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China's Millennials: The Want Generation

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In 1989, students marched on Tiananmen Square demanding democratic reform. The Communist Party responded with a massacre, but it was jolted into restructuring the economy and overhauling the education of its young citizens. A generation later, Chinese youth are a world apart from those who converged at Tiananmen. Brought up with lofty expectations, they’ve been accustomed to unprecedented opportunities on the back of China’s economic boom. But today, China’s growth is slowing and its demographics rapidly shifting, with the boom years giving way to a painful hangover.

Immersed in this transition, Eric Fish, a millennial himself, profiles youth from around the country and how they are navigating the education system, the workplace, divisive social issues, and a resurgence in activism. Based on interviews with scholars, journalists, and hundreds of young Chinese, his engrossing book challenges the idea that today’s youth have been pacified by material comforts and nationalism. Following rural Henan students struggling to get into college, a computer prodigy who sparked a nationwide patriotic uproar, and young social activists grappling with authorities, Fish deftly captures youthful struggle, disillusionment, and rebellion in a system that is scrambling to keep them in line—and, increasingly, scrambling to adapt when its youth refuse to conform.

268 pages, Kindle Edition

First published June 4, 2015

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About the author

Eric Fish

7 books8 followers
Eric Fish is a writer focusing on Chinese youth, politics, education, and social issues. From 2007 to 2014, he was based in China where he worked for the Economic Observer and contributed to outlets including The Atlantic, Foreign Policy, The Diplomat, and The Telegraph, among others. He is author of the book China’s Millennials: The Want Generation.

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Displaying 1 - 10 of 10 reviews
Profile Image for jianinz.
1 review
November 16, 2015
I came from pre-89 Tiananmen Square time. a native Chinese living in Sweden, for the past few years i have been trying to understand how people from all over the world think about China regardless good or bad, but just the truth. In mid 2015 i started listening Sinica podcast where they discussed about current affairs in China on the weekly basis. This is how i was introduced to Mr Fish's book.
This really is a great book, every chapter that i read i feel so close to it, because i have been through each step myself. It started out from student life and went all the way to their work, naturally discussed about faith, rebellion, lost of this youth group. It not only provides you the insights of China's youth, but also gives you some space to image how this generation would make an impact in the China's political economical future.
One has to dedicate himself to interview and collect all these stories to make it happen. Mr Fish did a great job! If you ever wonder how this youth generation think and behave, wonder how this youth's life was affected by Chinese way of education etc this would be your great choice!
Profile Image for hazel.
10 reviews
August 21, 2021
fairly easy read + did feel a little disjointed at times. i found the sections on religious activity (particularly conversion to christianity amongst chinese youth) interesting; probably will read more about state-churches at some point. this is really a book about han chinese youth; no mention about how ethnic minority youth experiences differ
Profile Image for Anna.
Author 3 books25 followers
March 21, 2018
Really interesting, thorough reporting on the young adults of China. Fish does a great job of encompassing the country's many complexities and the signs of both progress and great difficulty. Much of what he said fleshed out the personal story of a young Chinese woman who guided my family's tour to the Great Wall last summer.

As Fish describes, young adults like her -- from rural areas -- face many disadvantages in the city and often must live far away from family (she had left behind a husband and young daughter back at home). Fish's reporting also gave more context to an interesting moment of cultural difference, when I persuaded my parents to take a paid cable car up to the top of the wall, though they and I paid separately.

My guide was astonished when this happened -- that my parents did not pay for me themselves (though I'm almost 40) -- but Fish's depiction of family relationships and expectations around money gave greater context for the cultural values my guide probably held. Really interesting book.

The one place where Fish seems somewhat unable to fully reckon with what he observes comes in the chapter on religion. Though Fish acknowledges that Christians in a house church he visits show emotion in a manner unlike anything he's seen in China, he largely shrugs this moment off. Nor does he seem to have a sense of what would entail a more coherent alternative to both the Christianity he can't accept and the communism whose spiritual and moral weaknesses he describes. At the same time, he gives little detail on any other faiths to which young Chinese turn, and how the experience of Chinese Buddhists compares to that of Chinese Christians. The primary account of Buddhism comes in the story of a young actress from a rural area.

Despite the questions this section raises, Fish takes a pretty evenhanded approach to communism, describing its complex dynamics rather than just delivering conclusions to his reader. Overall, a very nuanced, intriguing account of this country.
Profile Image for Joe.
378 reviews15 followers
January 22, 2019
Better than just a collection of articles on Chinese Millennials, but that's mostly what it really is.

The author has good perspective on what their education and early careers have been like. He shows their ambivalence towards their government: e.g., they seem to be proud of China and its history in some places, but he also shows a survey where 85% of them said they'd rather have been born in Taiwan, Hong Kong, or Japan.

It's a good book for (1) people who do not know a lot about China (since the author provides plenty of historical context) and (2) people like me who read maybe one book on China each year, since it helped me tie together some themes I've encountered in Chinese history. (e.g., the Taiping Civil War and the civil service examination).

The book also has good citations to support it and show the reader where to go next. After reading the chapter about Chinese education, I'm looking forward to checking out "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon?"
385 reviews1 follower
April 24, 2018
This book really helped me when working with Chinese students. It gave me a little background on where students were coming from. I know cheating is an issue with students when they come to the US and this book helped me understand why it's not a big issue in the student's eyes. I will help me understand some of the cultural differences between students.
Profile Image for Joseph.
71 reviews5 followers
September 27, 2015
Smoothly written, this book is a pleasure to read. Although it specifically focuses on a particular generation of youth in China, it also serves to more broadly introduce the reader to several different aspects of Chinese society.

I have been studying China for several years, and I learned a lot of new things from reading this book. That is a hard benchmark to beat, because so many 'China books' contain the same information. Nonetheless, if you have never read a single thing about China in your life, this book is totally digestible. It doesn't assume that you have a college degree focused on East Asian Studies.
449 reviews2 followers
April 18, 2018
I enjoyed this book because it helped me better understand life in modern-day China for young people. It was also interesting to read about, this time from a different angle, many Chinese social situations I had read about and discussed before. I'm looking forward to reading more from Eric Fish in the future -- as well as hearing from him on various podcasts that I listen to!

二零一八年: 第九本书
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