Book Review: Finding Leisure in China by Dr. Geoffrey Godbey and Dr. Song Rui

By Georgia Clare
Leeds Beckett University


Finding Leisure in China seeks to understand how and why leisure should fit in to everyday Chinese life and the obstacles that need to be tackled for it to do so. It is co-written by Dr. Geoffrey Godbey, an American business consultant and leisure professor with twenty years of experience in China, and Dr. Song Rui who grew up in China and now works as Director of the Tourism Research Center. From their combined accounts we obtain a Westernised perception, albeit with deep insight of the Chinese culture, along with an authentic Chinese explanation and context. Together they provide a profound understanding of the issues surrounding leisure in China and an alternative scope for broadened discussion.

Godbey and Song address a wide spectrum of issues concerning leisure in China, from cultural and socio-economic factors to the importance of leisure for quality of life. These matters include the historical and political past of China and the effects of a Confucian leader; along with the cultural and social traditions that Chinese hold and which should be considered to preserve the culture, perhaps through leisure, even if not comprehendible to a western view. Song emphasises that a consequence of the rapid economic revolution means that the poverty gap is widening between the rich and poor, an issue to be tackled in itself, as well as the need to produce a leisure lifestyle that is accessible to all. One of the key challenges highlighted throughout the book is that of work/life balance and how so much of this needs to be centralised around leisure through harmony with nature, something that is essential to the Chinese way of life. Godbey stresses if this desire for the Chinese culture, let alone nature, is to flourish, China has leaps to make in addressing new sustainable policies to tackle pollution, urbanisation and an aging population and that now is the time to change. Although these points could have been recognised in greater depth, along with China’s need for tourism and hospitality, Song does refer to the many proposals that have been put in place by the Chinese government and their need for public provision to carry these through. Throughout the book, both authors touch on how leisure can help the Chinese improve their quality of life through an understanding of the self and others and, in doing so, progress globally alongside their peers.

Finding Leisure in China gives an American account of China, building an outside perspective, rather than a subjective study of itself; this method is instructive to help China understand how they are regarded and draw insights for future consideration. Godbey opens each chapter with enjoyable, personal anecdotes and observations from his time in China to bring a westernised understanding of his experiences and the Chinese spirit. He continues to expand on western methods and views, whilst appealing to Chinese life and arguing the benefits and obstacles which may arise when applied to China. Godbey’s longstanding relationship with China provides an informed, eloquent and firm assessment of the issues the country faces. Song then reflects frankly on these points, to rationalise and clarify a Chinese standpoint and acknowledge the contrast of views and any research needed to make them comparable. Song also includes examples of studies from prospering countries to consider wider viewpoints and their adaptability to the Chinese culture. While some points emerge as a little repetitive, this provides an overall picture with in depth explanations and theories from a range of perspectives, as well as acknowledging the problems that arise from a cross-cultural comparison of views. The combined writing styles result in a thoughtful, insightful and interesting read which brings an entirely new perception to anyone reading – resulting in a far deeper understanding of what is needed for China to progress, than could be achieved by merely one author.

The book is divided into eleven chapters with Godbey giving his account first, and then Song responding. It opens with Godbey pondering what is worth doing with free time and showing how this change is needed in China – socially, globally and environmentally. The next two chapters go on to explain Chinese traditions and culture by demonstrating social differences between China and the US and depicting the Chinese cultural influences of Taoism and Confucianism through its historical and political reigns. The third chapter discusses what this now means for cultural attitudes towards work/life balance and what is needed to shift this. Chapter four seeks to define leisure suitably for China and to understand the broad spectrum of activities this entails; this includes looking at how to measure leisure activities, as well as motivations. The next three chapters pursue examples of countries with thriving leisure models and what organisations are involved to make this succeed. Godbey and Song then build on these roles and look to understand what is needed from the government to improve quality of life; They continue by considering how this may increase tourism and how new concepts can be filtered down through education and the community to help China develop with their values at the forefront of the reform. The penultimate three chapters aim to draw attention to the issues of environmental safety and the urgent actions that need to be undertaken, including address social spaces, crowding, transport, pollution and major sustainability issues. The final chapter paints an idealistic vision of China in the future with many of these issues resolved or improving, whilst also reminding us of the daunting task that is changing the habits of an ancient culture.

The book is written for both the general public and academia and it succeeds in presenting us with an original, insightful narrative, whilst providing a critical and honest account of China’s current position with respect to improving everyday life. The experiences and practical thoughts which are presented make this book would an excellent choice to bring forward a discussion of current issues, amongst the public, academia and policy makers, to find the best route for China to move forward. Finding Leisure in China highlights the significant benefits leisure could have for China and some of the great difficulties that need to be overcome to achieve these benefits, whilst taking practical steps towards this by seeking out successful theoretical and existing models. Not only does it give a wider understanding of China with a unique view of its cultural practices, but enables us to reflect on ourselves, learning from the separate accounts of China it presents. Ultimately, this book produces fruitful discussion in helping China find successful models of leisure to carry out with their traditions at heart.

Other news