Young And Restless In China


Young and Restless in China

Sue Williams
Kathryn Dietz

Sue Williams

ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE: They are a new generation, breaking from tradition and transforming China. These are their stories- a businesswoman pressured to choose between motherhood and her career, an Internet entrepreneur thirsting for a more spiritual life, and a young woman searching for the mother she barely remembers.

They are the stories about love and family, ambition and sacrifice, and the conflict between the past and future, stories of a rap artist hustling for his big break, an idealistic businessman struggling against everyday corruption, and a factory worker who defies her family and marries for love.

These are the intimate stories of hope and disappointment from inside a society changing faster than any in history, stories of what it's like to be Young and Restless in China.

NARRATOR: China is a country of young people and a new generation is coming of age.

LU DONG, Internet Tailoring: [through interpreter] China is changing fast. Everyone is restless.

NARRATOR: Young people are driving China's blazing economy and grappling with huge challenges and change.

MIRANDA HONG, Businesswoman, : [through interpreter] My generation is confused. When I was a child, we needed ration tickets to buy things, like fabric and oil. Since the 1990s, it's a totally different world.

LU DONG: The spiritual side of China is changing from a very ideal world, from the Maoism time- you know, serve the people and work for others- to an extreme, get rich as fast as you can and have a good life.

NARRATOR: In 2004, we began filming a group of young people from across the country. The surprising twists and turns of their lives and their stories of ambition, conflict, love and confusion took us inside the generation that is transforming China.

LU DONG: I came back to China for only one reason. It's opportunity.

NARRATOR: Lu Dong had just returned from a decade abroad. Thirty-two and single, he was working at a software start-up in the northern city of Dalian.

LU DONG: HiSoft does software outsourcing. This is like the factory of engineers. What's amazing is we are doubling the size every half a year. I spent two months already. I'm going to spend another 10 months here and invest my life here. You know, I love this place.

This is our new building, 18 floors. It's going to be finished by November or December. I think this is like a symbol of the growing of China, one floor every week.

NARRATOR: So many young people were coming back from abroad that the Chinese nicknamed them "returning turtles." Ben Wu had also just come back to Beijing, where he grew up.

BEN WU, Internet Cafe Owner: I have been away for over a decade in the U.S. and never worked in China before. So I want to learn how Chinese conduct business, what's the best opportunity in what industry. From Monday to Friday, I work for McKinsey Consulting. And then starting from Friday night to Sunday afternoon, I pretty much work the whole time for my Internet cafe.

NARRATOR: Ben was using what he learned at business school in New York to create a new franchise.

BEN WU: This is our first Internet cafe in Beijing. It's named Times Square Internet Cafe. You know, we have New York theme here, New York skyline. We are going to have about 300 computers in this 16,000 square feet. We are going to build a UFO-like structure. We're going to have a train coming out, and underneath, there's going to be a lot of lights shooting up through the glass.

Internet cafe requires a lot of money. That's why me and my Chinese partner have a set of American investors. This cafe is going to be our first of many. We want to build a Starbucks but for Internet cafe.

NARRATOR: China's booming economy offered so many possibilities that young people seemed to change jobs, cities and lifestyles, barely skipping a beat. Soon after we first filmed Lu Dong, he left the software company and moved home, also to Beijing.

LU DONG, Internet Tailoring: [through interpreter] I was born and raised in Beijing. I feel like I'm finally home. I want to spend some time with my family.

[Lu Dong at computer English lesson with his mother]

LU DONG: [subtitles] Slower. Right here.

MOTHER: [subtitles] Right

LU DONG, MOTHER: It's English!

MOTHER: [reading phrase book] Oh, my tooth. What's wrong?

LU DONG: [through interpreter] I actually liked HiSoft very much, but what I really wanted to do was start my own business.

[in English] So this is my business. So basically what I'm going to do is tailor-make those shirts in China and sell it to people in Japan and the U.S. and Europe. It's going to be on the Web. These are samples. You can change all the elements- shirts, color, copies, right? There's no physical shop. And here you measure your size, which is going directly to the factory. You pick and choose. And a week, boom, you get it! And it's just this one piece just for you. You cannot find anywhere else. Very unique, very creative, very fun. Can you imagine this turning into a shirt? Very nice.

[through interpreter] I work every single day. I'm spending my savings. I'm dripping my blood. I can only say it feels like riding a roller-coaster.

NARRATOR: After months of living on caffeine and cigarettes, Ben Wu opened his Internet cafe.

BEN WU: Cafe is doing very well. It's pretty much like what I estimated. I'm delivering good news to my investors.

INVESTOR: On a normal Friday night, is this normally how crowded it is?

BEN WU: Yeah. This is very normal.

We are making money. We are generating a lot of cash flow, free cash flow.

INVESTOR: We don't actually sell any of the computer equipment, do we?

BEN WU: No. Maybe that's another business you should do.

And those free cash flow can be used for building another Internet cafe.

NARRATOR: In Tiananmen Square, in the heart of Beijing, the countdown to the 2008 Olympic Games was under way. Preparations dominated the city. Thousands of migrant workers from the countryside were pouring into the capital, looking for work.

WEI ZHANYAN, Migrant Worker: [through interpreter] I always thought I'd spend all my life in my village. I never thought there was such a big world outside.

NARRATOR: Wei Zhanyan is a migrant worker in an industrial park near Beijing.

WEI ZHANYAN: [through interpreter] I got out just to work, to make money. It was like I had the mission of saving my whole family.

NARRATOR: Zhanyan left school at 13 to earn money so her older brother could continue his studies. By 2004, she was working for a company that makes cell phones. The owners declined our request to film inside.

WEI ZHANYAN: [through interpreter] The factory where I work, we wire headsets. The regular wage is about 40 cents an hour.

NARRATOR: Jobs like hers offer millions of young people a way out of rural poverty.

WEI ZHANYAN: [through interpreter] A job brings in money and gives me self-confidence. I rented this little place by myself. I feel like this is my home, where I am the boss and can do whatever I like after work, like listening to the radio or reading a book.

NARRATOR: Migrant life was often lonely, and she poured out her feelings in a diary.

