Alec Ash defines the nation’s 1985 to 1990 generation
A journalist and writer in Beijing, Alec Ash is known for his Beijing-based website, the Anthill, and his recent work, Wish Lanterns: Young Lives in New China, was featured as a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week. Wish Lanterns, which will debut in the US on March 7, 2017, follows six young Chinese born between 1985 and 1990 in their journeys to professional and personal fulfillment.
Can you tell us a little more about the people whose stories you chose to follow?
I’ve always been a fan of the approach of the “universal through the individual” as a window into China and as a window into this generation that I’m writing about. Rather than try to sum up this generation—which I would obviously totally mess up if I attempted—I found six people from a variety of different backgrounds whose stories interested me and told their stories in a straight narrative style with interwoven short chapters, almost like a novel would be constructed, but chronologically and with no editorial gloss. I don’t even appear in the book until the Author’s Note. I took a lot of care in choosing people whose stories touched on different aspects of the generation, like a Venn diagram with six circles. There is an aspiring international superstar, whose English name is Lucifer. There is the daughter of a Party official from Hainan called Fred. There’s a rural migrant from Anhui, Snail, who gets addicted to World of Warcraft, and the child of a former PLA soldier, Dahai, who grew up in a military compound and becomes quite active as a netizen. And there’s a fashionista from Xinjiang and a small business owner from the far north, freezing Dongbei. Two of these characters meet about two-thirds through the book and get married, though for the purposes of suspense I won’t tell you which two.
Tales from China’s Millennials is a story from our issue, “Wildest Fantasy.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.