A Chinese Novelist's Perspective on China's Young

The novel narrates the vicissitudes of two stepbrothers in the times spanning the ravaging Cultural Revolution right up to the present soulless Consumerist Age. Having already sold millions of copies in China, it has been translated into English and French, and the English edition will soon hit the bookstores.

“The reasons for the novel’s commercial success seem clear. It invokes the widely experienced violence and suffering of the Cultural Revolution while also drawing on another resonant theme in China: the outlandish lifestyles of the rich and famous, especially nouveau-riche entrepreneurs like Li. Li represents the country’s new cultural icons, whose large appetites for money, women and cars keep the innumerable Chinese bloggers and Internet chat rooms transfixed with both admiration and revulsion.”

While the author sees his work as a moral and social critique of China’s evolution, he has been feeling the anguish of having to deal with venomous and scathing attacks on his book. He believes his critics are typically “China’s new nationalists” who are “too young to have any memory of their country’s previous traumas but obsessed with boosting China’s image as a rising power vis a vis the West”.

As Yu himself put it: “Younger writers don’t like to see books that reveal the dark side of China; they live very comfortable lives; they don’t believe in the dark side of China; they are not even aware of the hundreds of millions of people still living in extreme poverty.”

Later on in the interview, Yu spoke of a threat to artistic expression in China newer than state control. “I am really worried about the new nationalism,” he said. “Anything slightly critical of China appears in foreign media, and the nationalists are swarming online, attacking it. I tell these angry youth that The New York Times doesn’t criticize China as much as it criticizes America. Basically they are ignorant. They think the American media is always praising American presidents. The problem is that the younger generation hasn’t lived through poverty, collectivism; it is lacking in restraint, its references are very few, the experience is so limited.”

Yu’s worries about China’s future are embodied in these last comments:

“These young nationalists have no sense of ambivalence, no idea of life’s ambiguities. But when times are hard, their attitude will change, become more mature, and because capitalism in this form cannot go on in China, it has to end, those hard times will come soon.”

Related readings:-

Chinese Youth Need Own Group Belief (May 7, 2008)

China’s Sea Turtles (August 25, 2008)