Meet Liú Wěi – Coming of Age in a Changing China

(Liú Wěi is August’s Regular Zhou. Click the photos to see them bigger.)

Coming of Age in a Changing China

The recently-inserted trees and their bracing poles are blocking our view. We don’t mind, though, because two green-shrouded half-finished high-rises tirelessly belch noise and dust directly across the canal from the park bench we’re sitting on. “Tianjin is a big city in China,” says Liú Wěi (刘伟), sitting next to me and talking over the rumble of construction. “Its development is rapid and widespread; it’s not like it was before.”

Liú Wěi is a born and raised Tianjiner. He’s only 25 years old, but that’s old enough to remember a very different city. He remembers when food tickets were still in use, public transportation was cheaper and the buses more rundown. It was a time when, to him, society seemed in better order. He calls the changes and development especially xùnměng (迅猛), which could be translated “rapid and violent,” but he doesn’t mean it negatively. To put it another way, Liú Wěi remembers elementary school days when there where hardly any foreigners to be seen in Tianjin, but now he learns swing dancing with some on Thursday nights.

For Tianjin and the rest of China, rapid development means much more than just an altered cityscape and wanton consumerism. It’s no secret that since the beginning of the 1980’s and the advent of China’s Reform and Opening (改革开放 / gǎi gé kāi fàng), the gap between the newly rich elite and the poorer masses has been widening. While almost everyone in China enjoys better living standards than before, Mainlanders are also navigating a rising tide of economic disparity; some sink, some sail in luxury, and others tread water while scrambling to build makeshift rafts. In Tianjin you can see them all, and Liú Wěi is among them.

On the other side of the tracks
Liú Wěi was born, raised, and educated in Tianjin’s Hedong district (河东区). His home, primary, and middle schools were within walking distance of the “back plaza” behind the old train station (后广场). For fun he and his classmates would play hide-and-seek, marbles, or go to the train station and watch the trains. The furthest he ever travelled was Quànyè Market (劝业场), which is no more than a bike ride’s distance from his home.

When I was little life was very happy, very simple, not like today, busy with so many matters… I really cherish the memories of my childhood. It was a happy time.

After middle school he studied property management at a vocational training school. Since graduating in 2003 he’s worked in a supermarket, a clothing factory, sold solar powered water heaters. He currently works as a security guard (保安 / bǎo ān) in Tónglóu (佟楼), a half hour bike ride from home.

A working man, with his world on his shoulders
Liú Wěi and his parents moved into a two bedroom apartment in Hebei district a few months ago. Long before he was born, his parents were each sent “up the mountain down to the village” (上山下乡 / shàng shān xià xiāng) for about four years during the Cultural Revolution (文化大革命 / wén huà dà gé mìng): his father to Inner Mongolia and his mother to Héběi province. Afterward his father worked in a T.V. factory and his mother for a construction company. He worries about them.

My parent’s health isn’t especially good. They’re already retired, and wile away the time at home. …Our family’s situation isn’t especially good. My parents’ retirement wages only add less than 3000元 ($438). My wages aren’t especially much. In one week I sometimes work 48 hours, sometimes 36. One hour is 6元 (less than $1), one month around 900元 ($131). In one month I only have half a month’s work. I don’t have a car and don’t have a house. My income isn’t that high. My future plans – I’m very worried about my future.

Now I want to go to school at Tianjin University. They have an adult education college. There are too many non-local university students and job seekers. The population is too big, so it’s very hard to find a job, not like America and European countries. If I’m able I want to go to university and afterward find a good job. I want my friends and relatives to be healthy and happy each day. I plan to look for an ideal job – then I won’t have to worry about being able to find a wife. I hope my parents can be really healthy and that our household starts to become prosperous. I just wish to pass each day happily.

Despite the pressure, he still finds some time to relax.

When I’m not working I just study at home or play with friends, go online or go to a bookstore. When I have spare time I like to go online and play games, or talk with friends, or look for information on ways to get better employment, and also read news on China’s current situation with foreign countries.

The Earthquake, the Olympics, & a patriotic heart

Right now I care a lot about the Wenchuan, Sichuan great earthquake issue. …This is an extremely difficult and especially big affair. Everyone is paying close attention to the circumstances of the earthquake disaster area’s common people… Whoever has money sends money, whoever has strength sends strength, whoever has things sends things. This shows the united spirit of the Chinese people. ‘When one place has trouble, all places provide help’ (一方有难八方支援 / yī fāng yǒu nàn, bāfāng zhīyuán).

China holding the Olympics utilizes a lot of manpower and financial and physical resources. The Olympics doesn’t assist China’s common people very much. It mainly expresses China’s place in the world, by showing that China can run this Olympics well. The Chinese people are extremely concerned with this matter, however, heaven isn’t helping out (天公不做美 / tiān gōng bù zuò měi). Since the earthquake a lot of Chinese people have lost confidence regarding the Olympics. But I feel we ought to transform our sorrow into strength, and strive as much as possible to manage this Olympics well.

You are warmly welcomed to harmoniously enter Tianjin life!
Liú Wěi has lots of advice for Tianjin’s foreigners:

Foreigners who come to Tianjin must assimilate (融入 / róng rù / “harmoniously enter”); they need to enter into our Tianjin lifestyle habits and social customs. …When you come to Tianjin, you are guests of us Tianjiners. We warmly welcome you to come to Tianjin to study and work!

Tianjiners have plenty of poor people and plenty of rich people – of course the people with cars are rich people. …Foreigners should have lots of contact with regular people. Of course, Tianjin city has its good aspects and its bad aspects. One bad aspect right now is that there are a lot of thieves… so don’t go too often to really crowded places.

You know right now there are nice people and bad people. You need to understand Chinese people, see who is a good person and who is a bad person, what kind of character they have. …You must be clever and see people clearly, and then you can make friends with the good people.

Liu Wei went on camera to answer questions about the Olympics in this video.

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