More Great Student Journalism

Writers Workshop, my apt

If you’re unmarried at 27, you’re a “leftover lady” – Reese explores this ridiculous problem in the third and last batch of student final pieces, (the first batch here) presented aloud at my apt, over lunch. For a look at some parents’ alarmed, creative reaction to their kids potentially being leftover, we travel with Jolie (and in a related piece, Natalie) to Matchmaker’s Park, a well-done tale (she’s even recruited as good bride material). THose poor, anxious parents stand for hours with placards advertising their children to other anxious parents.

Jolie

Natalie

Lucia told the story of an NGO founded by China’s  leading, pioneering investigative journalist Wang Keqing, who sometimes teaches in this department, to help miners and other impoverished Chinese industrial workers with black lung disease. Some on staff were initially persecuted, for embarrassing the government. The NGO is one of few–it’s a new and uncertain area of China’s nascent, still-beleaguered civil society. Happily, it recently got on the government’s good side, and a few celebrities have lined up for a big fundraiser this month.

Aileen takes us on a journey through her feelings of patriotism and yet demand for information about her home that she loves,  China, on a trip into the troubled Tibetan area, Qinghai. She seeks to explore the unrest (while translating for a journalist from India), and must grapple with being accused by security forces, at every step, of being a traitor.

Aileen journeyed to Tibetan Qinghai

Susan looks at Confucius Institutes (from her days earlier this year interning in NYC), particularly the one at Pace University, and realizes the U.S. students there are learning more about Peking Opera, silk, calligraphy and classical poetry than she knows, as a devoted English student. She determines, then, to rediscover her own culture.

Susan

Laura shows us why Christianity, despite the hype and worry, won’t catch on in China. We see her quit, after too much uncomfortable touchie-feelie hugging and what feels like too much fake saying “I love you.”

Cynthia shows us a migrant laborer who founded a hotline to help others, a well-drawn bio piece about a modern-day hero.

Susan Yu takes us inside student union election politics – a microcosm for Party politics, and urges change towards a more truly democratic process.

In a

Susan Yu

nother great piece, we see how Chinese senior citizens, displaced from the center and their old communities by Beijing’s rampant, outward, horizontal growth pattern, are now being accused of clogging up mass transit when they travel back to their favorite old spots at rush hour.

Cynthia

And Guanlin tells the story of life as a Beijing public toilet cleaner who actually lives inside a stall, with his wife and grandchild.

Liya wrote about Beijing’s oldest foreign-owned small business, run by China’s original British hipster.

Editors Take Note: Amazing Youth-Culture Stories

Carlotta, who lived in Cuba, fluent in 3 languages, covered migrant street musicians.


Writers Workshop today, my grad students shared final pieces. Wow:
–Black-market drivers’ licenses, China’s deadly, open secret. Great police sources.
–Part-time heavy metal rockers, because being full-time counterculture is a luxury in a nation where the single child is obliged to care for parents, and if married, two sets of parents. Subtle, fascinating. Written by Qu Song, who’s here:

China’s rockers must meet family obligations while pursuing music.


Of note: one of China’s first (if not the first) rock band was out of this university, Beijing Foreign Studies U., mid-’80s.
–My Buddhist Week-end. A student experiences Buddhism during a retreat at a nearby temple, nearly destroyed in the Cultural Revolution, reopened 7 years ago and thriving, especially attracting young Chinese. Written by Celina, who’s a true skeptic, so it feels like something when she reads about lighting incense at the end.

–The rise of China’s English interpreters. Though demand is exploding, and there’s a sense their lives are glitter and glam, it’s really the opposite. They’re the bridge, the middlemen China’s boom would be impossible without. Yet they’re treated like — well — crap, mostly. Dong does a masterful job on it.

Dong covers the woes of simultaneous interpreters, lynchpins in China’s high-flying business deals.


–Young intellectual elites, desperate to leave China. We’ve heard about the Party children granted the privilege of study abroad. But not so much about the highly-educated yet ordinary Chinese youth, an intellectual elite, who are tired of the bribery to get ahead, the need for constant flattery, the uncertainty if you’re not well-born, the lack of rules. Chen Lin boldly dissects the trend of those desperate to go somewhere else by focusing on young Chinese expats and would-be expats to Australia.

Cheng Lin (L) and Pu Ge (R) during our last-class workshop


We also heard fabulous stories on the lomography cult, how electronica sets Beijing youth free, on Chinese young people going to live in Seoul as K-Pop groupies, on the African minority community and the discrimination they experience in Guangzhou’s so-called “Chocolate Districts,” on young graduates seeking the “Iron Bowl” (government jobs).

Jean explained how Beijing electronica parties every night (+ a festival each summer) set young people free.


