Chinese Dreamers

A dream, in the truest sense, is a solo act. It can’t be created by committee or replicated en masse. Try as you might, you can’t compel your neighbor to conjure up the reverie that you envision. And therein lies the latent, uncertain energy in the concept of the “Chinese Dream.” As the new central motto of Chinese politics, introduced by President Xi Jinping in 2013, it is an expression of the Communist Party’s attempt to acknowledge the aspirations of its people. At the same time, wittingly or not, it is a provocative invitation to the public imagination.

In a country that has long defined its interests in collective terms, people are no longer waiting for their goals and sacrifices to be decreed from above. In Sharron Lovell’s insightful short film, she shows us the Chinese Dream not as a slogan but as the possession of the ordinary young men and women who will determine China’s future. A migrant worker from Henan who says of his austere life in the capital: “In Beijing, all I have is this bed.” A farmer’s daughter who is determined to find the “space to imagine freely.” And, an idealistic student who wants nothing more than to “truly improve the lives of ordinary Chinese people.” They live in the age of the selfie, of headphones, of the smartphone video. Each shows us that, in a city with a population larger than that of Australia, it is possible to be both alone and awakened by the urge to dream.

—Evan Osnos