China Is Changing Fast

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GUO FANGThe late 1980s were years of great intellectual ferment. Discussions were lively, and the press was more open than ever. As a journalist writing for the magazine Reform Times, I was part of the idealistic youth scene. The student demonstrations were exciting, and I kept a close watch on the movement. But the Tiananmen crackdown changed everything.

For the next year, we were all depressed. My magazine was closed in 1990, and I planned to go to the United States. I was an idealist, and China seemed to be closing up again. But I stayed and, eventually, things improved. I began teaching Chinese at a newly established Montessori school in Beijing. In 1995, China hosted the United Nations World Conference on Women, and I served as a p.r. consultant. I later became the local representative for a Swiss dealer in contemporary Chinese art. The country was developing, and there were endless opportunities to do new and interesting things. Last year I opened Ashanti, a private restaurant in Beijing that features Spanish cuisine and Chinese artworks.

Looking back over the past decade, I am impressed by how much China has changed. The country gives me hope. In the 1980s I couldn't dream of having my own house and car. Having never traveled overseas, I had a hard time even imagining such luxuries. It was a big deal just to have a private telephone. In 1989, the students didn't know what they wanted. We were all equally poor. We were all idealists.

These days, I live with a man I'm not married to. I'm planning to design and build my own house. In other words, I can now have the life I want. It's interesting, and it's comfortable. If I want to marry, I can. If not, I don't have to. A decade ago such freedom of choice was unimaginable.

Those who left China in 1989 are probably unaware of the dramatic changes that have taken place. The students of a decade ago were politicized. In 1989, I too wanted democracy, but I didn't know what it was. Today, I want what I know. You can't want something that you don't understand. The young generation today is also different. They are more entrepreneurial. They already have their own homes and cars.

I'm very optimistic about China's future and about my place in it. I have profited a lot from the country's opening. I now believe that I have something to do with this society. I feel that I am linked to it. I prefer my life now. It's the life I want. I still haven't taken that trip abroad, but these days I'm too busy to go overseas.

Guo Fang, a journalist a decade ago, is now a restaurateur in Beijing