* The Chinese Dream won’t go back to sleep

The Times: “One died in Boston, the other lost her home in Sichuan. Both symbolised the hopes of millions

Last week in different corners of the planet, the lives of two very important Chinese women were ripped apart: one on the streets of Boston, the other under the rubble of the Sichuan earthquake. Both women were living the Chinese Dream. And both could spell big trouble for President Xi Jinping.

Lu Lingzi was a 23-year-old mathematics graduate student at Boston University, who died in the marathon bombing. The hard-working daughter of hard-working, white-collar parents from Shenyang, she was a paragon of the generation that has emerged as China’s economy grows and the new middle classes replicate themselves for the first time in history. Not a single opportunity in Lingzi’s short life was squandered. She battled for internships at banks and accounting firms. The family saved every yuan so that their daughter could study in the United States.

The other woman is Wei Ruqun, a victim of last Saturday’s earthquake. She is alive but has almost nothing to live for. Now 47, Ruqun has toiled in a variety of factories since her teens as one of China’s 260 million migrant workers whose sweat and aspiration have fuelled the country’s industrial engine.

Her career, a diverse list of drudgery that includes assembling cheap goods for export to the West, has won her some tiny shavings from the Chinese economic boom, hard-won dividends of the version of capitalism that Beijing unleashed in the 1980s, which allowed hundreds of millions of peasants to imagine themselves as consumers for the first time. Over the decades Ruqun saved to buy a small house in the village where she was born. On Saturday, a few months after the dream house was finished, it collapsed in the earthquake with family members inside.

The two women’s fates — reported on TV and discussed on Weibo, China’s version of Facebook and Twitter — have humanised for many Chinese people social trends almost too big and fast-moving to think about in the abstract. By studying abroad, Lingzi was fulfilling an increasingly common middle-class dream. Her story has fascinated tens of millions of middle-class Chinese who know someone like her or want to do what she did. Ruqun is one of hundreds of micro-tragedies of the Sichuan quake. Barely an adult in China cannot imagine the agony of losing a house that represents your life savings.

The two women are important for the ease with which ordinary Chinese can empathise with them. But they are politically important too. Both are the creations and creators of what will soon be the largest economy on Earth. The loss of Lingzi and the shattering of Ruqun are personally terrible, but their significance lies in the fact that there are thousands, perhaps millions, of Chinese women like them: all patiently shaping individual aspiration into something real. Their two lives, though different in so many ways, are perfect products of China 2013.”

via The Chinese Dream won’t go back to sleep | The Times.

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