China Beat Archive



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June 16, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright June 16, 2008. Used by permission.


Both Frontline’s new documentary “Young and Restless in China” (set to air on Tuesday, June 17) and Duncan Hewitt’s soon-to-be-released book, China: Getting Rich First: A Modern Social History, take as their premise the unprecedented growth and possibility in China during the past two decades. The components of this story are youth, economic opportunity, and migration. While both Frontline’s documentary and Hewitt’s book provide new details and new vignettes to illustrate the changes of the last few decades, China watchers will find the basic storylines familiar.

“Young and Restless in China” (details are available at the website, which after 9 p.m. on Tuesday, June 17 will also include streaming of the entire show) follows nine Chinese in their twenties and early thirties from 2004 to 2008, documenting their personal and professional lives. The program will host an online “roundtable” of China specialists and journalists (including Jeff Wasserstrom, Perry Link, and Maureen Fan) who will provide context for and discussion of the show’s content, as has been done for previous installments on China.

The two-hour documentary complicates what has become a typical portrayal (in its worst incarnation) of young China as greedy and morally bankrupt—for instance, Lu Dong, who is shown shepherding his internet tailor-made dress shirt business to fruition, chats about his conversion to Christianity, while Shenzhen hotelier Xu Weimin discusses how moneymaking cannot be fulfilling in itself. Others, particularly the women featured in the documentary, illustrate the tensions between professional and personal success, such as environmental lawyer Zhang Jingjing, who cannot bring herself to settle down with her long-time boyfriend, or migrant worker Wei Jingyan, who, fearful of losing her independence, struggles over whether to break an arranged engagement with a man from her village.