William: the environmental activist

My next six posts will briefly introduce six characters this blog will follow in the coming months – young Chinese in a new China.

William is 23, born in Anhui – one of China’s poorest provinces. It was in 2004 that he came to Beijing to study Food Science at one of the plethora of little-known technical universities here. (You can’t walk a block with your eyes closed without finding a university in Beijing’s northwesterly Haidian district.) Three years later he dropped out. In his own words:

I don’t like education in school. It’s not free. You must learn political communism, the ideas of CCP, and must do what your teacher tells you. You can’t do what you want to do. … I want to live my life, not another life, so I do what I want to do. I want to listen to my heart*.

William now works for an environmental website, as the assistant of one of its editors – writing daily newsletters, accounting, organising name cards for events. He works eight hours a day, from 7:30am to 4:30pm … but most days stays on until 6 or later. This summer he will leave his job and hopes to finish his final year at his old college. His dream after then? To study natural sciences at Beida, and begin working for an NGO.

I’ve smudged William’s face in the picture here (a sketch of him surfing the net, by his girlfriend), as he’s asked to remain anonymous.


* When I quote my conversations with William, I will clean up his English to make it grammatical, but of course not change the meaning or his choice of words. Other quotes will be my translations from Mandarin.


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