BY SILVIA FROSINA
A full house of 70+ attendees welcomed author and NüVoices board member Karoline Kan at the wanel (women panel) co-hosted by NüVoices and Young China Watchers London on May 31st at King’s College London.
Kan, a former New York Times reporter and current Beijing Editor at Chinadialogue, discussed her debut book Under Red Skies: The Life and Time of a Chinese Millennial to an audience of journalists, academics, researchers and students of different fields. The book is the first English-language memoir from a Chinese millennial. Through stories of three generations of her family, Kan sheds light upon the changing daily-life experiences of Chinese people during a time of dramatic socio-political and economic transformation.
The event was moderated by Rose Martin, director of YCW London’s Mentorship Programme and Senior Consultant at Impactt Limited, and introduced by Jessie Lau, Asia-focused journalist and NüVoices board member. Organised by Lau and YCW London Co-Head Michael Yip, the event was made possible by a team of dedicated volunteers including writer Silvia Frosina, photographer Danny Vegel, and LSE-PKU International Affairs MSc. Candidate James Porter.
In the talk, Kan takes us through her writing process and shares her thoughts on contemporary China issues. Her family’s emotional connections played a significant role in shaping the book, and more generally in “bridging the generational gap between family members,” according to Kan. “As a kid, I used to live with my grandparents. (Our) shared life experience made it easier for me to get stories out of them,” she said.
“My parent’s generation suffered many hardships. (They) grew up during the cultural revolution,” said @KarolineCQKan “I want to show to my readers: China is not just (what you see in the) news. It’s stories that journalists don’t have a chance to cover.” #ChinaWanel #NuVoices pic.twitter.com/1dYni6EKLh
— NüVoices 女性之音 (@Nuvoices) May 31, 2019
Like many born during the era of the one-child policy, Kan’s life was heavily shaped by her status as a female and second-child born in 1989. Her family made many sacrifices. “My mom had to circumvent the birth control system,” she said, explaining that her mother had to put family above her career.
When her parents did not have enough money to pay the requisite fines to secure her a Hukou (household registration), Kan’s grandparents helped them pay. “(This) is something that really touched me,” Kan said. Despite their arguments, they always come together as a family, she added.
Audience Q: Do you challenge your family on gender issues? @KarolineCQKan: Growing up, men in the family decided who gets an education. Girls were told to feel lucky they didn’t have to compete with their brothers. “It was a different (time). I don’t blame (my mum) #ChinaWanel pic.twitter.com/oorTrLfVSM
— NüVoices 女性之音 (@Nuvoices) May 31, 2019
China’s generational gap has also been widening as a result of changing lifestyles. This is due to the increasing range of opportunities and freedoms enjoyed by Chinese youngsters, Kan said.
When asked by the audience about the transformation of social expectations based on gender, Kan suggests that the changing social landscape in China is a reflection of the evolving status of women, whose role in society and freedom of choice have significantly improved. However, gender-based discrimination remains a serious issue, particularly in employment. During her first job interview, Kan herself was asked whether she could promise not to take maternity leave for three years, she recalls.
The education system is yet another important factor. Although highly criticized for failing to foster creativity, the Chinese system produces innovators and creative students in fields like science and technology, Kan pointed out. While gender imbalances still exist for minorities in the job market, the situation is also improving, she added.
Kan also tackled questions related to writing. For instance, one audience member asked: how can one avoid distorting the past when attempting to recall it? For Kan, accuracy is important – but so is getting the reader involved in the narrative. It’s crucial “to present (a scene), what it was like in your mind,” she said. “To get people to think.”
About the author
Silvia Frosina is a China-focused aspiring journalist, she is currently conducting field research on issues of gender equality. She holds a BA in International Relations and Development Studies and she is now completing an MA in Advanced Chinese Studies at SOAS, with a focus on Chinese politics.
About the photographer
Danny Vegel is an amateur photographer and Master’s student in the LSE-Peking University Double Degree in International Affairs program.