Those who know little to nothing about Chinese culture will receive an eye-opening experience of how China was and how China is now through Annie Wang’s novel The People’s Republic of Desire.
Wang takes readers on a journey with four cosmopolitan women learning to live life in the new China. Niuniu, the book’s narrator, is a Chinese American woman, who spent seven years living in the States obtaining her degree in journalism. In the book, Niuniu is now considered a “returnee” when she goes back to China to get over a broken heart. What she meets upon return to her homeland is not the traditional Confucian values she left, but a new modern China where Western culture seems to have taken over — to an extreme.
Niuniu, the narrator of the book, is called a “Jia Yangguiz” which means a “fake foreign devil” because of her Westernized values. Her friend Beibei is the owner of her own entertainment company and is married to a man who cheats, so Beibei deals with his infidelity by finding her own young lovers. Lulu is a fashion magazine editor who has been having a long-term affair with a married man, and thinks nothing of having several abortions to show her devotion to him. CC, also a returnee, struggles with her identity between Chinese and English.
In The People’s Republic of Desire the days of the 1989 idealism and the Tiananamen Sqaure protests seem forgotten to this new world when making a fast yuan, looking younger, more beautiful, and acting important seems to be of the most concern to this generation.
Wang uses these four woman to make humorous and sometimes sarcastic observations of the new China and accurately describes how Western culture has not only infiltrated China, but is taken to the extreme by those who have experienced a world outside the Confucian values. What was once a China consumed with political passions, nepotism, unspoken occurrences, and taboos is now a world filled with all those things once discouraged — sex, divorce, pornography, and desire for material goods. It’s taken the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” to an all-time high.