Writing China: The Compromise of China’s Millennials

by  Te-Ping Chen/ 27 June 2016 / blogs.wsj.com

Like their counterparts elsewhere, millennials in China are a lightning rod. To some, those born after 1980 are members of a “strawberry generation,” coddled and easily bruised. To others, China’s millennials — who now make up nearly a third of the population — are rebels and aspirants struggling to make their way in the country’s new economy.

Six of them are the subject of Beijing writer Alec Ash’s book “Wish Lanterns: Young Lives in New China,” which traces the lives of a group of youth from around the country, from a boy addicted to online gaming to a hipster with entrepreneurial ambitions to an aspiring punk rocker who goes by the English name “Lucifer.”

Mr. Ash recently spoke with China Real Time about generational changes in China, politics among post-80s youth and what it means to be co-opted by the system. Here are some edited excerpts from the interview:

Among the six, was there any one storyline that particularly engaged you? If so, why?

As characters, I think the one who I appreciated the most was Mia. She comes from Xinjiang in China’s far west, is ethnically Han and quite tough, definitely the toughest female character in the book, who builds a career for herself in Beijing. There’s a moment near the end of the book when she goes to pray at a Tibetan Buddhist temple in Beijing. [And what she says is], “I promise I will work hard, make me stronger so I can achieve what I want to…I don’t know what I want but I really want it.” That really summed up the themes of the book for me.

How did that kind of desire play out for your characters?

One thing that ties them together as a generation is that a lot of [their aspirations] come up against a brick wall and they find they have to compromise on their dreams — as we all do as we get out of our 20s and into the 30s, but especially in China where there are so many forces working against individual ambitions.Read more…

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