WEI ZHANYAN: [through interpreter] "My family's poverty depresses me, makes me ashamed, even desperate. I don't dare have any ideas or ideals."

I have always wondered how come other families, other parents could support their kids' educations, but not mine. [weeps] Sorry. Perhaps I shouldn't have said that. It sounds like I am blaming my parents for not living up to their responsibilities. But that's past.

NARRATOR: Although hundreds of miles away from them, she was still not free of her family's demands.

WEI ZHANYAN: [through interpreter] I got a phone call from my family, saying that a matchmaker wanted me to meet this guy. Back home, they have this long feudal tradition. So I went back. I didn't have a choice. The guy and I, we met and got engaged, just like that. I was very confused. I mean, I like to be free and independent. But once we get married, I'm not sure what will happen.

NARRATOR: Seen from the streets, the new China is an unforgiving place.

[rap lyrics] [subtitles] I don't blame the world for what's wrong. I'm alive and don't want to miss the excitement. I haven't been to America, haven't been in a sports car. I haven't worn Gucci, haven't loved a beautiful girl. I haven't lived in a mansion, haven't drunk fine wine. You want this, too. Don't kid yourself.

NARRATOR: Rapper Wang Xiaolei uses his music to express a dark view of China's new boom times.

WANG XIAOLEI, Rapper: [through interpreter] There's actually a lot of discrimination in China. Like, if you don't have money, people will look down on you, and also because of your social status.

When I was very young, my folks divorced, and then I was all by myself. I mean, I grew up with my grandpa until I was 14. He had no money. I was mostly living with my grandpa because I really didn't get along with my dad. My father, my mother- both useless.

I started hanging out as a street performer. It's the only way of life I knew. Life is bad. How come my life sucks? Then I heard about hip-hop and watched some hip-hop movies and stuff. There was some really good stuff. Hip-hop empowered me because I can identify with some of those black people in America. We don't have a good life, but we have to stay optimistic.

[ More about the film's characters]

NARRATOR: Xiaolei identifies with African-American culture, but his lyrics draw on what he knows best- the world he sees around him, his relationships, and ancient Chinese myth.

WANG XIAOLEI: [showing tattoos] [through interpreter] This is Yingliu, an ancient goddess. She could sing and was very beautiful. Everyone loved to hear her sing. It's a fairy tale. This is the word "reckless." I think this character is pretty cool because it's Chinese. I've always felt that it's better than having an English word tattooed.

[rapping] [subtitles] Got to change your mindset, that's life. Yesterday's over, tomorrow's the problem. I'm a capitalist, never been on welfare. I'm smart so we'll all get rich. Come with me, man, make money, get yours. Hey, it's your call.

NARRATOR: Xiaolei was starting to build a fan base. He was scraping by, working as a DJ in one of Beijing's few hip-hop clubs.

WANG XIAOLEI: [through interpreter] I don't make enough money, just enough for me to eat. I need a big house, and then I can make music on my own, live in a big house and have enough to eat. My house is small. Big house- small, small. This is what I live in every day. It makes me crazy. And the roof leaks!

NARRATOR: When we returned to Beijing in 2005, preparations for the Olympics were accelerating. Parks were being paved over, entire neighborhoods torn down. One and a half million residents were being forced to move.

We met Zhang Jingjing, a public interest lawyer trying to make the upheaval more humane. In a case representing more than 1,000 families, she was suing two city agencies over a power line built for the Games.

ZHANG JINGJING, Public Interest Lawyer: [through interpreter] The power line belongs to Beijing Electric. There was no environmental appraisal before it was built. That's required by law. And residents in the area really resented it. They were very worried about the effect of the electromagnetic radiation on their health.

NARRATOR: The residents are part of China's increasingly vocal new middle class.

1st WOMAN RESIDENT: [subtitles] We've become property owners. As citizens, the state should protect our private property. Even more, it should protect our health and well-being. But it didn't. We were really at a disadvantage during the fight. Look at us. Look at these old ladies here. You're 70?

2nd WOMAN RESIDENT: [subtitles] Seventy-three

1st WOMAN RESIDENT: [subtitles] And you? Also seventy-three. Very admirable. We're all very dedicated monitors. That's why I've invited these activists here today. At the beginning, our protest was very simple. I sat at the base of the towers and said, "I won't let you work."

2nd WOMAN RESIDENT: [subtitles] The reason we're doing this is because we're not shackled by old ways of thinking, like, "We're scared," "We shouldn't," "We wouldn't." We're not like that.

MALE RESIDENT: [subtitles] The law should be fair and just. But in our legal environment, it's neither fair nor just.

ZHANG JINGJING: [subtitles] In many cases like ours, they say this is an Olympic project, which means you must sacrifice your rights for the national interest. So it's very important for us to defend our rights.

[through interpreter] We know the potential medical risks of electromagnetic radiation are still being studied. We didn't sue about the pollution itself, we targeted an illegitimate licensing procedure. We sued because we believe that people come first. We were trying to convey this concept through this case. The neglect of personal rights in China has been long and overwhelming.

NARRATOR: Like many of her generation, Jingjing's world view was shaped by events in Tiananmen Square almost 20 years ago.

ZHANG JINGJING: [through interpreter] I graduated in 1991. Those were the years that many Chinese people still remember but don't dare talk about. That was the student movement in the late 80s. I was in college then. I experienced a movement I'll never forget. We had only one goal, for reforms that would make our nation a better place. But what happened later, the students didn't have the experience and couldn't see how it would end. I'm still influenced by that movement. It's why I'm working as a public interest lawyer.

NARRATOR: Most other young people drew different lessons from the tragedy.

XU WEIMIN, Hotel Owner: [through interpreter] Right after the June 4th incident, they started arresting people. I knew some of them personally. Politically, it affected my generation tremendously. After the June 4th incident, I decided to move to Shenzhen. There was only one reason. I decided that politics is quite a risky and scary business. It would be better for me to distance myself from it.

NARRATOR: In the years since, Xu Weimin tried different jobs here in the southern boom town of Shenzhen. He worked and studied in Canada and the U.S. Now in his late 30s, he was building a hotel.

XU WEIMIN: [through interpreter] I need to have something tangible, something we can build year by year, a steady business. We feel if we can provide high quality service with four-star facilities, we shouldn't have any problem getting business.

