Teaching China's Lost Generation: Foreign Experts in the People's Republic of China, Tani E. Barlow and Donald M. Lowe (China Books, 2929 24th St., San Francisco 94110: $9 . 95). Members of the generation already had their fair share of lessons by the time the authors traveled to China to begin teaching American literature and history. Born and educated as revolutionaries after the liberation of 1949, they were taught to follow a Soviet model of Socialist economic planning in which central authority and ideology were paramount. Then, when China's tiny industrial base made a Five-Year Plan impractical, they were taught to reject Communist Party bureaucrats and China's feudal past. When this brought on widespread disillusionment, older generations strengthened the ties of family, kin and traditional culture--just what Mao had been trying to prevent.
And now, we learn in these pages, young adults in China are reeling from this flux, feeling confused and powerless. But change is once again on the horizon, the authors report; in "an attempt to keep anomie from sinking into anarchy," young Chinese are integrating old and new, looking to the family for social cohesiveness and to the United States for clues about progress. The authors' students now have a "hunger for everything Western (and a need) to believe in America the beautiful."
Donald Lowe, a professor of history and Marxism at San Francisco State University and Tani Barlow, a postgraduate in modern Chinese history, paint a colorful and unusual, if simply written, portrait of students at Shanghai Teachers College who are trying to come to terms with America. While critical of Mao's excesses, the authors are somewhat wistful about the promise of the 1960s and wonder if, "in losing the clarity of their Maoist heritage, (the Chinese) have come to resemble us more." When some of the authors' students travel to America near the book's end, however, it becomes apparent that they are divided in opinion about the West's technological and material abundance: "The sense of freedom I get when I drive alone," one student says, "and the sense of hopeless fear when my car breaks down symbolize my feelings about America."
Screen Deco: A Celebration of High Style in Hollywood, Howard Mandelbaum and Eric Myers (St. Martin's Press Inc.: $15.95). These sleek, glossy white Art Deco and Art Moderne movie sets from the 1920s and '30s come across much as they were intended: alternately whimsical, grandiose, bizarre and comical. Yet as these authors show, there was more to these sets than met the art director's eye. Without engaging in the speculative excesses of many film historians intent on linking film with society, the authors of this unusual collection illustrate how set design revealed American visions of probable and ideal futures. The probable was usually pessimistic, as in Universal's "The Black Cat," which allied evil, symbolized by a Devil-worshiping Boris Karloff, with the cold, sharp, diagonal lines of modern architecture. The ideal, meanwhile, was usually controversial; when audiences realized that film allows one to truly create anew, "Shangri-La" in "Lost Horizon"--resembling a Hollywood star's home--seemed lacking in originality. It was a myth, though, to believe that these films were prescient in the first place, for the smoothly curved walls and neat, towering colonnades weren't premonitions of "Star Wars" but a singular minimalist style from which real visionaries couldn't stray.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, for instance, gave celebrated designer "Erte" a reproduction of his studio in France, French-speaking secretaries and a limousine--but no artistic freedom. The authors never explore how the minimalist style could have become so popular in an era when old money clung to Tudor, Spanish Revival, Colonial or Beaux Arts. They do suggest, however, that Art Deco captured new, exciting notions of power, energy and speed. And when the excitement of technology dissipated with the 1930s reality of Depression, "Hollywood," the authors write, "kept the Gotham myth alive" with movies glorifying skyscrapers even while suggesting that they encouraged indecency: The more modern the apartment, the authors write, the more adultery was committed.