Rising China and the Dashed American Dream: The Wangs vs. the World

“Every immigrant is the person he might have been and the person he is”

Charles Wang left China for the American dream and made it big. He’s been living it up ever since and he has the vain, empty, emotionally distant family to prove it. But now he’s lost everything in the financial crisis of 2008 and is taking his family on a road trip across the country to the home of his oldest daughter in New York state (who is recovering from her own fall from grace), where they can figure out their next step. No more mansion in Bel Air. No more privilege. No more fame or notoriety. It’s supposed to be a madcap, darkly comic road trip, but in the end it’s just tiresome and annoying.

There are a lot of things to be irritated by in The Wangs vs. the World, and chief among them would be the insanely self-involved and self-righteous characters. There’s also the crazy presumption that putting a globalist spin on the ‘unhappy family spirals out of control’ premise would make it feel fresh and new. Jade Chang seems to think that having the central family be Chinese-American (and including some incredibly boring passages about the Chinese economy) will make these pages sparkle with the luster of a diamond display in Tiffany’s. It doesn’t.

Oddly enough, what really made me roll my eyes and want to throw this book across the room was Chang’s repeated assertion that if only Charles had stayed in China, everything would have been fine. It’s meant to be the ultimate irony–that if he had stayed in China and been patient, his tide of fortune would have risen with China’s place in the world economy. Here’s the problem, though: in order for that to work, you have to assume that Charles’ presumption that America unfairly took his money away is true. And it’s not. He lost his money because he’s terrible at business. Yes, a perfect storm of circumstances heading into the financial crisis is what technically did the taking away of the money. But you can’t remove the fact that Charles made a bad business decision, doubled down on it (ignoring the advice of multiple advisors), then tripled down on it (not only ignoring more warning signs but putting his own fortune and home on the line this time). It wasn’t America that led to Charles’ financial ruin, it was his pride combined with his terrible business sense. The book even admits that he basically made his money in the first place without using business sense but by getting lucky. The first piece of that luck was that his ancestral home in China had access to a commodity the American market needed. He was never a smart businessman.

So why would things be any different had Charles remained in China? I don’t think they would have been any different at all, but Chang contorts the whole plotline to try to make you wonder “what if?”

There’s more to discuss about the plot itself and why it’s lazy and cliched, but I’m weary of this book and I think you get the point.

Grade: D


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