Review: Voices of New China
by +C.J. Shane
This book is a series of interviews with young Chinese people from various backgrounds, about themselves and their country. CJ Shane helps the reader understand the hopes, dreams, and beliefs of Chinese people. The book is a continuation of the work she did with her Yingwen Teach
project, a cross-cultural education project that sent Americans to China, to teach English and learn about Chinese culture.
The first third of the book is all about context. It is a brief overview of Chinese history, focussing mostly on the dramatic events of the 20th Century which still reverberate in the memories of the current generation. There is also a chapter which introduces the reader to the ways in which Chinese culture differs from Western culture. The book stresses the danger of assuming that "we are all basically the same", without examining the way history has shaped us.
The rest of the book is a series of interviews with young people, aged between 18 - 35. Some are educated university students from relatively wealthy backgrounds. Some are poor workers who have only had a few years of primary school. Each interview teases out touching insights and shows a unique and intimate portrait of an individual, their opinions, their sense of humour, their wistful dreams.
There are many beautiful moments. For example, when a young mother asks the interviewer to give her little son an English name, and is charmed with the resulting suggestion. Some moments are sad -- for example a young man who works for the government, but is a poet and philosopher at heart. He is one of the few who expresses quite outspoken against the Chinese government, but is torn between his dream of being a successful poet, and the reality of having to survive as a business man.
Another interview reveals the struggle of a young woman who has to choose between pursuing her dream of studying further, or having a child. The interview seems to create a space for her to face the choice she has to make.
Many bitter-sweet moments. I was struck by how many of those interviewed worried about the environmental problems that China faces today. People mention never seeing the blue sky, or stars. Or lament the cutting down of forests near their home.Voices of New China
offers a glimpse of China as seen through the eyes of young Chinese people. An antidote to the version we see in Western media.