Under Red Skies

The Life and Times of a Chinese Millennial

May 2019 9781787381759 320pp
Out of print
July 2021 9781787386020 320pp
EU Customers


Through the stories of three generations of her family, Karoline Kan, a former New York Times reporter based in Beijing, reveals how they navigated their way in a country beset by poverty and often-violent political unrest. As the Kans move from quiet villages to crowded towns and through the urban streets of Beijing in search of a better way of life, they are forced to confront the past and break the chains of tradition, especially those forced on women.

Raw and revealing, Karoline Kan offers gripping tales of her grandmother, who struggled to make a way for her family during the Great Famine; of her great-uncle, a former Communist Red Guard; of her mother, who defied the One-Child Policy by giving birth to Karoline; of her cousin, a factory worker scraping by on 6 yuan (88 cents) per hour; and of herself, an ambitious millennial striving to find a job—and true love—during a time rife with bewildering social change.

Under Red Skies is an engaging eyewitness account and Kan’s quest to understand the rapidly evolving, shifting sands of China. It is the first English-language memoir from a Chinese millennial to be published in the West, and a fascinating portrait of an otherwise hidden world.


The Spectator’s Chinese Whispers podcast host Cindy Yu discusses the phenomenon of ‘tangping’, or ‘lying flat’, with Karoline Kan.

‘Bracingly forthright . . . there is much to admire in Under Red Skies. … [Kan] tells moving family tales as well as poignant personal stories and serves as an engagingly candid guide to the fascinating generation she is a part of.’— The New York Times

‘A riveting blend of coming-of-age story, family history and cultural commentary, encompassing vast generational differences and the urban-rural divide.’ — The Guardian

‘The gripping autobiography of a generation—and a superpower—caught between tradition and ambition.’ — The Economist

‘Her memoir allows us a peek into ordinary Chinese lives through the eyes of one of those adaptable millennials … it will help any reader understand the China beyond the headlines.’ — The Spectator

‘Kan presents a heartfelt introduction to China’s recent history—and a firsthand dispatch from its millennial generation … For those seeking to understand the future of China and U.S.-China relations, voices like hers are an essential part of the conversation.’ — The Wall Street Journal

‘This tale vividly illustrates the breadth of the changes China has undergone in recent decades . . . Kan’s candidness about Chinese culture and her experience, always mediated by affection for her country, makes this an invaluable resource to Western readers interested in Chinese life.’ — Publishers Weekly

‘A remarkable multigenerational memoir that clearly explores “the real China—its beauty and ugliness, the weird and familiar, the joyful and sad, progressive and backward at the same time.”’ — Kirkus Starred Reviews

‘Kan’s story is an impressive one.’ — Asian Review of Books

‘Karoline Kan’s intimate portrait of growing up in contemporary China opens a new window onto a country going through lightning-fast change.’ — Edward Wong, International Correspondent and Former Beijing Bureau Chief, The New York Times

‘Poignant, humane, and insightful, [Under Red Skies] brings the extraordinary story of the last fifty years in China vividly alive. The Kan family’s struggles to survive and prosper through many adversities, largely inflicted on them by government, are a moving testament to the resilience and determination of three generations of women.’ — Isabel Hilton OBE, founder–editor of China Dialogue

‘At first glance, Karoline Kan’s Under Red Skies is a simple coming-of -age story. A young girl from a poor family grows up, goes to university, falls in love and gets her heart broken (repeatedly), and finally triumphs as a journalist. But contained within is a sharply observed critique of all that is dysfunctional in Chinese society. You can learn more about modern China through this compulsively readable memoir than from many weightier tomes.’ —Barbara Demick, former Beijing Bureau Chief, The Los Angeles Times, and author of Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea

‘Vivid and humane, Karoline Kan’s memoir of coming of age in China is richly revealing and contemporary, shaped both by the pain of history and the hope for the future – at turns bold and vulnerable, like China itself.’ — Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, and author of Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China

‘I couldn’t put this book down. Under Red Skies is a pioneering coming-of-age memoir from a young Chinese author who compellingly narrates the fervent story of China’s shift from farm to city while she lives it, breathes it, and feels it so that the reader does so, too.’ —Rob Schmitz, international correspondent, NPR, and author of Street of Eternal Happiness

‘Karoline Kan’s Under Red Skies is an engrossing account of a rapidly changing China seen through the eyes of an imaginative, ambitious young woman. . . An intimate coming-of-age story, this book should be read by anyone seeking to understand the aspirations and frustrations of young people in China today.’ — Leta Hong Fincher, author of Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China

‘Under Red Skies is a beautiful look at the struggles of China’s fast-changing society. In Karoline’s inspiring and heartfelt stories of her family, she voices how much Chinese people have overcome. This book should be read by people from all corners of the world if they want to know the real story of China.’ — Xue Xinran, author of The Good Women of China

‘A fascinating memoir about three generations of Chinese women. Whereas classics like Wild Swans end with the Cultural Revolution, Under Red Skies picks up where Jung Chang leaves off in this look at contemporary Chinese life and history as it changes before our eyes.’ — Lijia Zhang, author of Socialism is Great! A Worker’s Memoir of The New China

‘With her revealing and introspective account of growing up in post-1989 China, Kan fills a void in contemporary literature on the country. While the profound societal shakeup that unfolded during that period has left everyone of her generation with a remarkable story, few have possessed such skill and courage in telling theirs.’ — Eric Fish, author of China’s Millennials: The Want Generation

‘If you’re looking to understand the female millennial experience in China, Under Red Skies is your best bet.’ — The Mistress of the House of Books blog


Karoline Kan, who writes about the environment and climate change for Bloomberg, has also worked as a journalist for The New York Times, and as an editor for China Dialogue. In 2019 she was named the Young China Watcher of the Year. She lives in Beijing.

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