Beyond Baywatch

My earliest encounter with America was through a column titled "Communism is Good, Capitalism is Bad" in the Young Pioneers Weekly, a newspaper I read avidly from age 7 to 12. The column ran two stories side by side, one taking place in China and one in America, with similar scenarios: an old man getting sick, say, or a flood devouring a town. The Chinese tales ended happily, as fairy tales do; the American ones showed a renjian diyu, a hell in real life.

Before I left China for the U.S. in 1996, at age 24, my sister...

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