Magazine article The New Yorker

Second Generation

Magazine article The New Yorker

Second Generation

Article excerpt

Steven Deng, a lanky sixteen-year-old high-school student from Shanghai, was full of questions during a recent visit to New York: Why are there so many Spanish people in America? What can you tell me about the iPhone4? What do the American people think about the diplomatic policy of Obama? Is American football more popular than baseball? What is the maximum number of children allowed each family by the government? How many children will you have? One boy and one girl, or both boys? "You know, in China, we totally don't care about these things," he explained over dinner at Planet Hollywood, in Times Square. "Or, if you care, you actually don't know. You can't obtain this kind of information. I'm in America now. So I can ask about this."

Steven is a member of the fu er dai, or "second-generation rich"--the children of China's political elite and of its first real entrepreneurial class. His parents make chocolate and, with the proceeds, invest in Australian real estate. He sometimes worries that they are more consumed with their business interests than with him, their only child. Much of the Chinese middle class, meanwhile, worries that Steven and his peers are spoiled and unserious, and are unprepared to take over their families' companies. What they need, everyone seems to agree, is some worldliness, and this has given rise to a flourishing supplementary-education industry. Steven and eight classmates were here on a two-week "college and culture tour," as one of their chaperons put it, organized by a Shanghai-based company called Educational Consulting International. They'd been travelling down the East Coast in a white bus with rainbow detailing. It was Day 10, and they had already visited Harvard, M.I.T., Yale, N.Y.U., and Columbia, with Princeton and a private White House tour still to follow. Steven, who had been quiet at the beginning of the trip, seemed energized by the hip-hop dance class they had just completed at Alvin Ailey, and was suddenly talkative.

"New York is really--I think it's better than Shanghai," he said, after choosing the vegetarian option from the restaurant's "Lights, Camera, Action" menu. "Maybe some places are not so clean"--the students were all unimpressed with Chinatown--"but it gives a sense of the metropolitan. Shanghai, I think, is also metropolitan, but still in development. …

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