Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
ROCK PAPER TIGER READER’S GUIDE
Central to Rock Paper Tiger is the concept of the Surveillance State, in which one’s
every move is observed. In what ways does Ellie believe she is being watched? To what
extent are these beliefs rational? What are the different forms that surveillance takes?
What are the similarities and differences between the Chinese and Western surveillance
Throughout the novel, flashbacks are used to show Ellie’s past. How does Ellie’s
backstory illuminate what she’s going through in the present? How does her past
influence her decisions?
What impact does Ellie’s economic situation have on the story? How does this affect
her decision making? Similarly, how do the economic situations of Ellie’s mother and
Trey affect their decisions?
The American Suits who are after Ellie don’t work for the government but for a private
company that may be a front for government intelligence. The Chinese Suits who detain
her in Taiyuan take her to a “Black Jail,” an unofficial facility. Private contractors were
also involved in the interrogations Ellie witnessed in Iraq. What is the significance of this
blurring of lines between government and private authorities? What effect might this
blurring have on civil rights and civil society?
The China portrayed in Rock Paper Tiger contains many of the trappings of modern
Western capitalist democracies—shopping malls, fast food chains, consumer goods—and
yet political freedom is strictly regulated. What does this suggest about the relationship
between modern capitalism and democracy?
The chain restaurant concept was created in America to allow travelers to visit a place
that would be familiar no matter where they went. Ellie initially was happier in China
because it was so different from what she knew in the States and Iraq, yet she seeks out
things that are culturally familiar, such as Starbucks, whenever she is particularly
stressed. What does this suggest about Ellie’s psychological state?
What is the role of artists and art in a society where political freedom is limited? How
does Lao Zhang fit into an art scene where so many Chinese artists have found wealth
and popularity? What does art mean for “common” people like Ellie, who readily admits
that she doesn’t quite “get” the art that she sees?
Ellie’s odyssey through China takes her to many tourist destinations, including the
Great Wall and the fictionalized Daoist mountain, Changqing Shan. How does selling a
cultural or historical experience change it? How does this relate to the treatment of art
and artists in the novel?
Part of Ellie and Trey’s relationship is based on their religious faith. Trey keeps his
faith; Ellie loses hers. Why did two people with similar beliefs and wartime experiences
come to such different conclusions? How do you think Trey reconciled his faith with his
wartime actions? How did Ellie’s questioning of her old beliefs affect her decision
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Soho Press.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.
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