Sophia did a profile of an impoverished rural girl with 3 years of schooling who heard on TV (at age 21) about a Beijing boarding school for rural girls, applied, got in, was the star, got a college scholarship, and how is the head teacher there, inspiring young women to follow her. We heard from Ashley about the hard life of China’s geriatric care aides, untrained, unlicensed, yet relied on by working families–including her own–who can’t give their elders round-the-clock care.

Rhine, a member of the Lomo subculture, covered it beautifully.


I am so goddamn proud of them. I teared up. Hate to have to go…

One group of about 20 down, two more to go.

Love Without A Name: Growing Up in China

One of my students writes about his grandmother, “an illiterate Chinese farmer [who] nurtured three generations of intellectuals.” At 15, she had an arranged marriage with a boy who was then a toddler. It has emotional power, to me, but I was also struck by other students’ response while workshopping: ‘We all have grandmothers who helped raise us, and we don’t know their names.’ I realize this is common (I remember an Amy Tan essay about this very subject.) Still, I believe them when they said: This story of generational change is all of our story, of growing up in China today.

Excerpts from a memoir.
The writer uses the English name David.

…She silently cooked the dishes, did the laundry and fed the pigs. … My grandpa, who turned out to be a village teacher, treated her nicely, but it all didn’t matter. He died at the age of 39, leaving her a shattered family with two teenage boys to feed.

None of my relatives from the old countryside could recall a single complaint from her. Year after year, my grandmother labored with sweat in the field, bending down to reap the wheat and corn…. When my father hesitated whether or not he should stop trying after failing twice in the College Entrance Examination, my grandmother simply gave him a powerful slap in the face. Illiterate as she was, she understood that those tiny yet enchanted characters printed on the paper would shape his destiny. When my father finally got admitted to a college, granny sold a pig and treated everyone in the village for a feast.

… After my parents’ marriage she took care of me when my father was determined to make a decent living for our poor family. I remember two scenes: my grandmother in the kitchen opening the pot lid from time to time for fear that the cheap ribs might burn, and warmly comforting my mother, who came from a local urban family, as she complained in tears about why she chose to follow this man. Toward me, she showed kindness. She taught me patiently with a strong rural accent the country ballads about fairies and heroes, and clumsily made toys like wood pistols to give me joy.

…I moved out to an expensive boarding school, a rebellious adolescent. When I returned home, I tended to keep away from this old, shabby, short, humpbacked lady. The exciting flame in her eyes vanished after I apathetically answered her greetings several times. She became more and more silent and spent all days watching TV and gazing at the sky. But she never complained to anyone.

One day I returned home and learned she was in the ICU. All my arrogance and stupidity went away in an instant, and I bit hard on my lips to hold back my tears of remorse. Peering at a piece of paper gripped in my anxious father’s hand, tears flooded my face.

It read: ‘Patient’s name: Feng Qishi.’

Feng was my family name, Qi was her family name, shi refers to the status of being married. Like millions of women of her age, for 60 years of hardships she didn’t have a name.

4 Notes on Communism

1. At a lovely party in the expat suburbs, I chatted with a Taiwan-born mom interested in venturing out of the expat bubble, maybe by taking a class at my (or one of the neighboring) universities in this district. All that’s on offer, though, seems to be English, and she’s totally fluent. I also mentioned that people attend Communist political education classes.

“They still do that?” she asked.

2. Chinese Communism’s impact on a family is the subject of a new hit play in Beijing, according to one of my student’s recent asisgnments, a theater review: ” ‘This is the Last Fight’ is a clash between values in the past, and written or unwritten rules at present, the war between the haves and have-nots, and the debate between believers and people who refuse to believe.

…”Disguised by the festive atmopshere of New Year’s Eve, a family’s conflicts are quietly underway. Mr. and Mrs. He are an old Communist couple. …Their second son had serious problems with Communism and always pissed the old man off. Their youngest son planned to abscond with public money. As for the old Commie himself, Mr. He had been through wars and revolutions, and suffers from haunted memories.”

3. From another student, I learned that one of the most downloaded e-books in China in October was by a writer posthumously becoming a cult figure among young people (he died at just 45). He seems best known for his critiques of Chinese Communism. She wrote: “[Novelist and essayist] Wang Xiaobo, a sharp and unique critic of society, is now being heatedly discussed again fourteen years after his death. … When the Cultural Revolution began to sweep the mainland of China in 1966, he was only 14. As a child born in an intellectual family, he was sent to Yunnan, a border province of China, to be trained as a laborer and receive Communism education. At that time, people were deprived of their basic rights—-the freedom of speech, to write and publish, and even the freedom of independent thinking. Everybody was fighting in the dark… But Wang was not tamed …”

4. Ethan, in his 8-year-old way, has some emerging views about Communism. I had a pen on hand and took this down the other day.

“Communism’s good, in a way. I think everyone should get healthcare. They should have a place to live. But they shouldn’t be all the same. There needs to be a better balance. There should be the good parts of Communism, and the bad parts separated out.”