Reading event: Madeleine Thien and Alexandre Trudeau

Madeleine Thien, Do Not Say We Have Nothing and Alexandre Trudeau, Barbarian Lost: Travels in the New China

War Memorial Hall, University of Guelph, September 17 2016:

Technically, this was only a reading by Alexandre Trudeau, followed by a conversation with Madeleine Thien. I hadn’t read Trudeau’s book, but I went because I have an interest in the “new China” (and the old China too).

Trudeau certainly has the family charm, and read well, but he seemed to have trouble expressing himself clearly during the Q&A. I wasn’t sure how in-depth his analysis was, because what he said seemed to involve a lot of very broad generalizations. Was this because he comes from a background of making documentary films? Films have far less information density than books, and this is his first book. He might have been sticking to the equivalent of sound bites. I couldn’t even be sure how much ground he covered in his travels.

Still, there were several points I had to take away and mull over. Trudeau seemed to think that while there’s a growing environmental consciousness in China it’s still not very prevalent. Thien thought environmental politics there focuses mainly on specific issues like air quality and food safety. I thought this was a significant distinction. I also thought what Trudeau had to say about generational attitudes towards China’s calamitous history in the twentieth century (in brief, those who lived through it want to forget it) was interesting.

The president of the university introduced the speakers and then the dean of arts closed the proceedings. I didn’t see any point in them being there at all, and I wonder if they showed up just because, you know, Trudeau. And finally, there were too many applause breaks. You don’t have to clap every time someone stops speaking, people!

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