I actually have no experience of running a hotel. From the start, when I knew nothing, to now, I've had to deal with every single detail. We've hired about 10 people, and they're all crazy busy. It's very stressful.

NARRATOR: On top of his job, Weimin had new responsibilities, taking care of his parents.

XU WEIMIN: [through interpreter] A little over a month ago, my mom had a stroke. She was a manager at her old factory, but the factory was privatized so she lost her insurance. That's very common in China these days.

[subtitles] What did the doctor say today?

FATHER: [subtitles] He said to buy the blood pressure medicine.

XU WEIMIN: [subtitles] Oh. Yeah.

[through interpreter] So it's the kids, in this case, my sister and I, who have to shoulder the cost. So far, we have spent almost $6,000, but the thing is, there'll be a lot more to come because the biggest problem is we have no idea when she'll get better and this kind of illness is pretty expensive.

NARRATOR: In the country's new mixed economy, nearly 70 percent of Chinese have no medical insurance. Zhang Yao was a medical resident at a prestigious Beijing hospital. On his way to work, so many people were desperate for care that he could barely make his way inside.

WOMAN PATIENT: [subtitles] It's not easy for me to make such a long trip. I was wondering, if I can't get to see him, could you please make a call to plead on my behalf? I've come a long way, more than 400 miles.

PHYSICIAN ON ROUNDS: [subtitles] Now, everybody take a good look and make a comparison. See how nice it looks? Wonderful recovery.

NARRATOR: Zhang Yao's father is a traditional Chinese doctor. Yao has chosen a completely Western training.

PATIENT'S DAUGHTER: [subtitles] Mom, does it hurt here on your neck?

PATIENT: [subtitles] Leave it.

ZHANG YAO, Medical Resident: [through interpreter] I like working with people, so when I see my patients getting very ill or when somebody dies, it hurts. It's hard for me, too. I tell myself the principles of medical science are, "Cure sometimes, relieve often, comfort always." So maybe you cannot cure a patient, but you can always make his life more comfortable.

[to patient outside hospital] [subtitles] Is it the same on the other leg?

PATIENT: [subtitles] Yes. It's not itchy, just painful.

ZHANG YAO: [subtitles] Painful?


ZHANG YAO: [subtitles] So it hurts instead?

PATIENT: [subtitles] Yes, it hurts when you press it.

ZHANG YAO: [subtitles] How long has it been?

[through interpreter] We see it all the time, patients who can't afford big medical expenses. Seeing a patient with financial difficulties is a very, very sad experience. You have to make a very hard choice. If a patient really can't afford treatment and is in the mid or late stages of their diseases, we need to think about palliative care. In cases like that, I think we should do our best to save the family's resources.

NARRATOR: Despite mass migration to the cities, more than half of China's population still live in the countryside.

YANG HAIYAN, Former Migrant Worker: [through interpreter] About this time every year, I come back to help father harvest the rice.

NARRATOR: The options for young people in rural Guangxi Province are so limited that few choose to stay.

YANG HAIYAN: [through interpreter] I like it here. If everyone goes to work outside and no one works in the fields, then what will people eat? People in the outside world have food because we farmers work hard to grow rice. But my husband doesn't like me coming back here. I get too tanned. He says it doesn't look pretty.

NARRATOR: Like many women, Yang Haiyan had to leave school to support her brother's education. She went to work in the city of Guilin, a two-hour drive away. There she met her husband. Now she stays at home, looking after their son.

YANG HAIYAN: [through interpreter] My grandpa is getting so old now. My dad, too. There is no one at home who can do laundry. Every holiday, I take all the clothes, sheets, shoes, comforter, wash them really clean and store them away. And then I go back to Guilin.

NARRATOR: Haiyan's life has been defined by her mother's disappearance 18 years ago.

YANG HAIYAN: [through interpreter] When I was very little, about 2, my mother was doing part-time work in Guilin and she was tricked. This human trafficker asked her to go to a cotton factory in the north, saying it had better pay. And she was kidnapped and sold.

Because of what happened to my mom, there was a lot of gossip in the village. People don't want my mom back. To them, this is a huge disgrace. It's like the saying, "Children without a mother have to grow up fast."

I have a dream. It's to find Mom and bring her back because I miss my mom very much. Once I get her back, I'll never let her leave again.

[ Explore the making of this film]

NARRATOR: We returned to China in 2006 and found many of the group caught up in personal crises. After stalling for months, factory worker Wei Zhanyan was going home to face her family and her future husband.

WEI ZHANYAN: [through interpreter] I don't want to go home. I'm afraid of marriage. I'm afraid of going back to those old traditions. My dad is a farmer. My older brother is, too. And when there isn't a lot of farm work, he leaves and becomes a migrant worker like me.

WEI DIANYOU, Zhanyan's Father: [through interpreter] All the marriages in the village are arranged. After the marriage is arranged, you can't change your mind. It has a bad effect. Here in the countryside, you can't go back on your word.

[Father, fiance and Zhanyan in village lane. Shots of Zhanyan and fiance sitting.]

SHENG XIBING, Zhanyan's Fiance: [subtitles] When are you leaving?

WEI ZHANYAN: [subtitles] Tomorrow. No, today, at 6:00.

SHENG XIBING: [through interpreter] They told me about Zhanyan, and then we met and we sat and talked.

[subtitles] Are you on summer vacation for this trip?

WEI ZHANYAN: [subtitles] I asked for leave. What factory gives summer vacation?

SHENG XIBING: [through interpreter] We chatted about our families and our jobs as migrant workers. After we talked, the matchmaker came and asked whether we could accept each other, and both of us said yes.

INTERVIEWER: [through interpreter] How long was it, when you first saw her until the matchmaker came in?

SHENG XIBING: [through interpreter] Maybe a couple of hours.

WEI ZHANYAN: [subtitles] Do you have a lot of work?

SHENG XIBING: [subtitles] It's OK. Sometimes a lot, sometimes not so much.

WEI ZHANYAN: [through interpreter] It's not easy for us to communicate. I don't want to get married.

INTERVIEWER: [through interpreter] How did you feel when you heard she was having second thoughts?

