Under Red Skies
The Life and Times of a Chinese Millennial
A deeply personal tale of young life in a superpower haunted by its past.
Karoline Kan was born in 1989, the year of the Tiananmen Square massacre: her generation has always been caught between China’s authoritarian politics and its hyper-modern technology and economic boom.
In her quest to understand the shifting sands of global, connected China, Karoline turns to her family, who have survived Maoism and its legacy by breaking with tradition. Navigating a society beset by poverty and often violent political unrest, the Kans swapped rural villages for crowded city streets in search of a better way of life.
Now a journalist, Kan recounts gripping tales of her grandmother, who struggled to help her family through the Great Famine; of her mother, who defied the One-Child Policy by giving birth to Karoline; and of her cousin, a factory worker scraping by on less than £1 per hour. An ambitious millennial pursuing her career and personal life in a time of dizzyingly rapid social change, Kan discovers her own story’s roots in the China of previous generations.
Karoline Kan is a former New York Times reporter who writes about millennial life and politics in China. Currently an editor at China Dialogue, she lives in Beijing.
‘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