EVENT REVIEW: Xinran at Durham Book Festival

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Saturday 10 October
Palace Green Library

Review by Miranda Stephenson

What happens when a generation of spoilt ‘only children’ grow up and are expected to fend for themselves? The answer seems pretty simple: according to Xinran, the author of Buy Me the Sky- they don’t cope at all.

Buy Me the Sky both raises and answers various questions on the after-effects of China’s one child policy. Throughout the book are many detailed accounts from various children of this generation. While some of these are amusing and seemingly trivial, others tell far darker, profoundly disturbing stories.

In person, Xinran was vibrant and interesting enough to hold the audience’s attention for her full allotted event time slot. Though she initially apologised that she ‘could not speak perfect English’, she still managed to captivate the audience in front of her and paint vivid pictures of the reality of China’s one child policy and its effects.

Xinran started off the event by retelling the stories of a 21 year old boy who came to stay at her house and couldn’t unzip his own suitcase, another boy even older who couldn’t figure out how to slice a potato after twenty minutes of sitting staring at it, and 200 parents waiting outside school gates to walk their 18 year old babies across the road.

In the West, in today’s day and age, this seems unthinkable but, for an entire generation of Chinese only children, this is their reality.

In 2020, due to the effects of the one child policy, it is predicted that there will be 30 million more men in China than women. Xinran made a point of lamenting to the audience, ‘but where are the missing 30 million girls?’

They are dead. Lots of them. Abandoned in fields or flushed down toilets. Others were given to British, American and European families to adopt. As Chinese families were only allowed one child, some were willing to do whatever it took to make sure their one registered child was a more highly-regarded boy.

Still, Xinran commented in response to an audience question that ‘if it weren’t for the one child policy, many girls would not be in University.’ That’s because if families had both male and female children, only the males would be educated at a higher level. In today’s reality educating their one child, even if that one child is female, is pretty much a necessity for any family.

The Buy Me the Sky event showed how a generation of children has grown into adulthood without the necessary life skills. Many blame their parents for their lack of independence but yet refuse to do anything about it themselves. Or maybe these quasi-children just don’t know how.

At the end of the event, the audience were left to draw their own resolution to Xinran’s chilling final question: ‘Are the parents making a pet of the child, or is the child keeping the parents as slaves?’

Miranda Stephenson is a Reviewer in Residence at Durham Book Festival.

Reviewers in Residence is a Cuckoo Young Writers programme ,which allows young critics to develop an in-depth relationship with a venue or art form, and take part in exclusively tailored writing masterclasses.