If you’ve read my previous passage on 80后then you’ll know that 90后 refers to the Chinese generation born between 1990 – 1999 (congrats on your Mandarin 101 Learning!). If I had been born in China this is where I would fit in.
80后 hòu is the Chinese term used to describe someone born between 1980 and 1989. This is the generation that Barry Li, author of The New Chinese, belongs to. This is a generation of a rapidly changing environment from post Cultural Revolution to technology, infrastructure and an opening up to the West.
Li describes growing up in Suzhou (China’s version of Oldtown from Westeros) with his great-aunt and his cousin (who really was actually the daughter of his grandmother’s adopted daughter. Complicated. For all intents and purposes, he calls her his sister, which is the done thing among the one-child generations. It used to confuse me a lot when students I used to teach in Beijing would tell me of their multiple brothers and sister; for a long time I thought it was just an English error they were making.)
There are plenty of things being done and still more about the frustration Barry Li shares about homeownership in his book The New Chinese: How They Are Changing Australia.
Foreign homeownership has been an element at the heart of the debate over Australian housing market price increases. The Chinese are regularly blamed for the price hike, purportedly pushing new owners out of the competition, and rising rental prices for lack of availability.
Local Chinese families aren’t immune either, unable to compete with Chinese buyers who are helped by “their entire family, who [have] a lifetime of savings in their pocket boosted by the economic boom”.
“’Rich’ and ‘poor’ are relative terms, of course. Australians are unlikely to meet Chinese people who are living below the poverty threshold. Such people do not have enough money to travel here for a holiday or to study, and they certainly do not have the money to invest in Australian property. In this sense, all the Chinese people you meet in Australia are rich.”
Rich Chinese. Have any two words gone together more smoothly before in the Australian accent? The two seem inseparable while the alternative – Poor Chinese; spoiler alert for the next extract – is an oxymoron. This transcript from a conversation at an Aussie BBQ is about as authentic as it gets:
“Hey, Dazza mate, who bought the big house down the road?”
“Yeah, nah mate, dunno. Probably Chinese.”
The next excerpt from Barry Li’s The New Chinese is part history part statistics. Let’s just say outright that the numbers he provides from 2010 – 60 million native Cantonese speakers, 365 million native English speakers (one million for every day of the year!), and 960 million native Mandarin speakers – are incomprehensibly scary. How does the number of native English speakers from UK, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Zimbabwe and all the others not even match half that of Mandarin speakers? If there were 960 million native French speakers in the world,
This read through of Barry Li’s The New Chinese: How They Are Changing Australia has now brought us to Chapter 2 – ‘From the Gold Rush to the Property Rush’. I’m attempting not to make it a dry, analytic recap; rather I try to add my thoughts and comments to Barry’s own, from the perspective of an Australian who’s studying Mandarin and spent a bit of time here and there in China,
I’ll admit: when I looked at this section title and glanced very briefly at the text I did wonder how I was going to make a blog post about this topic, and one not too dry at that. Then some words caught my attention – Qing empire, Honolulu, Opium Wars – and I realised a lot more could be found in this than just a clarification of definitions.
Why should I read this book? What a good question, Barry Li.
This is the third part of my elongated discussion of Barry Li’s book The New Chinese: How They Are Changing Australia. The first part was about his parents, then next himself, and now me – yay! (I’m Australian, in case that point’s been missed). But please don’t feel excluded if you’re not an Aussie from DownUnder, because “if you feel you are surrounded by Chinese, or your life is impacted by the Chinese in some way, or you seek to profit from trading with China” then I imagine this book is also for you.
Here enters the second part of Barry Li’s recount. It’s the difficult one to do: critique and commenting on someone’s personal story, especially when it’s only just over three pages in length. I’m guessing we will probably learn more about Li from the rest of the book than just this section.
He’s 10 months old when he leaves his parents to live with relatives. He doesn’t live with them again until – I’m estimating rough dates here – about 14 years later to finish high school in Beijing. Is this normal? For an only child to be separated from his parents and live 2600kms away? It’s not uncommon in any case.