At the beginning of Beijing Doll, Chun Sue, a mopey 14-year-old, writes a 1,000-word "autobiography" for school. "I want to chill out by myself," she writes at first. "I don't want to go on living, I feel like lying down and never getting up again."
Instead, she turns in this: "Life is bright and sunny, 21st century, a generation striding into the future."
Beijing Doll, which Chun Sue wrote upon dropping out of high school, is a fleshed-out and loosely fictionalized version of the autobiography she couldn't turn in. Banned in China in 2000, the book articulates the ideals of the Linglei, China's "new new generation" of pampered punks. The Linglei have rejected the Chinese educational system as conformist (the motto of Chun Sue's school is: "Be cultivated and polite, meek like a meow/Elegant and eternally poised, don't have a cow"). In its place, they've embraced pop role models like Kurt Cobain. With no memories of economic or political oppression, the Linglei have few ideological concerns. They write, paint, sing--even program computers--to confess their broken hearts, loneliness, and boredom.
Chun Sue, a rock 'n' roll fanatic, writes prose like pop lyrics, weepy and grandiose. "If I was a flower," she writes, "then I was one of those that bloom in the morning and die the same night."
Love is the incessant subject of this book, but pop seems to provide the only paradigm for it. When Chun Sue tells her boyfriend that she hasn't seen Four Weddings and a Funeral, he tells her she's no longer qualified to talk about love. "That, he said, was true love so don't talk to me about love if you haven't seen the movie."
Chun Sue fashions herself as renegade, on the fringe of culture. And yet, the Linglei, with their image of the pouty punk, have already become a popular promotional tool, selling electronics, clothing, and fast food. Even in literature, Linglei books have been at the top of Chinese best-seller lists for three years, and Chun Sue, who was originally labeled too radical for the masses, was on the cover of this February's Chinese edition of Time.
Chun Sue's bottomless anger (she spontaneously scrawls "I Hate You," "Hole," "Sex," and "Fuck Off" on her school's wall) is carefully fashioned to incite, but in America, where punk has come, gone, and slowly come back again, the book is barely provocative. What sells the book is the "I" at the center of it, and that "I"--horny, pissed off, and self-consciously hip--is already mainstream.