A long and detailed article in the latest Time Asia takes a look at a number of talented young radicals in China (including Chun Shu, author of bestselling novel Beijing Doll) who turned their backs on the conventional, went off to do their own thing and achieved fabulous success.
These are true rebels — dropouts complete with body piercings and up-the-system clothes and unhidden contempt for the status quo. Their story is fascinating, showing just how far it is possible to go in today’s China.
But the overriding message is that, yes, there are freedoms and opportunities in China today that only a few years ago would have been utterly unthinkable — but that still, there is a definite line in the sand that these rebels know they must not cross.
It’s easy, then, to understand why the control-obsessed Party isn’t terrified of linglei, why labor camps aren’t filled with cliques of neon-hued punk wannabes or herds of dropout Bill Gates types. Superficially, China’s linglei are suitably outré: the piercings, the leather jackets, the defiant dropout pose affected even by nerdy kids like IT entrepreneur Wu.
But, in many ways, linglei are like dogs wearing electric collars that know just how far they can stray without getting shocked. No one’s jumping the invisible fence, because if they do, they might just end up in a gulag. “We’re distracted by all these new things, like new clothes or new computer games,” says Chun. “It doesn’t give us too much time to think about politics.”
Even so, reading about what these people have accomplished at such tender ages and within such a confining system — it’s quite beyond belief.
Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.