Wish Lanterns and China Underground

Alec Ash in Rotary

I bought Alec’s book during his talk in our Rotary Club of Beijing. The books Wish Lanterns and China Underground have a lot in common.
On 17 October 2017 we had the pleasure to have Alec Ash in our club to introduce his book Wish Lanterns. See the pictures of that lunch and of the copy I bought.

This is how he was introduced:
Alec Ash, author of Wish Lanterns, a nonfiction book that follows six young Chinese from childhood to late twenties, shares some of his insights about the generational trends shaping young China today, and how it connects to China’s historical legacy of youth and change.

Alec Ash is a writer in Beijing, author of Wish Lanterns, published by Picador in 2016 and a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week. He studied English literature at Oxford University, and first moved to Beijing in 2008. His articles have appeared in The Economist, Dissent, The Sunday Times, Foreign Policy and elsewhere. He is managing editor of the China Channel at the Los Angeles Review of Books, contributing author to the book of reportage Chinese Characters and co-editor of the anthology While We’re Here. You can follow him on Twitter: @alecash
See: https://alecash.net/wish-lanterns.html

He leaves me frustrated

Indeed, I started writing about contemporary Chinese society time ago, a project I abandoned, see: https://www.damulu.com/modern-chinese-society/

I am in the process of writing my next book (a political manifesto) but also gathering data for a book about “China today”, or something like that. But reading Alec’s book I feel, how can I “compete” against that?
I admire the way he could make it sound like a novel, but filled with so many contemporary issues that Chinese society is facing. Many of the details he mentions are too familiar to me. And believe me, he is accurate. I wonder how he managed to get and remember so many details from the young people he met, followed and interviewed.
The only criticism I could have is that the different stories are “all mixed up” in the sequence. But I guess that comes from the fact I took a too long time to finish the book… I actually I had to restart from the beginning…

So, a book I strongly recommend if one wants to understand where China stands today. Yes, life is not easy for the young generation

Zachary Mexico

Wish Lanterns and China Underground basically follow a similar approach, telling the stories of real people, the stories of the “real China”, but more focused on the fringes of society – reason for the title “China Underground”. I sadly forgot how and when I met the author.

Also here I can confirm the stories sound pretty genuine to me as I do go around a bit and go where other foreigners seldom appear (usually I keep my mouth shut about all that).


To be honest reading the books like Wish Lanterns and China Underground will teach you more about the real China than those ramblings from “sinologists” and “Old China Hands” (Zhongguo Tongs like they are being called). Reason why I refuse those titles…
In China you never stop learning.
So now my challenge is clear: what can I still write about?

Stress In The City

How it all started

When the author Enoch Li went through her depression, slowly the idea for her book “Stress In The City” was created.
See also my earlier post: https://www.damulu.com/2019/06/19/depression-and-stress-in-the-city/ 
Her earlier thoughts can be traced back on her blog: http://nochnoch.com/about-blog/ 
She explains her road to a complete breakdown:

“Beginning November 2009 I got physically ill, to the extent that I was in the hospital every 2-3 days, and all I could do was lie around at home with no energy to even read a book or watch TV. The pain in my head was excruciating, like a million jackhammers pounding on me.  Extending from the physical side of things, I spiraled down mentally and emotionally till I sunk into severe depression. For almost 3 years, I trudged through what seemed like never-ending darkness.

End of 2009, my body had enough, and everything exploded. I came to a complete breakdown.”

That let her to write an e-book “Pull yourself together – Bridging the communication gap between the depressed and those who love them.”
It is here available as a free download:

Enoch explains:

 “This inspiration for this free Ebook on depression came from the 1000+ comments to the post on our Founder’s blog, NochNoch, “10 things not to say to a depressed person”, she realized that there was a marked misunderstanding between the depressed and those who are not. Perhaps it was someone who wanted to help but did not know how, or depressed persons who could not communicate their lethargies to others. A rift ensued, fueling anger, frustration, and even hatred and despite. Having been on both sides, she decided to write about this, in the aim of elucidating her perspectives on how we could communicate with empathy and help those who needed it.”

See her blog for more details.

Reading Stress In The City

I read the book and found it fascinating. And I joked I was looking into dogerapy as an alternative.

See here part of my personal comments (edited) I sent to her:

– Your description – brutally honest – of your misery during your depression, and how you slowly came out of it, is in my opinion the best part of the book. It must give others more courage to admit, yes, this is also how they feel, they are not alone.
– Like you said, people often think getting out of the depression just needs some personal efforts, will power, blablabla. Of course that does not work.
– I was a bit “puzzled” on how, in the first part of the book, Tim does nearly not appear, me even wondering, was he with you? You were alone? The guy is an angel of patience. I would probably have given up. How did you two go through that long period? Was Tim just sharing the apartment with “a zombie”? How did he react when you were in this horrible state? That one side of the story bugged me.

Enoch replies

Her husband Tim was indeed an angel. helping her to go through it all:

“For most part it was self-loathing on my side and Tim just had to tolerate it. His biggest job was just to make sure I was alive. He would sometimes sit with me when I cried or howled or stomped in tantrums, sometimes he held me, sometimes he just was there and that was enough. He was the one who dragged me to the doctor’s, who called the taxi in the winter and drove me to ER. He was always on alert in case I called him or he had to call and check on me.”

This article talks a bit more about his experience:
“World Mental Health Day 2018: how husband helped wife fight severe depression.”
9 October 2018 by Lise Floris
“Enoch Li was diagnosed with depression in 2009. Husband Tim Coghlan tells how, with his help and through therapy, she overcame it and the relapses that followed, and the impact her illness had on him.”
Read the full story:
(China: needs VPN…)