SHENG XIBING: [through interpreter] I was a little angry. She'd agreed to it. If word got out it would be bad. Everyone would know.

INTERVIEWER: [through interpreter] Did you ever think that maybe she wouldn't be happy after you guys got married?

SHENG XIBING: [through interpreter] I don't know how to answer that question.

INTERVIEWER: [through interpreter] Have you ever thought about whether you would be happy?

SHENG XIBING: [through interpreter] Nope. Never thought about it.

WEI HONGJUN, Zhanyan's Brother: [through interpreter] By country standards, she's not young anymore. She should really think it over. If this isn't the right man, then who is? Can you find the person of your dreams in real life? There is a huge difference between dreams and reality.

WEI ZHANYAN: [through interpreter] It'll be hard for me to break off the engagement now. I don't want to hurt too many people. I'm kind of at a loss, don't know what to do.

NARRATOR: The tensions between traditional values and new expectations seemed to trouble everyone. Miranda Hong earned her MBA just months ago from one of the country's top business schools in Shanghai.

MIRANDA HONG, Businesswoman: [through interpreter] A woman who studies for an MBA has to excel. In interviews, some companies ask you very directly, "How soon are you going to have a child?" This kind of question ought to be illegal. And it is. But that's reality.

NARRATOR: She was now working in Beijing, in the advertising department of an investment company.

MIRANDA HONG: [subtitles] Our logo is red, so we have to follow this style.

XIAO DONG, Co-Worker: [subtitles] If it's red all over, even different shades, wouldn't it give the impression of- it would lead to a sense of being leftist? Too much red, wouldn't that be a problem?

CO-WORKER: [subtitles] You mean like the Cultural Revolution?

XIAO DONG: [subtitles] I didn't want to use the word, but-

MIRANDA HONG: [subtitles] Ah. Xiao Dong is thinking ahead.

[through interpreter] When I graduated, I had to decide whether to stay in Shanghai or come back to Beijing. My parents and my husband all live in Beijing. There were better opportunities in Shanghai, but I decided to come back to Beijing. My parents are pretty old, and I feel responsible for them.

[subtitles] I'll make tofu and we'll bake a squash.

MOTHER: [subtitles] There's no shrimp, right?

MIRANDA HONG: [through interpreter] My relationship with my mother is more one of duty. As a matter of fact, I've always been a bit afraid of her. But it's not because I admire her, it's because of her temper. I don't know when it will erupt. With my father, it's kind of special. The person I admire most in the world is my father.

FATHER: [subtitles] If you can sleep on the train, you're better off than flying.

HUSBAND: [subtitles] But she wants to watch the soccer final. She hasn't seen many games.

MIRANDA HONG: [subtitles] You don't often get two teams that are so good.

FATHER: [subtitles] It's too bad you don't have a little cell phone you can watch TV on.

MIRANDA HONG: [subtitles] How can I get a signal?

FATHER: [subtitles] Oh, it's a signal problem. Try and get to know the conductors. They must watch the games.

MIRANDA HONG: [through interpreter] My parents are not very direct. So when it comes to children, they would like me to have them sooner rather than later, but they won't nag about it day and night like other parents. In fact, they've never talked about it with me. They might, however, tell my relatives, and then my relatives will tell me what my mom thinks.

ZHANG JINGJING, Public Interest Lawyer: [through interpreter] Many women put their family first. But for me, my work is number one.

NARRATOR: Jingjing was planning to get married soon to her college boyfriend.

ZHANG JINGJING: [through interpreter] My fiance is not often in Beijing, so I have more freedom to work. He's very supportive. That's why I think marriage may be important. Like when we renovated this apartment, I didn't do much. Basically, he did it all. So I'm very thankful to him for giving me a solid ground.

NARRATOR: The costs of work seemed to be catching up with everyone, including hotel owner Xu Weimin.

XU WEIMIN, Hotel Owner: [through interpreter] My life is quite complicated. I have this hotel in Shenzhen. It's very stressful. My ex-wife and two daughters are in Shanghai. I miss them a lot.

1st DAUGHTER: [subtitles] Watermelon juice.

XU WEIMIN: [subtitles] And you?

2nd DAUGHTER: [subtitles] I'm too full.

XU WEIMIN: [subtitles] Choose for me.

XU WEIMIN: [through interpreter] I have to visit them often. I married my present wife at the beginning of last year. In the spring, we had a baby. Now they are both in Beijing. And my parents, my little sister and my grandma are all in Shenzhen. So my life has to be divided between these three cities. I care about each one of them.

NARRATOR: Weimin and the other entrepreneurs were also confronting the tough realities of doing business in China.

XU WEIMIN: [through interpreter] Those of us who have been abroad for a while are very sensitive to things like bribery and corruption. But to most Chinese, there is actually no clear definition. Corruption is deeply rooted in the culture.

LU DONG, Internet Tailoring: [through interpreter] If you use Western values to judge Chinese or Chinese companies' behavior, I think most of the time, it's very hard to do business with them.

BEN WU, Internet Cafe Owner: I have a lot of headaches with local officials. They have no interest in either helping me or not helping me. Helping me, they're not going to get anything. Not helping me, they're not going to hurt themselves, so- and because they have no interest, I can't figure out a way to influence them.

XU WEIMIN: [through interpreter] Dealing with these people is a process where you turn yourself from a total stranger into an acquaintance or close friend. During that process, you definitely have to spend money.

BEN WU: I will not bribe officials. However, that's sort of washing my hands clean, OK? But however, I don't think- in order to get something done, I don't think I can stop my Chinese partner to do something.

XU WEIMIN: [through interpreter] Tons of people have power over you. To run this hotel, there are at least seven or eight agencies. If someone says we failed sanitation standards, what do you do? It might be quite simple. You can take care of it by paying for a dinner or something worth a couple of thousand. This is a huge challenge to everyone doing business in China. Even I don't know if I can stick to my principles.

LU DONG: [through interpreter] There is nothing you can do. Fish have to live in water. If the water isn't clean, you have to get used to it.

BEN WU: It's against my moral standard. Every day, I have to make a choice how far I want to go. You know, the thing I'm really afraid of is down the road, I will no longer have this struggle every day.

