 1 Feb 2011
Part linguistic anecdote, part travel writing, Deborah Fallows documents a few insights into the Chinese, their culture and their fascinating language. I am now better for knowing why he/she causes immense problems for the Chinese, who the Laobaixing are, some tried and tested learning techniques for the asailing Chinese learner, the evolution of Hanzi (Chinese characters) and some of the well-worn characteristics of the people. For a brief read it was well worth delving into but was underwhelmed by some of the sociological insights. There are masses of literature about the changing makeup of China, and it would have done well to draw from that.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An encouraging read 11 Aug 2010
This is an excellent book to read if you're attempting to learn Chinese. It's a great relief to find that someone who is an experienced linquist has encountered exactly the same problems that you're struggling with. Reading the book is a strange mixture of recognition - yes, I also fail at distinguishing tones - and new information which gives a glimpse of a land that most of us are unlikely to be able to visit in person. Each chapter uses a word or language concept as a starting point to explore a particular section of Chinese life. These are usually entertaining as the author has sudden breakthroughs which seem obvious in retrospect, but they can also be touching, particularly in the chapter concerning the earthquake of May 2008.

I have a couple of criticisms, the first being a backhanded compliment in that it seemed too short for me; I could easily have read a book twice the length. And the second that it's unlikely to be such an interesting read for people with no knowledge of Chinese.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining 31 Dec 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The book gives you a great insight in Chinese culture through anecdotes related to the Chinese language. Very interesting and entertaining.
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Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Well written, informative and entertaining. Helps you remember Chinese characters and grammar. Could be a little more content to cover a vast subject..
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A breif but accurate snapshot of Chinese people today
This is a quick, light read - do not expect a learned dissertation on the language or Chines sociology.
That said, I found the author's experiences and observations accurate. Read more
Published on 30 Nov 2011 by davidal888
2.0 out of 5 stars sad
Short review: shallow and disrespectful

This book is a real disappointment. It is stated that the author has a Ph. Read more
Published on 23 Jun 2011 by Mandarin Student
5.0 out of 5 stars Deborah Fallows is eXpAt-tAcULar
Deborah Fallows' diary/dictionary Dreaming in Chinese is the latest "must-read" book for expat students learning Chinese. Read more
Published on 7 Jun 2011 by Xiamen Expat
4.0 out of 5 stars Really For Those Who Haven't Been ...
As someone who has spent some time in China (a total of fourteen months, including an eleven month stint), many of Debbie's experiences certainly ring true, and are in no way... Read more
Published on 11 Mar 2011 by Harry J
5.0 out of 5 stars A great, and very readable, introduction to Chinese language and...
I'm currently studying Chinese with the OU and enjoying it immensely. I've been reading quite a few books on China but this is one of my favourites because it's written by a... Read more
Published on 27 Aug 2010 by J. Baldwin
5.0 out of 5 stars Un put down able
This is a fantastic read providing a real glimpse of china at so many levels. If you are learning Chinese it's an absolute ESSENTIAL tool to calm you and give you some meaningful... Read more
Published on 20 Aug 2010 by John Broaders
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