Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth by Xiaolu Guo

I was about to buy another book about a Chinese factory worker but changed my mind after reading a few excerpts from it.  I didn’t want to read more about the hardships of factory work and how they dock your pay for all these minor infractions.  I wanted a more uplifting story.  So I came upon this novel which I think must have some real life experiences fictionalized.  It’s about a peasant girl from rural China who moves to Beijing.  It was written in 2001 which already dates it, but perhaps you get a picture of China in the midst of its great transformation instead of a few years after it.  While the previous book I read about a Chinese factory worker was almost exclusively about working, this book touches upon more social life aspects.  It’s interesting to note some things early on. 

The narrator, Fenfang must put down her animal sign and astrological sign on her resume.  The Chinese are very superstitious which in a sense means deterministic.  The Chinese culture is heavily influenced by its Confucian past which is all about obedience, social order, and hierarchy, although you can elevate your social ranking through merit.  With Communism, they have become especially collective-minded.  It’s interesting to note that Fenfang’s family hardly spoke to each other.  I’m curious to know if this is a common thing with poor rural people.  I think in America, poor people tend to have fewer meaningful conversations with their kids.  Some educational study noted that middle class parents tend to engage their children more in discovery and learning.  It’s interesting to note how poorer families have more simplistic, brief, superficial conversations and I’ve noticed that with my friends too.  Is it the egg or the chicken.  Do poor people learn not to talk much because of their position in society?  Imagine supervisors not really involving them in the decision process and simply giving them orders.  Does this then impact the way they interact with their children?  Or do people who lack proper social skills wind up at the bottom of the barrel or both?  I’ll admit right now that my parents were not talkers and actually anti-social.  I lucked out by meeting people throughout my life who were much more outgoing and conversational, but to this day, I do tend to offer brief, simplistic conversation by fault unless I really make an effort.  But I think humans communicated much more before the Agrarian Era and hierarchies.  We had to.  Our brains and complex facial abilities indicate that we communicated more and those who communicated well thrived. 

 Another interesting thing about China, as Fenfang points out, is that there is no word for romance in the Chinese language, that perhaps in rural China, there wasn’t much romance, and you just married whomever was available to you, or it was all arranged.  The one interesting thing I learned from the previous book was that if you give women independence from their family responsibilities and a sufficient income to live on their own, they may not have a desire to settle down and have kids.  It means that if we want to solve overpopulation, the answer is urbanization and industrialization, and giving women work and a sufficient income to be independent.  Keeping Third World countries purposefully in poverty by exploiting them and taking their resources does nothing but induce them to keep reproducing and overpopulating.  If there is some sort of cabal or white supremacists who want to take over the world, they’re actually failing miserably as the white population shrinks.  More likely, there is a cabal of simply greedy, selfish bastards who just want to amass wealth and care less that Third World Countries are overpopulating.  China is actually solving its overpopulation problem by simply giving women jobs.  In fact, it’s working so well, they don’t need the one-child policy anymore. 

 An interesting addition is Fenfang’s inclusion of one of her movie script drafts about an odd man trying to get by who encounters an intriguing, young woman who stashes her stolen items at his place.  An interesting note about McDonald’s.  I always thought foreigners went to McDonald’s because it symbolized America, but, Fenfang offers other good reasons including, clean floors, toilets with toilet paper, and icy air conditioning.   

 One of the frustrating themes of both this novel and the last book I read was young women being taken advantage of or abused by boyfriends.  Fenfang meets a guy who is possessive and abusive and when she breaks up, he destroys her belongings and then keeps calling her.  Beyond all belief, Fenfang later calls him up.  I mentioned in my last review an intern from the Philippines I was working with.  She has no heating in her rented apartment, and I told her it was illegal for a landlord not to fix her heater within 24 hours (it’s actually 48 hours).  It hasn’t been working all winter!  Today, she finally told me that she reported the landlord yesterday.  OMG!  This is what happens to both poor people and women.  Nobody teaches them the essentials of real life so they get exploited.  It’s amazing that to this day in many countries on this planet, girls are not prepared for the harsh realities of life and get exploited by both boyfriends and/or scam artists.  It is one thing to demand equal rights and opportunities for women, but another to teach them how to avoid getting exploited.  Even worse, poor people are the least likely to teach their kids anything.  Before the Agrarian Era, I am convinced that kids spent most of their life watching and learning from their parents in order to learn how to become flourishing adults.  Today, we seem to believe that A. kids don’t need parental mentoring anymore B. kids get taught everything at school, and C. kids can learn the rest from TV.  Truly appalling.  The most essential lesson parents teach kids is how to deal with emotional upset and calm and soothe themselves.  When kids are not taught this, they often resort to external, artificial things to calm and soothe them like alcohol and drugs.  It is sad to say that parents are not only failing to prepare them for life, but they are actually making them more vulnerable to becoming alcohol or drug addicts.    

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