There is a saying in China that describes what it can sometimes feel like to be a reporter here: guăn zhōng kuī bào. Peeping at a leopard through a pipe. You may see one of its spots clearly, and sometimes a few, but it can be a tricky to take in the whole animal.
As the 19th Communist Party Congress approaches, and with it another five years (at least) of Xi Jinping as China’s top leader, Reuters wanted to gain a better understanding of life in Xi’s China.
The economy has slowed, debt levels and property prices have continued to soar, and governmental controls have been tightened on NGOs, online videos and much more. But where do you go to deepen the view of life in a vast country with 1.4 billion citizens?
At Reuters, the bread and butter of our China coverage is talking to politicians, business executives and investors. For this project, we took a different approach, focusing our reporting on young, educated adults who were just entering society when Xi took power in 2012.
They are the first generation born and raised in the post-Tiananmen era, a period marked by historic economic gains and political and social stability. Since graduating, they have started building families and careers. They face numerous challenges as China modernizes.
How this generation adjusts, adapts and leads the country in the years to come will be pivotal.
Tapping our network of sources, Reuters journalists ultimately zeroed in on about a dozen people. Five reporters were involved – in text, TV and pictures. We traveled to Chengdu, in the southwest, and Wuhan in central China, for interviews. Others were conducted in Shanghai and Beijing, where Reuters has bureaus.
It can often be tough to get Chinese people to speak on the record, even about seemingly innocuous subjects. While they were generally less than loquacious on the sensitive topic of politics, the people we profile were more than happy to talk at length about themselves – their childhoods, families, jobs, dreams.
For example, Qin Lijuan trained to be an animator in Chengdu, but always had money on her mind. She found a job selling golf memberships around China. Once that job became untenable after Xi targeted extravagant behavior, Qin, 28, returned to her hometown of Nanchong, where she experienced culture shock: her love of morning coffee raised eyebrows as an extravagance. Today she is running a team of financial advisers.
Hu Ruixin trained to design advertisements but works as a computer technician. Before this, he was a wedding planner. One of his proudest professional achievements was organizing a Barcelona Football Club-themed wedding replete with decorations in the team’s red and blue colors.
For some members of the Class of 2012, buying an apartment in a big city, finding a job as an interior designer or obtaining an accounting degree in the United States is the ultimate goal. Others are searching for a spouse. Their stories offer a snapshot of what life is like for millennials today in the world’s most populous nation.