Chinese Youth Culture Explodes: Reviewing “Little Emperors And Material Girls”

Over at Quadrapheme today, I’ve written about Jemimah Steinfeld’s superlative new nonfiction book, Little Emperors And Material Girls. You can find the review here.

It really is the most gripping work of research I’ve ever laid my hands on. This might be because I have a vested interest; I spent the first eight years of my schooling in Chinese-language schools in Beijing and Singapore, and find today’s China overwhelming, strange, and familiar at the same time.  Steinfeld writes fluently with a wonderful air of confidentiality; it feels like getting together with an old friend to talk avout the state of Chinese culture today.

Several things didn’t make it into the review because there wasn’t space, mostly colourful wedding-related facts. Here’s my favourite: Chinese  brides hire multiple wedding dresses and have elaborate photo shoots in several picturesque locations (some as distant as London, as reported here) well before the ceremony, often dressed up as princesses from classical times with actors playing their palanquin-bearers, or in thoroughly modern outfits — the crucial thing is variety. They might have a few different white dresses (some slinky, some huge ball gowns), a few red ones (Chinese tradition associates red with prosperity and celebration, while white is traditionally a funeral colour), and sometimes more outlandish outfits that allow them create symbolic  tableaux with their husbands-to-be. It’s symptomatic of the exuberant materialism, the joyful embrace of excess, that’s taken hold in China among the young and moneyed. But I mustn’t go on – head over to Quadrapheme to see the full review.

2 thoughts on “Chinese Youth Culture Explodes: Reviewing “Little Emperors And Material Girls”

  1. Seriously think this phenomenon ought to catch on in the West. There’s already a market for…well, all the ridiculous marriage-related things on Etsy. Why not just push the damn boat allllll the way out?


  2. I totally agree. If you’re going to blow your budget on something… it might as well be a palanquin.
    More seriously, though – they’ve really solved the problem of “why buy a dress for just one day?” by hiring multiple ones and really getting their money’s worth out of them. Extravagant and pragmatic at the same time — which sort of sums up modern Chinese culture, doesn’t it?


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