The Common Reading committee has announced its choice for the 2010-2011 school year. During the summer, all incoming Elon students will be required to read “China Road” by Rob Gifford, former correspondent in China and now chief of National Public Radio’s London Bureau.
The committee said a speech given by director of the Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations Orville Schell last September inspired its decision.
In his address, Schell told audience members, “China is coming closer and will move larger and larger with each passing year. Whatever field of endeavor you happen to be in, you will find China playing a larger and larger role in your life.”
The committee said it believes it is essential that students begin to learn about China from first-hand reading, rather than from second-hand sources. Members of the deciding board emphasized China’s role as a growing world power that will likely be a part of many students’ future careers and endeavors.
“China Road” is an account of a journey Gifford took from the beginning of China’s Route 312, likened to the United States’ old Route 66, to the end of the road, traversing the Gobi desert and joining up with the famous Silk Road.
From Shanghai to the border of Kazakhstan, Gifford meets with every facet of Chinese life — from peasants, businesspeople, Tibetan monks and everyone in between. In the text, he examines their role in the new economic superpower that is China.
Gifford uncovers the cracks in the walls of China’s global image along the way and some urgent issues in middle China, far away from the major cities.
Janet Warman, chair of the Common Reading Committee, said committee members want to choose a book that will help new freshmen broaden their perspectives on atypical cultures, ideas and people.
“We always look for a book that will be accessible to incoming students, as well as one that will challenge their assumptions and give them greater insight,” Warman said.
She said Schell’s statements about China’s quick rise to power and its future as the United States’ best friend or worst enemy influenced the committee’s choice.
“It is important for us to understand its culture and its role in the world today as it evolves,” Warman said.
China’s gross domestic product is the second largest in the world in terms of purchasing power parity, at more than $7.5 trillion United States.
The GDP is growing at 9.1 percent as of 2008, and they are not experiencing the kinds of inflation that other developed nations are currently struggling to keep at bay.
Warman said she hopes that by reading “China Road,” students will be able to both appreciate and look beyond the economic aspect of Chinese society.
“I hope they will come to value the history and culture of China and develop an even greater sense of curiosity to know more,” she said.
The committee takes nominations for the common reading in November or December and narrows the contenders down to three or four selections during the spring semester. During the summer, the committee reads the remaining books and makes the final selection in October or November for the upcoming year.