Novelistic anecdotes reveal Chinese young people struggling with universal themes of education, employment, and love.
In alternating chapters, Beijing-based British journalist Ash (co-editor: While We're Here: China Stories from a Writers' Colony, 2016) pursues the mostly unglamorous, daily slogs of six young Chinese, born from 1985 to 1990, and how, as the single-child generation, they are making their ways in the new China. Initially, readers must work to remember which character is which, and some have English nicknames. There is art student Xiaoxiao, from the northernmost Heilongjiang province; academically gifted Fred, the daughter of Communist party apparatchiks in China’s far south island, Hainan; gaming addict Snail, from Anhui province; Dahai, from Wuhan, who was forced to study computer science and settled for a stable team-leader position building a tunnel under Beijing; Mia, a rebel who scored a stylist job at the Chinese edition of Harper’s Bazaar; and Lucifer, who scraped by at Peking University and only wanted to be a rock star. Each dreamed of the good life, undergoing the rigorous exams for university and attending college and then joining the massive work force as “just another worker ant.” Some, like Snail and Dahai, discovered power in venting on the internet (“reposting is power”). Lucifer found gratification in joining bands and screaming English lyrics, and Mia delved into the fashionista club scene. Forced to live frugally, Snail inhabited one of the tiny spaces in the basements of cheap apartment blocks on the outskirts of the city, living with other members of the underclass called the “rat tribe.” Fred, a graduate student in politics, did a year abroad at Cornell University; while she was intrigued by the American way, she was not tempted to stay. By their late 20s, all young people are expected to get married; a few of Ash’s subjects obliged, to enormous cost and fanfare by their delighted parents. Ultimately, the author eloquently delineates the dreams and disappointments of young Chinese.
Sensitive, fascinating reports.