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China’s only child – a lonely bird flies in the cage

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SINCE Xinran Xue wrote "The Good Women of China" in 2002, she has sought to tell the story of ordinary Chinese people. That first, brilliant book was based on a Chinese radio show that Ms Xue (who writes under her first name only) hosted for eight years, inviting women to call in and talk about themselves. The result was a moving and shocking account of what it was like to be a woman in socialist China.

从2002年出版《中国的好女人们》一书开始,薛欣然一直致力于讲述中国普通人的故事。那第一本书取材于薛欣然主持了八年的一个中国电台节目,那个节目邀请女性打进电话来讲讲自己的事儿。其结果是关于在社会主义中国做女人的种种感人故事。

 

The country is far more open now than it was even two decades ago, yet the task of recounting the first-person experiences of some of its 1.4 billion people is just as vital—and sometimes as tricky. In "Buy Me the Sky", her seventh book, Ms Xue takes on China’s first generation of only children, those born between 1979 and 1984, after the one-child policy was introduced nationwide. Each chapter uses the life and experiences of a "single sprout", as she calls them, to enliven a larger story.

中国跟哪怕短短20年前相比也已经开放了许多,但讲述该国14亿人口当中某些人的亲身经历依然是一个至关重要、有时十分棘手的任务。在她的第七本书《给我买片天》(Buy Me the Sky)中,薛欣然把目光投向中国第一代独生子女,也就是在1979年到1984年之间出生的人。每一章通过一个"独苗"的生活和经历栩栩如生地叙述一个更宏大的故事。


The central question is what developing an idea of children in the singular has done to Chinese society; what happens when those one-and-onlies, so long the sole focus of their parents’ and grandparents’ love, attention and expectations, go out into the world. Has not thinking about others until adulthood skewed the morality of a generation?

核心问题是,独生子女政策给中国社会带来了什么样的影响,当那些在父母和祖父母呵护下长大的独生子女走进世界时会发生什么?直到成年才懂得为他人着想是否扭曲了一代人的道德观?


Her thesis is that today’s only children are materially better off than their forebears—sometimes hugely so—but that they are a lonely generation whose parents’ dreams lie heavy on their shoulders. Economic change has made the generational divide sharp and deep, says Ms Xue. "Chinese children are the property of their parents, and we single children, in particular, are the property of all the generations before us," says one only child she meets. Another woman notes that she spent the nine months of her pregnancy under the "direction and protection" of 12 relatives from two generations above her, every move she made linked to the fate of her family.

报道称,她的论点是,当今独生子女的物质条件优于先辈,但他们是孤独的一代,父母的梦想落在了他们的肩上。薛欣然表示,经济变化加剧了代沟。她认识的一个孩子说:"中国的孩子都是父母的财产,我们独生子女更是所有长辈的财产。"一名女性表示,她怀孕九个月期间受到前两代人12名亲属的"指导和保护", 她的一举一动都跟家庭的命运联系起来。


No wonder, says Ms Xue, that many find it hard to discover their own path in life: "A bird cannot carry its cage when it flies." One young man is so ill-equipped for adulthood that he cannot pack his own suitcase, yet, away from family scrutiny, he transforms from being a picky eater into a happy omnivore. Several of her onlies embody the spoiled generation of the title, others are "labouring ants". One interviewee moans that in America and Europe people under 30 are knowingly hedonistic and encouraged to explore their options in life, whereas in China, another says, the young instead spend those years studying and setting themselves up in a profession, trying to buy a house and car, making themselves worthy of marriage. A third disagrees: being an only child "has become an excuse for my generation", he says.

薛欣然说,难怪很多人难以找到自己的人生道路:"鸟不能背着笼子飞翔。"有个年轻人不适应成年生活,连自己的旅行箱都不会整理,然而,离开了家人的监护后,他从吃饭挑食变得什么都吃。一名受访者抱怨说,在欧美,30岁以下的人奉行快乐主义,家长鼓励他们探索自己的人生选择,而在中国,青少年的那些岁月都花在学习上,早早为今后的职业做好规划,努力买房买车以便顺利找到结婚对象。但也有一名受访者认为,独生子女身份"成了我们这代人的借口"。


Ms Xue raises more questions than she answers—her book is a series of observations rather than a rigorous study, a little too reliant on individuals who have travelled far from China and into the author’s path. Weighing the consequences of one of the most extraordinary social experiments on earth is not an easy venture.

薛欣然提出的问题多于给出的答案,她的书是一系列观察评论而不是深入研究,有点过于倚重那些远离中国、走上与作者相同道路的人。对地球上最非同寻常的一个社会试验的影响做出评价殊非易事。

2016-06-24

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