Life in China: Living the Big Changes
(Page 2 of 9)
That would be enough reversals of fortune to constitute a life of ups and downs, but in the years since, she has continued on a protean course. By turns, Ms. Liu spent a year in central Europe as a visiting scholar, worked as a nanny in California for about the same amount of time, and lived for a time primarily on what she made as a day-trader on Shanghai’s new stock exchange. She’d once assumed she’d always live in an apartment owned by her work unit, but the last time I saw her, she was the proud owner of a flat on the outskirts of Shanghai. The shifts in her beliefs, ideological and spiritual, also mark changes of the sort that we in the West might expect to see over the course of generations rather than of one life. And her child’s life—like many of her generation, she has just one—has matched hers in its unpredictability. Her daughter studied in New Zealand and then worked in jobs that did not exist in China before the 1990s, often employed in the marketing divisions of international companies that until recently never expected to be making money selling their products in China.
Not all of the life stories that go to make up this book have much in common with Ms. Liu’s or her daughter’s when it comes to the details, but they all involve surprising transformations of individuals and communities. The stories in this book remind us that China is now a place where identities can be taken on and shed with surprising ease, in ways that can be exciting or exhausting, traumatic or confusing, or, in many cases, all of those things at once.
The China revealed by the characters in this volume is a place where lives can suddenly be turned inside out as opportunities are seized or squandered, and change is by turns liberating and unsettling. The writing on contemporary China that appeals to me most is the kind that conveys the complexity of these transformations from the perspectives of those who live them. The essays of the journalists and scholars represented here are the kinds of pieces I love to read—and now can claim to love to help edit as well—for all beg a common question of their characters: “Who will they be next?”
These individuals are nothing if not varied. After spending time in their company, even readers who have never experienced China’s human diversity firsthand should find themselves pausing whenever they come across statements that generalize about how “the Chinese” feel about a given issue…
The First “New” China and Its Political Leaders
In this book, Harriet Evans introduces us to Old Lady Gao, the most senior of our Chinese Characters. In many regards, the country in which she drew her first breath in the early 1920s was a very different place from today’s China. There was no People’s Republic of China then—until the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took control of the mainland in 1949, neither that name nor the acronym PRC existed. Gao was born in the Republic of China (ROC).
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