NARRATOR: Since his return to China, Ben has also struggled with family issues.

BEN WU: I do feel more like at home, but sometimes I also get confused because I miss my family. I have been separated with my wife for a year. She's in U.S. studying for her accounting degree. My wife, my parents, my brother, they're all in the States, and I'm here all by myself. So sometime I don't know where is my home.

You know, sometimes when I'm really tired, I just ask myself, "What am I doing here?" I should just get on a flight and go to New York and be with my wife, at least for a weekend. I mean, my cafe is not going to go bankrupt over the weekend, right? So why am I worried? You know, I ask myself that question. I can't answer that question.

[ More on the social stresses and strains]

WANG XIAOLEI, Rapper: [through interpreter] I met this girl on the Internet. She was a friend of a friend. She really liked hip-pop, and so did I. We began to chat on line and we really clicked. And I was very lonely and needed somebody to talk to.

[rap lyrics] Is the past really that important? I think you've prayed for the future, too. Now you just need my embrace. I think everything will be all right.

WANG XIAOLEI: [through interpreter] So I said, "Why don't you come to Beijing and stay with me?" She seemed into it. She said she was short of money or something, and I lent her all the money I had. But for some reason or other, she never showed up. Then it dawned on me that I must have been had. I've been questioning myself ever since.

NARRATOR: Jingjing was in New York for a meeting of environmental lawyers. But for once, she seemed more focused on her personal life than her work.

ZHANG JINGJING, Public Interest Lawyer: [through interpreter] I've been through a difficult time. My fiance and I are both very, very busy. Actually, I focused more on my work than my relationship. And it faded. He gave up. I could feel it. His heart wasn't here anymore. There were new temptations, probably a better woman than me. I felt like I was the one who always blamed or criticized him, but the other woman flattered and admired him. He said it first, "Let's just end it." I tried really hard to get him back, but I just couldn't.

WANG XIAOLEI: [rapping] [subtitles] Let's let it go, move on. Let's not believe anymore. Forget all this stuff I can't believe. Forget what I just went through. It's like I just want to sing for you.

[through interpreter] There's a social problem in China. Many girls only believe in money. They think they have to marry someone rich. I know a lot of girls and I ask them, "Do you still believe in love?" They're, like, "No, I only believe in money." This has made me really depressed.

ZHANG JINGJING: [through interpreter] In today's society, we don't have standards for right and wrong. For example, we often say that a man can't be defined as successful if he doesn't have several lovers. It's really hard for a professional woman to balance her career and her relationship.

LU DONG, Internet Tailoring: [through interpreter] I still haven't found a girlfriend. One reason is because I've been very busy. Another reason is because values have changed greatly in China. I've always wanted to search for the meaning of life and universal truths. At first, I thought because religion was something far beyond science and my education, I couldn't understand it. But as I get into it deeper, I find that the Bible and Christ have all the answers I've been searching for. After being baptized, I no longer feel lonely.

[ Watch this film on line]

MIRANDA HONG: [through interpreter] Last year, I felt really conflicted. I still do.

NARRATOR: Miranda's job advertising mutual funds has put her in the heart of China's booming stock market.

1st SALES REP: [subtitles] Hello, Ma'am. We're showing that you have chosen cash dividends on your account.

MIRANDA HONG: [through interpreter] It's because the mutual fund business is seeping into ordinary people's lives. But they don't understand economics or finance, much less mutual funds.

2nd SALES REP: [subtitles] On April 3rd, your balance was 36,917.30.

MIRANDA HONG: [through interpreter] The money is to support them in their old age. Chinese call it "life support." I think we should warn them they might lose their money. I don't want to package a product just for a quick profit which results in them losing money. I really can't do that.

NARRATOR: Tensions at work have spilled over into her marriage.

MIRANDA HONG: [through interpreter] My husband and I have big fights. When he doesn't see results, like I'm not promoted or getting a raise, he says something. About three months ago, when we were having the same argument again for the same reasons, he said that if I wasn't doing well at work, he felt very guilty because I chose to come back to Beijing just because of him. When he said that, I felt he really does care about me because he knows that I am not a housewife, that I will never be a housewife. Although I would very much like to be, I will never be able to do it.

WEI ZHANYAN, Migrant Worker: [through interpreter] I made an important decision. I canceled my engagement. I called my father many times about breaking it off. Eventually, he said, "If you think it'll be better for you, then do what you want." It's been a while now. I'm very relieved.

[through interpreter] I met Jiang Ping through a friend. We started sending text messages. We felt we could talk to each other. The first time he visited, he said it was to go to the factory to find a job. I wasn't sure what was more important to him, to see me or find a job. That was the first time we met. I think maybe both were important to him.

[song lyrics] [subtitles] We fall in love at work. We share so many hopes. We share the hope of happiness. On the road of love, we're lost and lonely no more.

WEI ZHANYAN: [through interpreter] Jiang Ping is very thoughtful. He's very good at taking care of others. We've told our parents. His parents approve, and so does my father. Though Jiang Ping doesn't know a whole lot, he still knows more than me. The most important thing is he likes me and cherishes me.

ZHANG YAO, Medical Resident: [through interpreter] I was hanging out with some friends, and I liked her the minute I laid eyes on her. I got her cell phone number from friends. I sent her a text message. That's how it started. She is still a medical student. She'll graduate this August in ophthalmology. She's very good with her hands, so she'll be a very good eye doctor.

In Chinese culture, proposing isn't always necessary, but I wanted to give her a nice surprise. We usually sit in the same seats at McDonald's. While we were eating there one evening, I took out a diamond ring and gave it to her. She was very happy. I love her more than I love myself.

NARRATOR: Yang Haiyan and her husband have tracked her mother down to a small village more than 1,000 miles to the north.

YANG HAIYAN: [on the phone] [subtitles] This is Haiyan. Is Mom there?

NARRATOR: Now, after months of discussion, they have decided to go and bring her home.

YANG HAIYAN: [subtitles] This is my mother.

NARRATOR: Haiyan's mother told us the story of her abduction 18 years earlier, how she was trafficked and sold to a farmer named Zhu.

