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China is impossible to describe. An ancient civilization, a vast nation, the largest population in the world. All true, but what is it actually like? How can we attempt to understand a country with 1.3 billion people? What could possibly be representative? At times it feels like the Great Wall—so vast it can be seen from space—is a mental as well as physical barrier.
China’s official image gives a carefully considered answer: a modern political powerhouse opening up to the world—successful, disciplined and happy. But critics such as Ai Weiwei point to the cost of such Confucian perfection: an unsettling disregard for the individual’s rights compared to the needs of the state. To quote a well-known yet still deeply illustrative example, at the 2008 Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing, two girls were used for the solo recital—one for her voice, the other for her face.
Perhaps China has two faces: its face to the world, and the faces of its people—sometimes celebrated, sometimes hidden. But in these short stories we have discovered the individual voices from inside and outside this country; voices of protest and ambition, love and frustration, hope and confusion, all the richness of the human experience. We invite you to listen.