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Friday, 28 June, 2002, 13:02 GMT 14:02 UK
Chinese forced to help themselves
Busy street, Shanghai
Shanghai has seen enormous change in the last decade

China is seeing a boom in the number of self-help books, avidly read by people anxious to get a hold on their fast-changing society.

One of the most popular has been the American bestseller Who Moved my Cheese, the parable of two mice and two humans in a maze and how they respond when their cheese supply disappears.

It has even been made into a play in Shanghai - an ideal place to witness the hectic pace of change in China.

A decade or two ago thousands of bicycles whirred and clanked up leafy city streets past upmarket but rather staid clothing shops.


The rumour mill has it that if you're given the book to read it means you're about to get fired

Liu Ping, theatrical producer
Now Starbucks looks out across the busy traffic towards a Haagen-Dazs ice cream parlour and a shopping mall on the other side. There are symbols perhaps of China's change from a highly structured society built around state-owned work units, towards an economy where people find their own way and make their own decisions.

But it is a transformation that piles on the pressure, says social psychologist Sang Biao.

"In China I think people, they don't like to think about themselves as not successful," he says. "For example one salesman, because he earn a little bit more than before, so he feels he feels he's a successful person."

Taken seriously

It is small wonder then that people are reaching out for books to help them cope with the changes, such as Who Moved My Cheese and also a plethora of home-grown books piggybacking off it.

McDonads
Urban Chinese are now part of the global economy
I go to my local bookshop to find someone who has read the American bestseller.

"My teacher has given me the book - I think it's very very popular - many of my friends read the book, and then my friends of friends and my other friends," says one customer. "Now I might read it again. I think it's very useful to me."

The theatre production of Who Moved My Cheese is currently playing in Shanghai's Salon Theatre, in the middle of town.

"This play's all about entertainment, even though in many enterprises the book is treated as something like a textbook," says the producer, Liu Ping.

"And to watch this play in itself requires courage because the rumour mill has it that if you're given the book to read it means you're about to get fired.

"This play is not about being made redundant, but it's about how to make your way and achieve better things in life."

'Too shallow'

In the play the humans are unable to adapt when their steady supply of nourishment dries up and cannot face the idea of going to look for new cheese, unlike the nimble mice.

"The two humans generally represent the older people who work in state owned enterprises and are wedded to the status quo while the mice are those who can adjust best to the market economy, generally the younger people," explains the theatre's director Gan Qingyuan.

After the actors take their final bows some in the audience say they like what they saw. One man says it was very good and everybody could find a character to identify with.

But not all are as enthusiastic. One woman says she preferred the book. She found the play too shallow.

But then I suppose you could say there are always going to be mixed views, especially about a play that is in a large part about people who are in denial.

See also:

31 May 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
12 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
20 Oct 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
18 Feb 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
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