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Chen Yu: New Father

Portraits of Young People in a Changing China

New America Media, Commentary, Chen Yu as told to Rian Dundon//Photos: Rian Dundon Posted: Oct 02, 2008

Editor's note: As the glamour of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing fades, NAM takes a post-Olympic look at the country and the real lives of people there. Photographer Rian Dundon captured images and crafted intimate portraits of the lives of young Chinese men and women in a changing society. In the fourth in a series, Dundon profiles 23-year old Chen Yu.

At age 23 Chen Yu, a graduate student in software engineering at a top school in Hunan province, unexpectedly became a father. Though traditional in his choice to start a family young he also represents a newer, more educated generation in China that is marked by opportunities far surpassing those of their elders. Hailing from a small city in southern Hunan province, and only one generation removed from his grandparents' toiling life as farmers, he offers a perspective both unique and commonplace among this transitional generation of Chinese youth.

Changsha, China -- Chinese society has really evolved. Between 1967 and 1977, people were at a very strange place, and their point of view was narrow. But after the opening of China, people's ideas changed. They now have more information and more contact with outside things.

My own plans for the future are greatly influenced by the presence of my wife and son. Even though I am comparably young, family is something that pushes me to do things that can make money. At the same time I will attempt to become the man I want to be, try to do the things I want to do.

I met my wife during high school when a close friend of hers told me about her very serious heart condition. Through that person I learned many things about her, including her health needs and her talent for writing. You see, on the surface we were just friends but in fact I knew many personal things about her and I could do the things that she wanted and needed. In this way we began to fall in love.

By the time we graduated she was already well known for her prose writing and was offered entrance to some of the biggest universities in China, including schools in Shanghai and Beijing. But because I was going to school in Changsha she enrolled in a small college near mine without telling her parents about the other opportunities. During the first year of university our feelings changed a bit, I think because we were both older and in new surroundings. We became closer but still were not boyfriend and girlfriend. Then in September 2003, the first day I came back to school after summer holiday, I received a phone call from her. Her voice was sad and she asked me to come to her school so she could tell me something. It was night time. When I saw her she looked sad and handed me a letter she had been reading. The letter was from her sick grandmother and it told her that she had actually been adopted as a child and that her real parents were both dead. Apparently, her mother had died giving birth and her father, who was in the navy, had died before she was born. We became boyfriend and girlfriend that night.

But soon I was conflicted between being with her and focusing on my studies. Up until then I had been planning to go abroad for my junior year and once we were together I had a difficult decision to make. I had to ask myself many questions, like what is life for? Why am I in this world? What kind of life do I want? What should a man do in this situation? It is not easy for young people to make decisions like this but every time I saw my wife and thought about her and her health problems I thought about what I wanted to give to this world. I decided that I wanted to be meaningful to at least one person and that that one person should be my wife.

We married on the first day of 2007, waiting until we both finished school. Five months ago we had a baby boy. The next ten years will be very important for my son. I will try to make him understand what I think is good and what I believe is wrong. Personally, I like music and photography and I will try to give him an understanding of those things from an early age. Five years from now, when my son is big enough, I will take him and my wife to travel and see some part of this strange world.

The older I get the more realistic I become. When I was still young I thought I'd live in a big city and have a nice job. But right now I have to face reality. Maybe here in Changsha I will have a normal house and a normal job. All I want to do is make money and create a stable income because I have a family to support now.

However, from the bottom of my heart, I still want to explore opportunities that may exist in a bigger metropolitan city like Beijing, Shanghai, or Shenzhen, not because I want to chase the metropolitan life, but to prove to myself that I can. I also believe that in a more mature working environment I will have greater exposure to new ideas. I understand that this will mean a lot of pressure and very expensive rent, but if I can find a good job in a larger city I will take my family there and give it a try. I think opportunity abounds in China. The problem is whether you can find it and take advantage of it.

My wife and I worry about our future life together, our dreams versus our reality. It is a struggle. Maybe we cannot plan the future because we don't know what opportunities will come or not come. I think during two people's lives the process is always a struggle. We need to set a clear target to chase and when we finally achieve that target, we may realize that the process was the truly beautiful part.

Related Articles:

Yang Ling: Life as a Karaoke Girl

Chinese Youth Laments Lost Past

Transgender Dancer's Hard Road to Love

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