Young people in China get a bad rap. Conventional wisdom says the boys are spoilt and fat, the girls flighty gold diggers — and the whole lot of them lazy, selfish and greedy. I have lived in China for seven years, and have met precious few mainland youths who fit those descriptions (except for maybe the plump part).
But don’t take it from me: I’m old enough to be their granny. Jemimah Steinfeld, on the other hand, has studied the Chinese twenty to thirtysomething in its own habitat: the bars, sex shops, online dating sites and matchmaking corners where the country’s complex, controversial and confusing youth culture is being made.
Little Emperors and Material Girls: Sex and Youth in Modern China is based on extensive field research on the male and female of the species by Steinfeld, a London-based journalist and "self-confessed sinophile, feminist and history junkie" who has lived and worked in Shanghai and Beijing.
《小皇帝和拜金女：现代中国的性和年轻人》（Little Emperors and Material Girls: Sex and Youth in Modern China）基于斯坦菲尔德对中国年轻男女的大量实地调研。斯坦菲尔德是一名驻伦敦的记者，曾在上海和北京生活、工作，是一名"自己承认的中国粉、女权主义者以及历史迷"。
This generation will end up running the nation — at which point who they are, how they think and how they were raised will really matter. And Steinfeld, too, thinks they are not as bad as advertised.
Nor are they easy to stereotype. China has as many people under the age of 30 as the US has people of any age, notes Steinfeld. Not surprisingly, they don’t all fit neatly into categories.
This meticulously researched but highly readable book lets the people in question prove that themselves (I’m glad she asked these questions and not me, since sex in China is still a very sensitive issue). She allows a dozen or so young people to speak at length, from "leftover women" and "bare branches" (spinsters and bachelors), through the gamut of mistresses, gays, sexual rebels, Christians and even Communist party members who populate the younger generation. And the one thing she finds she can say about them with certainty is: they are very different from their parents.
In fact, she avers, China has one of the world’s biggest generation gaps. "It’s a fundamental difference between them and us," she writes. "While the West continues to change, it does so at a slower pace. It’s a gentle gradient rather than a steep slope and therefore the schism between old and young is much less pronounced."
Many parents of her subjects grew up during the Cultural Revolution, and suffered famine as toddlers. Their grandparents may even remember when women had bound feet, she points out. But those born in the 1980s and 1990s — the balinghou and jiulinghou — are the first generation to grow up rich. And therein lies their biggest problem, Steinfeld writes: their parents and grandparents want to live through them, counting on their only offspring to make up for the privations of decades.
Unlike in the west, many of these children are willing at least to make the effort. Steinfeld points out that, while 21st century China is unrecognisable from that of the 20th century, one cultural thread remains: children’s powerful duty of filial piety. And duty number one is to marry and bear offspring.
Love and sex today are still very much Mum and Dad’s business. Steinfeld even profiles one rake who takes Mummy along on dates in his Porsche.
But there's a statistical problem. A preference for boys, exacerbated by the one-child policy, will leave China with an estimated 20m more men under 30 than women by 2020, according to government research.And, since the existing men like to marry beneath them, that leaves "alpha women and beta men" without partners. Perhaps as a result, extramarital sex is on the increase. Steinfeld says the percentage of urbanites who have premarital sex — a big taboo before China opened up to the west a generation ago, and even since — quadrupled between 1989 and 2010 to 60 per cent. Yet 80 per cent of men still say they want to marry a virgin. Good luck with that.
但是，这里存在一个统计学问题。政府研究显示，独生子女政策加剧的重男轻女倾向意味着，到2020年中国30岁以下的男性估计会比女性多出2000万。而且，由于男性喜欢与不如自己的女性结婚，这导致"A档女人和B档男人"找不到伴侣。也许是因为这一点，婚外性行为呈上升趋势。斯坦菲尔德 称，2010年，有过婚前性行为（在一代人之前，即中国改革开放前，甚至是开放以来，这都是一大禁忌）的城市人口比例达到60%，是1989年的四倍。不 过，竟有80%的男性仍然称，他们希望娶一个处女。祝他们好运吧。
So spare a thought for China’s poor conflicted young people: caught between village and skyscraper, between one millennium and the next. They are sexual adventurers who still live at home with Mummy. They may be gay but still plan to marry to keep up appearances. And increasingly large numbers have no interest in bearing children but must do so to satisfy Granny. And I thought growing up in the 1960s was difficult.