YANG ZHAO DI, Mother: [through interpreter] When I first got here, I went through hell. When I saw other people's children, I'd think of Haiyan. I was like crazy. I said I wanted to go home. The guy Zhu said, "I paid that woman two thousand for you. You're never going home."

NARRATOR: Haiyan was hearing details of her mother's story for the first time.

YANG ZHAO DI: [through interpreter] When I first moved into his family, I could see the sun. We lived at the other side of the sun, so I ran towards the sun. I ran and ran and ran until I couldn't see the sun anymore. They all went to hunt for me. When they found me, they brought me back and hung me up, hung me up and beat me. The guy's mother said, "You don't have to beat her. She's pregnant."

I had a daughter. She's very sweet. Every time I talked about going home, she would cry. She said, "Mom, please don't go. Please wait until I leave school."

NARRATOR: She waited for years. Then she fled to a family in the next village who she thought would not mistreat her. She now works for Mr. Lu, looking after his grandson, cooking, cleaning and sleeping with him.

YANG ZHAO DI: [through interpreter] I want to go home. I know that my mom and my dad are getting old and there is no daughter around to take care of them.

INTERVIEWER: [through interpreter] Then why don't you go?

YANG ZHAO DI: [through interpreter] He won't give me money. I can't make it back by myself.

YANG HAIYAN: [through interpreter] It's because this Mr. Lu won't give her money for her to go home.

YANG ZHAO DI: [through interpreter] He told me not to go back. He won't give me money. He's afraid I won't come back.

INTERVIEWER: [through interpreter] If Haiyan gives you the money, will you go back then?

YANG ZHAO DI: [through interpreter] Of course I want to go back.

NARRATOR: By the next morning, Haiyan's hopes were fading. Her mother had changed her mind.

INTERVIEWER: [through interpreter] So you're a little disappointed with this trip?

YANG HAIYAN: [through interpreter] A little bit, yes. I was really hoping she would come back with me. This morning, my mom called me to her room. She said, "Haiyan, I want to go home with you." So I said, "Why don't you tell the man this and come back with me?" She said, "If I leave, this poor baby will be very miserable." I said, "You want to come with me, but at the same time, you can't let go of this place." She's full of contradictions. She doesn't know what to do.

She said she probably won't come home until she's 60. I said, "If you come back, as long as I am in Guilin, I will share whatever I have with you."

INTERVIEWER: [through interpreter] What did she say when you told her this?

YANG HAIYAN: [through interpreter] She said she was very happy. She said at least she has me to depend on. In other words, she finally had a sense of home.

[Wang Xiaolei rap] [subtitles] The street where we played as kids is covered with high-rises with no numbers. The traces of a happy childhood are gone. All that is left is the broken corner of a wall.

NARRATOR: By 2007, almost all of Beijing's old neighborhoods were gone. Entire new business districts had sprung up in just months. The city looked almost ready for the Olympics, China's global coming out party.

Jingjing and the residents had lost the power line case, but new cases were pouring in, bringing her unwanted attention from the authorities.

ZHANG JINGJING: [through interpreter] Many officials feel that if you sue the government, you must oppose it, so I'll give you a hard time. I'm a little concerned. Our purpose isn't to oppose the government but to bring lawsuits in the public interest. So far, we haven't had any direct threats. But when I go to a small city or county seat to represent poor villagers, I can feel that I'm not welcome, and I know my whereabouts, my phone number, are all monitored.

As the Chinese economy grows and industry expands from the coast to the west, no village is being spared. This case involves Dabaoshan Mine in Shaoguan.

NARRATOR: Shaoguan is a mining town in southern China. Most of the companies here, like this smelter and Dabaoshan Mining, are owned by the government, making this another difficult and sensitive case.

YANGHE VILLAGE PARTY SECRETARY: [through interpreter] Dabaoshan has built mines, dumping red clay and other toxins into the river.

NARRATOR: Jingjing has a surprising ally in the local Communist Party secretary, the spokesman for the villagers.

PARTY SECRETARY: [through interpreter] All the crops are down, especially peanuts. There is absolutely no way for you to grow peanuts.

VILLAGER: [through interpreter] Our fishponds, 160 of them, none can be farmed. We've lost all our fishponds.

PARTY SECRETARY: [through interpreter] No local buyers want our stuff. They say, "Your vegetables are poisoned." So what do we do? We use those small peddlers, and through them, we sell to Guangdong and Hunan or Fujian provinces.

Our wells are connected to the river. So we are drinking the polluted water.

ELDERLY VILLAGER: [subtitles] It feels like there's a lump close to my heart.

PARTY SECRETARY: [through interpreter] Every year about 40 percent or even 50 percent of those who die, die of cancer. This is a list of deaths in the last two years. Talking of a cancer village, we are becoming one. Most cancer patients need more than $2,500 for treatment. Those who don't have the money just die.

I took the villagers to the Dabaoshan Mining Company and stayed for a whole day. The company said, "OK, OK, OK, we'll give you 600 to solve the drinking water problem." But the town government kept the money for themselves. We didn't get one penny. Although I am a Communist Party secretary and a party member, I still say that some of those local government officials are really a disaster for the people.

ZHANG JINGJING: [through interpreter] The villagers have a sense of how difficult it's going to be to get money from a state-owned company because they've been asking for 30 years. I really can't say how confident we are about winning. I'll do all I can to help them win damages, and even more importantly, to get Dabaoshan Mining to clean up the pollution.

WANG XIAOLEI: [subtitles] Another chicken wrap. How much for two?

[on the phone] [subtitles] Are you guys coming to rehearse? Cool. Then see you at the club. You know how to get there, right?

[through interpreter] I am still working as a DJ. I moved to a bigger club and good rappers. I'm with a lot of rappers who also want to make music. We started as a group, and then gradually, we wanted to start an indy label because we made so many records in the last year. To be honest, I barely made any progress this last year because I was trapped in that- that abyss.

[subtitles] Anyway, I was scammed. The girl finally came back on line.

FRIEND: [subtitles] She came back on line? And then?

WANG XIAOLEI: [subtitles] I said, "Why didn't you come?" She said she was scared I'd kill her. I said I'd never do that. I'm not that childish, moronic. I asked her what we're going to do now. She said, "Wait another five months." Damn. If I wait, would anything happen?

