Magazine February 22, 2010, Issue

Second Childhood

The Chinese Lunar New Year Parade in the Chinatown section of New York, February 25, 2007 (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

‘All those years we thought we were building Com­mu­nism! Actually they’ve built Communism right here in the U.S.A.!”

This gets the biggest laugh of the evening. All seven of us in the room laugh, including me, the only non-Chinese. Somebody quotes one of Chairman Mao’s tremendous Thoughts, “We should pay close attention to the well-being of the masses,” to more merriment. This is not really cynicism, just amused acknowledgment of the strange, unpredictable way nations have evolved in the lifetimes of us fifty- and sixtysomethings. Of contradictions, the Chairman would have said.

We are discussing the extravagant welfare benefits on offer to

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