dinsdag 2 juli 2013

'February Flowers': First Love & Student Life in China

When De lezer regeert was in her student years she read a book about Chinese student life and was quite struck by the contrast in discipline between herself and the main character in the novel. After an exhausting search to recover the title and author of the book to discuss it with her readers, she stumbled on 'February Flowers' by Fan Wu. Not the book, nor the author she was looking for, but for a view on Chinese student life, Chinese history, society and values the book is quite a good startingpoint.

Chinese Student Life 

Order and discipline. These are the two words that first come in mind when you start reading 'February Flowers' by the Chinese author Fan Wu. The main character Chen Ming is only sixteen when she goes off to study in the university of Guangzhou, in south China. The description of the university itself is very detailled. Dormitories in bad condition, full of rats and mosquitos. The rooms are shared by four or five students, little space is given to keep your belongings. These rooms have to be kept spotless, because every once in a while they will be inspected. In the night there is a curfew and everyone checks on everyone.

Chances in a Chinese city

As the capital of one of the most prosperous regions in China, Guangzhou city attracts people from all over China. But although the government gives everyone the possibility to study in the  university, not everyone is allowed to stay there and find a job. In that way Chen Ming is lucky. Her parents were expelled during the Cultural Revolution and she grew up on a farm, but their background, the region in which she was born, give Chen Ming the chance to look forward to a job in Guanzhou.

Survival lessons for Chinese Minority

While Chen Ming still has the time to be young and insecure, her best friend Miao Yan has other things on her mind.  Miao Yan is twenty four, beautiful, selfconscious and extravert. Chen Ming looks up to her, in her eyes  Miao Yan is a real woman. But Miao Yan has a bad reputation. Due to the policies, as a descendent from a minority group, she will have to leave Guangzhou after university and head back to the poor village where she was born. Miao Yan is desperate to find a way to stay in Gaungzhou. She uses men and women to get what she want. Chen Ming ignores all the signs, but on the forthnight of her 18th birthday, she is forced to admit to herself that she also has been used by her best and only friend.

Chen Ming is anxiously looking forward to her 18th birthday, the day on which she can call herself a woman. Miao Yan has promised her to tell her the secrets of womanhood when Chen Ming is eightteen, but just before Miao Yan leaves. They will never meet again.

Shades of Friendship

The more Chen Ming learns about life and love, the more she learns about Miao Yan. Although Miao Yan has serious problems, Chen Ming stays at her side and defends her. Her love for Miao Yan is very strong and sometimes appears to be of a homosexual kind. But, she has read a lot of books, and none of the books talk about that kind of love. The conclusion was simple; homosexuals didn't exist in China. She therefore tells herself she only wants to be close to Yan because she cares for her. Like a sister.

More than the somewhat strange friendship between the two girls, 'February Flowers' talks about social structure, discrimination. It shows how a young girl becomes a woman in a blooming environment, ignoring the true base of friendship to find the meaning of life and create her own identity. 

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