Happy Dreams

Jia Pingwa

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All the time I was reading this book, I heard that song from South Pacific going through my head. You know, the one that goes ‘happy talk, keep talking happy talk’. That describes the hero, Happy Liu, of Pingwa’s novel about a group of trash pickers. They leave their country homes behind to come to the big city, hoping to find a better life. What they find is hard work, little money and every man’s hand turned against them.

In spite of his troubles, Happy always find the best in his circumstances, and wins our hearts, even though we know it’s hopeless. Happy lacks the cunning to steal and cheat his way to success. Exploited at every turn, it is hopeless. Nevertheless, Happy continues to hope, and searches for a happy ending.

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One Child: The Story of China’s Most Radical Experiment

Mei Fong

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When China decided to do some social engineering, the result was most unexpected. It was so successful, that now that China wants to reverse the one-child policy, people are resisting. Raising one child is much cheaper than two or more and make fewer demands on their parents. People are quite content with their one child. Now that China is facing an aging population and a diminishing labor force, it is trying to encourage multiple children. It is, however, easier to stop than to restart a population boom.

In an intriguing parallel story, Ms. Fong details her own attempts to conceive a child. Visiting fertility clinics in the US and China, she tries in-vitro fertilization more than once before succeeding.

I found the two stories equally gripping, and the book was well organized and well-written. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for China and what further experiments in social engineering it will attempt.