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In this Beijing family, ties still bind -- comfortably

Continued from Page 2

This view is common among the educated urban young. To the rest of the world, China may look like the 800-pound gorilla, but Michael and Fanny feel as though they're scrambling to catch up. "We are now turning to capitalism, but we can't call it that, because people would revolt," Michael says with a laugh.

The approved term for China's economic system is "Chinese specialized socialism," but nobody under 30 is fooled.

Fanny is a marketing student who likes French brands like Chanel and Dior. "Why not?" she laughs. "Life is short."

She has a part-time job at a record company, choosing Western music to import for the Chinese youth market. All the music must be approved by the government. One importer was arrested not long ago because, without realizing it, he had released a song that mentioned a Tibetan dissident. But Fanny is not particularly outraged. She's simply impatient.

"The government can afford to be more confident," Michael agrees. "After all, it was the Communist Party that saved China and developed the country and brought people a better life."

To the members of Michael and Fanny's generation, the madness of the Cultural Revolution is ancient history. They are not bitter about what happened then, as so many of their parents are. To them, those dark years were simply an awful diversion of China's great march into the modern world. They feel the same about the massacre at Tiananmen. They were children then. It was unfortunate, but has nothing to do with their lives today.

Maybe democracy is all right for other places, they figure. But China is too sprawling and its challenges are too great. It needs a strong hand. Besides, why change a system that's working?

And yet people can go to Starbucks and choose from 40 different kinds of coffee. Won't those people some day want to choose their leaders too?

"I don't think much about those political questions," Fanny says. "I like to worry about things I can do something about. Have you heard of Craig Kielburger?" She eagerly describes the Canadian kid who campaigns for children's rights in Third World sweatshops, which she has heard of, though not in China. "Maybe I can donate money to him."

Back home, in the Ma family's living room, are two prominent statues flanking the TV. Michael can see them both from his bed. One is a ceramic copy of a camel from the Tang dynasty. It is a reminder of the time when China's merchant caravans roamed the earth and China was the greatest trading nation in the world. The other is a silver statue of a golfer, obviously Caucasian, about to take a swing. Michael's aunt gave it to him for his birthday to celebrate his fast-rising status in the Poly Group.

China will be great again, and Michael Ma, with one foot in the East and another in the West, will be a part of it. "China is open to everybody," he insists. "The people are open-minded. This is China's renaissance."

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