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Wish Lanterns: Young Lives in New China Hardcover – 2 Jun 2016
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A provocative portrait of a fast-changing society riven by internal contradictions . . . a fine addition to the field, one of the best I have read about the individuals who make up a country that is all too often regarded as a monolith, but which abounds with diversity on multiple levels. Fluently written with nice touches of humour . . . this books supplies much food for thought, informing the wider debate while retaining its value as a closely observed picture of how some Chinese live today (Financial Times)
Wish Lanterns is a beautiful and thoughtful book about the life of young people in China. Alec Ash has succeeded in giving us an intimate and complex portrait of the one child policy generation. It skillfully documents their features, modes of life and dreams of the future. I enthusiastically recommend you to read it (Xiaolu Guo, author of I Am China)
Without listening to Young Chinese, you won't understand what today's China, the woke up dragon, wants to do next. Alec Ash's book has opened a window in the wall between China and the west for us to see the hopes and fears of these young Chinese who are struggling to build their lives in a world that their parents could never dream of (Xinran, author of The Good Women of China )
A gem of a book. Its brief chapters flow like a skillfully crafted set of interconnected short stories, yet all are rooted in the real life experiences of six individuals. An impressive debut book by a writer to watch, who makes the most of all he learned while spending his twenties coming of age in the same shapeshifting China as the half dozen Chinese youths whose varied passages to adulthood he chronicles so elegantly and empathetically. (Jeffrey Wasserstrom, author of China in the 21st Century)
In Wish Lanterns Alec Ash hangs out with China's "post-80s" generations to give us a series of fascinating and insightful snapshots of where the country might be heading. The Rat Tribes, Leftover Women, Ant Tribes and Bare Branches are all revealed as complex and conflicted, yet filled with hopes and dreams for their own, and their country's, future. (Paul French, author of Midnight in Peking)
Here is a completely novel take on contemporary China. Alec Ash embarks on a different sort of Chinese journey, following six Millennials from the nation's far-flung corners as they make their way to university, on stage, deep underground, and even abroad. The result is a work of heart-felt reportage, and also great suspense, as we wait to learn each character's fate. I couldn't put it down (Michael Meyer, author of In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China and The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed)
Through series of profiles of young Chinese from various walks of life and different geographic regions, Alec Ash has assembled a fascinating mosaic that gives us a wonderfully vivid sense of what it's like to grow up today in the People's Republic of China. By simply describing the lives of six youths, Wish Lanterns enables a reader to get an immediate feel of how contradictory life in this dynamic but still unresolved country often is (Orville Schell, Arthur Ross Director, Center on US-China Relations, Asia Society, New York City)
A wonderfully readable and engaging account of that most mysterious of all groups - Chinese millennials. Alec Ash weaves the joy, heartbreak, drama and trauma of this group through disparate stories, making up a highly realistic, and at times poetic, account of the people who are likely to have the greatest future impact of any one group in the world today. (Kerry Brown, Professor of China Studies, King's College London)
Compelling and beautifully written (Prospect)
At a time when the future of China is so important, it is surprising that so little is understood, outside the world of specialised studies, about the hopes and fears of those most likely to shape it: the roughly 200 million people in the People's Republic currently between the ages of 15 and 24. It is this conspicuous lacuna that Alec Ash's Wish Lanterns: Young Lives in New China seeks to fill. He does so by telling the stories of six young Chinese born between 1985 and 1990 from the time they entered the world practically up to the present day. His deft style, welcome restraint (he writes the lives of his subjects but does not comment on them or, with a couple of exceptions, appear himself) yet discreet sympathy for the travails of those who have plainly become close friends, make the stories more compelling than they might otherwise have been. Some idea of the predicament of China's young makes this book more valuable still (Standpoint)
An agenda-changing account of what it means to be young in modern China.See all Product description
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Alec’s Wish Lanterns explodes these stereotypes with aplomb. None of his six characters fit into the standard moulds. Each character is their own self. (Mia, the tatted fashionista; Snail, the internet addict; Dahai, the tunnel digger; Frederanz, the official’s daughter.) But each is relatable.
The book’s greatest selling point, then, is how it details the reality of growing up in China today. At a push, it also promises a glimpse at the future. Reading these stories, Alec implicitly argues, is to learn about where the country is headed. Cities like Beijing are bubbling cauldrons of subcultures and dreams. These tales give us a taste of what is beneath the surface.
Wish Lanterns also includes a dizzying array of Chinese culture. Most of this is the popular kind, rather than that stultified by diplomats. (All hail 5000 years of continuous history!) Chinese TV shows, musicians, slang (mostly filthy), and internet dating habits feature as much as exposition on political flag posts like Tiananmen, May Fourth and Occupy Central.
Alec's writing shtick is to remove himself entirely. The content, thus, skews towards the concrete and away from the abstract. As he explains, the thoughts and feelings detailed are limited to those his subjects express. I personally like a good bit of theorizing, and would have liked to hear more from his characters' on the big topics of the day.
The problems that plague Chinese youth -- like youth everywhere -- are mostly finding work and love. Asking about Tiananmen tends to beget a tepid response. But what about their views on more mundane challenges to China's future that fill WeChat feeds across the country every day?
Only those who spend their days tracking modern Chinese culture — or who are, in fact, Chinese — might echo this whinge. For everyone else, I recommend the book without reservation. And even if, like me, you prefer a heavy dose of analysis in your China writing, I'm sure you'll enjoy Wish Lanterns for its artistry alone.
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