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Podcast: Young Lives in New China

by Elizabeth C. Economy
October 5, 2016

young-lives-new-china A student gestures as she walks out of a school among other students after taking the final test of the national college entrance exams in Huaibei, Anhui province, June 8, 2014. (China Daily/Reuters)


On this week’s Asia Unbound podcast, Alec Ash, author of Wish Lanterns: Young Lives in New China, gives of glimpse of today’s China through the varied stories of its young adults. Ash beautifully profiles six of his Chinese peers born in the late 1980s and 90s—such as Fred, the patriotic daughter of an official, and Lucifer, an aspiring superstar—who are only children with no memories of Mao or Tiananmen. Ash describes a generation with lofty ambitions and the energy and confidence to shape their own destinies. Yet at the same time he finds their lives are also constrained by a kind of powerlessness. Their lives are circumscribed by what Ash calls China’s “brick wall”: the reality that they can only change their own futures as much as the system around them will allow. Though his subjects are not activists, they are not all apathetic; some remain deeply patriotic even as they are critical of the Chinese state, hoping for greater accountability and rule of law. Listen below to hear more about the lives of Ash’s characters, and find out why Chinese youths today are not simply optimistic, but feel entitled to a better future than any generation before them. At the end of the day, Ash’s subjects are just like any other twenty-year-olds, venturing forth into an uncertain world to realize and discover who they really are.

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