In This Review

Chinese Lives: An Oral History Of Contemporary China
Chinese Lives: An Oral History Of Contemporary China
By Zhang Xinxin and Sang Ye, edited by W.J.F. Jenner and Delia
Pantheon Books, 1987, 367 pp

Studs Terkel's 1974 book, Working, a collection of interviews with ordinary and not-so-ordinary Middle Americans about their jobs and aspirations, was later translated and widely read in China. Two Chinese writers who found particular inspiration in the book, journalist Sang Ye and fiction writer Zhang Xinxin, decided to attempt a similar project. They interviewed over one hundred people across China about their work, their families, their schooling, their money worries, their dreams. Some 60 are translated here. The interviewees speak with unusual candor about subjects normally kept under the cover of privacy. A former prostitute speaks about her past life and reform; a pair of newlyweds brag about their new possessions; a widower talks about his life as a retired banker; a woman tells why she decided not to marry. What emerges is a sense that monetary concerns, material comforts, status and prestige are among the greatest worries in Chinese society today.