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The End of Cheap China, Revised and Updated: Economic and Cultural Trends That Will Disrupt the World by Shaun Rein

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CHAPTER 3STABILITY IS THE KEY TO HAPPINESS HOW CHINA’S GOVERNMENT THINKS AND WHY IT ACTS THE WAY IT DOES

The first time I met Lili Li one sweltering Beijing day in 2001, I was nervous. She was no longer the movie star and sex symbol who ruled the Chinese box office along with Ruan Lingyu and Butterfly Wu in the 1930s and 1940s. She was an elderly woman in her eighties, decades past her time in the limelight. I was excited to meet her because I had taught about her films when I was instructing undergraduates as a Harvard Teaching Fellow, but I was also nervous because she was about to become my grandmother-in-law, and I wanted to make a good first impression.

The Beijing traffic was terrible that day, as it is most days, and my fiancée, Jessica, and I were 2 hours late to our meeting with her grandmother. Not a way to make a good first impression, I thought. Neither were the streaks of sludge on the bottom of my khakis that must have wiped off from the car door as I got out.

I entered a sparsely decorated home and was led to the living room, where Lili Li waited for us. The only indications that we were in the home of a movie star were the dozens of oil paintings by famed painter Ai Zhongxin, Lili Li’s second husband, lining the walls. A copy of Ai’s famous revolutionary piece, depicting the torment of China’s countryside in the pre-Communist era, hung next to one detailing the tribulations of the Long March. My favorite was of a young Lili Li in her heyday as a movie actress, ...

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