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Beijing Doll Paperback – August 3, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

What matters about this semi-autobiographical coming-of-age "novel," cobbled together from the journal entries of a teenage scribbler who grew up in Beijing in the 1990s, is that it was banned in mainland China, ostensibly for its too-frank portrayal of the sex-drenched, drug-addled and music-obsessed world of that country's materialistic middle-class youngsters. The ban places it alongside two other "cruel youth" Chinese novels, Mian Mian's Candy and Wei Hui's Shanghai Baby, both of which rode their notoriety (and little else) to decent sales in the West. Chun's tale begins near the end of her third year in middle school as she fails her high school entrance exams and promptly embarks on an aimless and relentlessly solipsistic odyssey of love, sex, rock shows and academic disappointments—all part of a fight for some hazily defined freedom—punctuated here and there with suicide fantasies. There is no sense of either growth or dissolution in any of this, despite the novel's constant claims to both. Chun shows some promise as a writer, as evidenced by bits of refreshing literary experimentation and a surprising command of irony; she has also wooed the respected Goldblatt as translator. Whether she realizes her potential, however, may depend largely on how well she shuts out the dubious praise she has won, in China and abroad, with this book.
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"Reveals the cruel youth of a new generation...reflects upon the fast changing society of Mainland China." —Asian Weekly

"This original...important book reveals with brutal frankness that the cruelties and frustrations of youth are not lost in translation. —Teen Vogue

"Reading about her adventures is like living vicariously through the most uninhibited girl you know." —YM

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; First Edition first Printing edition (August 3, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594480206
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594480201
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #417,852 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By EA Solinas HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 20, 2004
Format: Paperback
Chun Sue makes a memorable debut with "Beijing Doll," a blistering roman a clef set during Sue's mid-to-late teens. While Sue herself can come across as naive and sometimes unlikable, her raw emotions and confusion make this feel a bit like a real-life Chinese "Catcher in the Rye."

She is a disaffected fifteen-year-old, from a middle-class family in Beijing. Loves punk-rock bands, writes poetry, longs to drop out of school, and struggles with her own feelings of nihilistic despair and pessimism. Soon after the book opens, she loses her virginity to Li Qi, only to find that he has a girlfriend and doesn't love her.

She immerses herself in the rock scene again, and gets involved with a rising indie-rock god/poet, then a Finnish tourist, while going to a shrink, getting magazine jobs and dropping in and out of school -- a merry-go-round of sex, rock, love, and a neverending search for a vague freedom.

"Beijing Doll" was famously banned in China. And it's not surprising -- this isn't exactly a complimentary look at Chinese youth. Chun Sue's story isn't too different from that of many other disaffected teens, but she does bring a lot of unbridled dark energy to it. Her alter ego is a girl who has seen enough to be jaded, but is naive enough to still not know quite how it all works.

Her writing is spare and sharp, with the occasional lapses into poetry. At times the story can get a bit monotonous -- the parade of brief boyfriends tend to blur together, as do Sue's semi-suicidal fantasies. And many older readers will find her angst and complaints annoying. However, Chun Sue does do a good job of capturing the confusion, the contradictions, and the depression of being a teenager.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Obio Ntia on October 14, 2004
Format: Paperback
"Beijing Doll" reads like the diary of an indecisively boy-crazy teenage girl . Unlike the average youth diarist, however, Chun Sue wrote for music magazines early in her high school career in order to pursue a personal passion and to draw her away from her oppressively strict high school environs. A rock music addict who embraced and wrote about the Beijing punk rock scene, Chun Sue depicts much teenage angst and moodiness in "Beijing Doll," but seemingly fails to grow out of it. Her voice is fickle in the book, but supported with spurts of vague determination and personal strength. Overall, a decent debut and coming-of-age book by a young writer; any later efforts should be more substantial.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Elisabeth W. Movius on November 19, 2006
Format: Paperback
I feel sorry for teenagers in this world of blogging, myspace and the kiss-and-tell memoir: at least my embarassing diary rants were not in the public domain.

I especially feel sorry for Chun Shu, the vulnerable but wannabe-tough author of "Beijing Doll". Book deals unhealthily encourage the angsty self-importance of teendom, and her rebellious posturing would be comic if she were not so sincere.

Chun is just another spoiled brat from China's 1980s generation: little emperors raised in relative affluence, the over-protected only child of well-meaning parents. Unhappy at school, she like millions of her peers finds rock music a gratifying outlet, and she tags along as a wannabe groupie to lots of wannabe musicians, having lots of boring sex that she describes in boring detail. Her parents' patient confusion and tolerance of her follies just accelerate her downward spiral of existential angst.

That angst, Chun's petulant storm in a teacup, fuels the book and ultimately exhausts it. It is interesting, moving even, to watch her grapple with life, identity, sexuality, and society. However, she consistantly fails to learn from her experiences, opting for whining over the self-examination that a confessional memoir calls for, and eventually the reader just tires of her.

Nonetheless, "Beijing Doll" is a much better book than its precocious predecessors like "Shanghai Baby" and "Candy". Those are such cynical packaging of "Oooh, hot Chinese women! Doing drugs and sleeping with white men!" out to titallate the middle-aged male Western reader. "Beijing Doll", in contrast, is winningly honest, reading like a genuine diary and just as disorganized; Chun is focused upon herself rather than cunning marketing strategy. The problem is that she gazes so intently into her own navel that she eventually is swallowed up by it.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Yvonne Y. Cao on May 15, 2005
Format: Paperback
Chun Sue wanted to publish this book badly when she was 17, because the money she makes will turning her bad situation into a better one. She wants to have money, support, fame, and all kinds of stuff that could satisfy her wishes. Just like every little girl, she has a dream, but the reality bashed her feeling, therefore she started to hate all of these. Life is unfair to her, and no one could understand her. This makes her mad.Generally, her naive thoughts pushed her into the darkness.

I like this book a lot since the whole story took place in Beijing, my hometown. I followed Chun Sue's steps to revisit every places that I familiar with. Just like what she did, I dropped out from junior high when I was 12, because I didn't like my school at all, and childishly believed in such ethusiasism could bring me to somewhere. That's why I can totally understand her desperation and everyone else's reactions.

Chinese version is a little bit better than the English one, regardless of some misspelling in that Chinese edition, this is a great book. I called it the Chinese << Catcher in the Rye>>, which depicted same kind of dilusion and confliction. I like it, and supposely everyone who loves << Catcher in the Rye>> should also like it.
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