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Chasing dreams: The common man in China today

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Asia House

63 New Cavendish Street

London, United Kingdom

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Since Xi Jinping’s ascension to power in 2012, the leader of China’s Communist Party has often spoken about the Chinese dream, in both speeches as well as books. At the core of Xi’s dream for China is a vision to solve the nation’s problems and thereby return the country to its former global dominance.

“Realising the great renewal of the Chinese nation is the greatest dream in modern history,” he writes in The Governance of China.

That is Xi’s dream, but what exactly are the dreams of the rest of the nation?

Asia House is pleased to welcome Alec Ash and Rob Schmitz, two writers with books recently published on China, who will discuss the topic. Through the people they have interviewed for their books, both authors offer fresh and detailed perspectives on China from the bottom up.

In Street of Eternal Happiness: Big City Dreams Along a Shanghai Road, Rob Schmitz follows a series of people who live on the same street as he does in Shanghai. They’re a mixed bag and through their tales, as well as through Schmitz’s own insights as a long-time journalist in China, a picture emerges of 21st century China.

The New York Times and The Economist both described the book as “poignant”, while The Guardian said that the “great virtue of these books is that they offer Chinese people a voice, something that is often lacking in news coverage.”

Moving north to Beijing, the characters we meet in Alec Ash’s book Wish Lanterns: Young Lives in New China are equally varied, urging readers once again to resist generalisations, but they do all have two things in common: they’re all born between 1985 and 1990 and they have all been to university. Ash talks to them about their dreams and their realities. Like the characters in Schmitz’s book, their stories are at times sad, at times happy and at times funny. The reader is once again left armed with a lot more knowledge about China today.

Wish Lanterns was described by Prospect as “compelling and beautifully written”. Writing in the FT, Jonathan Fenby said it was “one of the best I have read about the individuals who make up a country that is all too often regarded as a monolith, but which abounds with diversity on multiple levels.”

This event will be chaired by Jemimah Steinfeld, Literature Programme Manager at Asia House and author of the book Little Emperors and Material Girls: Sex and Youth in Modern China. A Q&A will follow and copies of both books will be available to buy at the event.

Rob Schmitz is American National Public Radio’s Shanghai Bureau Chief. Before this recent appointment, he was the China correspondent for American Public Media’s Marketplace. He first went to China in 1996 and has reported on a range of topics from trade and labour to politics and education.

Alec Ash is a writer and journalist in Beijing. His articles have appeared in The Economist, BBC, Prospect, Foreign Policy and elsewhere. He is a contributor to the book Chinese Characters and co-editor of the anthology While We're Here. Now in his early 30s, he spent the bulk of his 20s living in China.

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Asia House

63 New Cavendish Street

London, United Kingdom

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