BUY ME THE SKY by Xinran

The first children to be born under China’s one child policy are now in their mid-thirties. The consequences of such a policy have been enormous, and not always in a good way. One very serious downside is the huge gender imbalance with millions of men having to face the fact that they will never marry and have their own children. And then you get something like a devastating earthquake which collapses a school, and hundreds of only children are lost.

Xue Xinran is a Chinese born journalist, broadcaster, speaker and advocate for women’s issues. She moved to London in 1997 where she still lives, and has a son who was born during the one-child policy, and now also lives in London. So she has a foot in both camps, so to speak. With the huge migrations of Chinese young people to Western cities for study and/or work, this has made her the perfect architect to work on initiatives that help build understanding between China and the West, and between the birth culture and the adoptive culture. It follows that she has developed some unique insight into the differences between the two cultures. In this book she looks at the effect the one child policy has had on these young people as they take on the huge load of expectations that their parents have piled onto them since birth. The young people whose lives she documents come from both rich and poor families, urban and rural. Some are educated, some are not. Some get on with their families and parents, some do not. There are extremes in the capabilities of these young people, the most startling being the young man who has no idea how to open his suitcase. One of the students comes to this country, New Zealand, for her study. It is a little unsettling reading about the city you live in, that has a very large Chinese student population, being seen by the Chinese as quite far down in the pecking order of desirable places to study in, but is still much better than going nowhere at all! I would be alarmed if this was my one and only precious child.

This collection of interviews also highlights the consequences for personal development that the one child policy has – narcissism, over indulgence – hence the title ‘Buy Me the Sky’, inability to understand the concept of personal responsibility, the overwhelming/ingrained from birth need to please one’s family to the exclusion of any personal enjoyment, and trying to straddle the East/West cultural divide.

In our Western cities, many of us now live in close proximity to families who have, in recent years, migrated from mainland China. I wanted to read this book to give myself a greater understanding of the type of society and world that my new Chinese neighbours have come from. So different in every possible way from the type of society and cultural norms I come from. I found this book such an eye opener, and with the large migrations taking place from China to the West, so informative in helping even if just a little, to understand and learn how other societies operate.

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