FRIEND: [subtitles] Don't be [expletive] stupid!

WANG XIAOLEI: [subtitles] It's unbelievable! I don't care about the money. Damn!

FRIEND: [subtitles] Then what do you want?

WANG XIAOLEI: [subtitles] You guys are really bad.

FRIEND: [subtitles] Just kidding.

WANG XIAOLEI: [subtitles] I make $1,300 a month. That's enough for both of us. Damn! I don't get it.

[through interpreter] My parents have been saying stuff like, "You should give up your dream." And they asked for forgiveness for the way they treated me when I was little. They said, "If you come back, we will find you a stable job, buy you a house, help you find a wife." But I said no. I feel I've put in so much, I have to get results.

I'm too embarrassed to go home right now. Honestly, because of the Internet love story, I feel very childish.

[ More about the music in this film]

NARRATOR: In Shenzhen, Weimin's hotel business was taking off.

XU WEIMIN: It's quite different from last year. Here's the lobby, reception-

[through interpreter] We are doing exceptionally well. We have a nearly 90 percent occupancy rate. We've already located our second hotel, and we're going to start remodeling right away.

My son is growing fast, very fast. He just had his second birthday. My wife is pregnant again.

NARRATOR: In Shenzhen, the penalty for violating the one child policy can be as high as $95,000.

XU WEIMIN: [through interpreter] We'll probably go to Canada or the U.S. or somewhere to have the baby. Because years ago I emigrated to Canada, I have a foreign residency there. If she goes somewhere else to have the baby, it definitely will not have Chinese citizenship.

NARRATOR: Lu Dong's company now had 10 employees.

LU DONG: [subtitles] What are you doing?

SEAMSTRESS: [subtitles] Attaching the sleeves. Don't you know how to put on sleeves?

LU DONG: [subtitles] No. No, I don't.

[in English] "Beyond Tailors"- yeah! Last year, there was nothing, absolutely nothing. I was sitting in the bedroom, living room, with my mom. But there's a label, there are people working, there's customers happy. I just feel so excited, you know?

China last year, there were 900 million shirts sold. So just think. They're all made in this kind of factory one by one, 900 million! So if I just get 1 percent of the market, nine million shirts, one RMB per shirt, there's over 900 million RMB. The land of opportunity!

NARRATOR: Ben Wu had left his $100,000 a year consulting job and joined Lenovo, China's largest computer maker.

BEN WU, Internet Cafe Owner: This job from Lenovo came along, and I thought I could learn more from this job instead of staying in McKinsey for another year. The chairman, he has two assistants. My job is to follow him around and- because he travels so much, so it- it ends up just myself being with him all the time.

Typically, I spend a week in China, spend a week in U.S., spend a week in Europe, every month. My job is, like, dealing with 10 things at any minute. If you just look at the lifestyle, no one can really tolerate this, you know? So you just have to evaluate whether the positive outweighs the negative.

The Internet cafe is going well. As a matter of fact, it's becoming the number one cafe in Beijing. So we just did the second one and we have a plan to do another three by the end of this year.

I'm hoping that my wife will come back and she will stay here with me finally and we will have a family here. So after three years apart, I think that's enough for both of us. It is a miracle. You know, we were married for 10 years, and I think we were married for so long, the opportunity cost is so high, it wouldn't be- if we leave each other, so-

MIRANDA HONG, Businesswoman: [subtitles] I saw their text message. There's been a lot of advertising.

BOSS: [subtitles] Yes, and we should do something similar.

MIRANDA HONG: [subtitles] So can you give us a heads up when the time comes?

NARRATOR: In spite of her concerns, Miranda decided to stay at the mutual fund company. She hoped her work in advertising would help people realize the risks of investing.

MIRANDA HONG: [through interpreter] What we're doing now is teaching concepts of financial planning, so they can keep their standard of living when they retire. That's why I stay. It will actually solve an important social issue.

NARRATOR: She and her husband were buying a new, larger apartment.

MIRANDA HONG: [through interpreter] The idea of having a baby has been troubling me the last couple of years. I've never been troubled by any other question for so long. My parents, my parents-in-law and my husband all really want one. But I want to follow my heart. There are still a lot of things in my career that I really want to do.

NARRATOR: Haiyan has decided to leave her family and become a migrant worker, just as her mother did when Haiyan was small.

YANG HAIYAN: [through interpreter] When my baby is a little older, I plan to have his grandparents take care of him and I'll go to work in Guangdong. If we miss each other, I'll come back often. If not, we can phone. There are probably many ways we can make phone calls or go to the Internet. If I had a job, I'd feel more secure. I wouldn't be home all day. I wouldn't be frustrated or bored. Anyway, I'd be happy if I could find a good job.

NARRATOR: After four years, Zhanyan's job was wearing her down.

WEI ZHANYAN, Migrant Worker: [through interpreter] The factory is very busy. Our daily quota has been set high, so I have to work overtime, 11 hours a day. We work weekends. We have no Saturdays or Sundays, no weekends. I mainly do headphone wires. There's a metallic mold and you put in four wires at a time. Our quota is 600 wires an hour. We have to do 6,200 a day. I don't have time to think. Actually, it's very tiring. I live like a machine.

I have to be realistic and find happiness from the small things in life. When I'm with Jiang Ping, we share our happiness and sadness and we care about each other. I just want us to work together and try to build something better.

NARRATOR: As we ended four years of filming, many in the group were still restless, rethinking their lives, their ambitions and values.

MIRANDA HONG, Businesswoman: [through interpreter] China has a survey called the "Happiness Index." In China, the Happiness Index is practical. It has nothing to do with the relationship between individual and society. When Chinese talk about happiness, it's about whether they can afford the things they want to buy, the housing they want, and if they like the work they do. It's a practical happiness.

LU DONG, Internet Tailoring: [through interpreter] China now is a country with no beliefs, and there are no role models. All the models are materialistic. China's been poor for a long time. It's like a kid from a poor family goes into a candy store. He's been hungry for a long time and he'll grab a lot of candy. Even if he has filled his pockets and mouth, he still wants more. But when a rich kid who has candy all the time comes in, he only takes what he wants. He'll be satisfied. So the Chinese are very hungry right now and hard to satisfy.

XU WEIMIN, Hotel Owner: [through interpreter] If you only focus on making money, you'll lose other things, so I feel my thinking is changing. Many of my friends are searching for a sense of spiritual belonging.

LU DONG: [through interpreter] The water is still dirty. What I can do is to make the water in my company clean, possibly very clean, although when I deal with the outside world, I still have to do business the way others do. That's another reason I became a Christian. Being a Christian seems to put a filter on my face and I can breathe through the filter every day.

BEN WU, Internet Cafe Owner: Internet cafe is something I'm doing for the sake of making money. Do I think I'm going to be in the Internet business for the rest of my life? No. I do have one business I really, really want to do. It's in renewable energy. My father's expertise is in solar cell, like a very thin sheet of paper, and then you stick it on the wall, on your windows, it will generate electricity. I want to build a factory producing these solar cells in China and sell them to the worldwide market. It's not about making money or- or making more money. I think I want to do something that is socially responsible and creates social benefit.

ZHANG YAO, Medical Resident: [through interpreter] As a doctor in a very large hospital, I feel an obligation to do some public health work. I'm thinking about a rotation program. Maybe residents in large hospitals could provide training in rural ones. It's easy to train a doctor, or even a layperson, how to deal with hypertension, diabetes and other common diseases.

I'm very ambitious. Working in a small clinic doesn't mean your ideas are restricted by it. Maybe working in a small clinic gives you more time to think about bigger ideas.

ZHANG JINGJING, Public Interest Lawyer: [through interpreter] I hope what we are doing is like kindling a fire. We can inspire other lawyers and pollution victims, and in turn, protect our environment and natural resources.

It would be best, of course, if I can meet Mr. Right. If not, well, I feel that society today allows us a lot of space. I don't feel it's necessarily bad to live alone. This job is my dream and my purpose in life. It's who I am. If I gave it up, I wouldn't be me anymore.

WANG XIAOLEI, Rapper: [through interpreter] When I was young, my dream was to become a rapper. I wanted to stand on stage in front of thousands of people and be a star. I worked hard and I succeeded. I have about 20,000 fans now. I want to be the head of a record company, and it won't be long before I get there. I firmly believe that if you work hard, your dream will come true.

A man's got to do what a man's got to do. I'm a grown-up now. After all, I'm 24. What I'm doing now is building for tomorrow, that's all.


Sue Williams

Sue Williams
Kathryn Dietz

Howard Sharp

Judith Vecchione

Will Lyman

Larry Guo

Bestor Cram
Jeremy Leach
Bill Turnley
Scott Anger

Jason Kao Hwang
Wang Xiaolei

Eric Forman
Julia Kao
Li Le

Hang Qi
Meghan O'Brien
Victoria Hall

Larry Guo
Jerry Risius
Tom Behrens
Mead Hunt
Nie Zheng

Peter Calo
Jason Kao Hwang

Eric Forman

Gao Hui
Shuping Lu
Xiaotong Wang
Zeng Hu
Linzy Emery
Junbo Yuan
Johanna Kovitz

Asha Divakaran
Sai Li
Nisha Josson
Zhao Xiaoxing

Jim Ferguson

Andrey Netboy
Steve Hastings

Patrick Donahue

Chris Cook
Eric Forman
Tim Hopper
Alexandra Lydon
Kate Middleton
Columbia McCaleb
Debra Sperling

Scot Olive

ABC News Videosource
CNN ImageSource
NBC News Ardhives
NHK Visual & Audio Archives
Radio Televisi�n Espa�ola

Filmmakers Collaborative

Margaret Drain
Niko Canner
Stacy Palestrant
Shenyu Belsky
Jan Berris
An Ping
Alice Mong
The Committee of 100
Howard Smith
Alan Piazza
Robert Daly
Edward Steinfeld


Tim Mangini

Chris Fournelle

Missy Frederick

Steve Audette

Jim Ferguson
John MacGibbon
Michael H. Amundson

Ming Xue

Megan McGough

Mason Daring
Martin Brody

Diane Buxton

Alissa Rooney

Sandy St. Louis

Jessica Smith

Peter Lyons

Kito Cetrulo

Nina Hazen

Susanna Thompson

Lisa Palone

Eric Brass
Jay Fialkov
Janice Flood
Scott Kardel

Cynthia Salvatori

Mary Sullivan

Tobee Phipps

Maya Carmel

Bill Rockwood

David Kieley

Richard Parr

Sarah Moughty

Sam Bailey

Robin Parmelee

Catherine Wright

Sharon Tiller

Ken Dornstein

Raney Aronson-Rath

Marrie Campbell

Jim Bracciale

Louis Wiley Jr.

Michael Sullivan

David Fanning

An Ambrica Productions film for WGBH/FRONTLINE

FRONTLINE is a production of WGBH/Boston, which is solely responsible for its content.

© 2008
Ambrica Productions, Inc.
and WGBH Educational Foundation

ANNOUNCER: At FRONTLINE's Web site, there's much more about the generation coming of age in China today, watch the program again on line, find up-dates on the characters portrayed, and read an interview with producer Sue Williams about how she met these young people, the surprising details about their lives, and what it was like making the film, plus a roundtable with experts on what they're seeing in China's extraordinary transformation, and more about the music in the film. Then join the discussion at

Next time on FRONTLINE/World, in China-

- I see a lot of Communist Party members becoming Christians.

ANNOUNCER: Communists for Jesus?

- They need to satisfy the spiritual hunger in their hearts.

ANNOUNCER: These stories and more on the next FRONTLINE/World.

Educators and educational institutions can purchase this program on DVD. To order, call PBS Video at 1-800-PLAY-PBS or visit [$54.95 & s/h]

FRONTLINE is made possible by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

With major funding from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, helping to build a more just world. And additional funding from the Park Foundation.

Major funding for this program is provided by the Henry Luce Foundation, the Mark and Anla Cheng Kingdon Foundation, the Shoreland Foundation of Anthony and Lulu Wang, and additional funding from the Gina and David Chu Foundation, Miranda Wong Tang, Dr. Kathryn W. Davis, Katzenbach Partners, and others. A complete list is available from PBS.

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posted june 17, 2008

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