...bracingly forthright ... [Kan's] is, in short, a true-life Horatio Alger tale, albeit one with distinctively Chinese, 21st-century and feminist elements ... Her account has much of value to offer us as we seek to understand how China has been changing and look for help in explaining these shifts to others. Under Red Skies follows on the heels of several recent English-language books about Kan’s generation, but, unlike those, it has actually been written by a member of the complicated cohort in question. This gives a fresh feel to its handling of by-now familiar topics, like the tension produced when a jingoistic education is confronted with a longing to participate in global popular culture. She isn’t the first to describe the attitude of many Chinese of her age, who feel resentment toward certain countries for bullying China in the past even as they adore those countries’ cultural exports, from episodes of The Big Bang Theory to the latest Japanese manga. But she handles this discussion particularly well. While admiring Kan’s book, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that she sometimes jumbles her facts about periods before her teenage years ... Despite its occasional missteps, there is much to admire in Under Red Skies. It’s enjoyable to get to know Kan on the page; she tells moving family tales as well as poignant personal stories, and serves as an engagingly candid guide to the fascinating generation she is a part of.
A heartfelt introduction to China’s recent history—and a firsthand dispatch from its millennial generation, a perspective all too rare in English-language publications. Her book is an important reminder that, even at a time of repression under Xi Jinping, China’s political and social evolution remains a process in motion, with many individuals—young and old, powerful and powerless—hoping to move their country in a different direction ... Ms. Kan’s stories reflect the power of—and resistance to—the ruling Chinese Communist Party ... Ms. Kan gives readers reason to hope that more first-person accounts from China’s millennial generation will become widely available. For those seeking to understand the future of China and U.S.-China relations, voices like hers are an essential part of the conversation.
Kan is a clear and straightforward writer, walking readers through her own life and that of her family ... In some ways, Under Red Skies is a Chinese version of a story told time and time again in Western markets: a young man or woman from the countryside reaches the big city where, due to their own moxie, they are able to break into an elite industry. It’s also a telling insight into the life of the local staff that supports much of the foreign reporting about China ... It can be striking how familiar much of Kan’s story sounds. Her time in rural and semi-urban China feels like it could have been a story told by someone a decade, or even two decades, older ... it’s hard to shake the feeling that Kan’s story is one that appeals almost perfectly to a Western audience ... perhaps best read as a personal story of one particular Chinese millennial ... Burdening Kan with being a spokesperson for all Chinese millennials may be asking too much of Under Red Skies which is, at its core, a personal story about growing up in the Chinese countryside right before the Chinese economy exploded, and one person’s determination to find a unique path for herself in an unfamiliar environment. That should be enough.
Kan has no problem with candid introspection ... A remarkable multigenerational memoir that clearly explores 'the real China—its beauty and ugliness, the weird and familiar, the joyful and sad, progressive and backward at the same time.'
This tale vividly illustrates the breadth of the changes China has undergone in recent decades—abruptly switching from population-boosting initiatives in the 1960s to the one-child rule, and from prohibiting to allowing rural people to migrate to Beijing—and how those changes have affected individual lives. While Kan shares her mother’s independent spirit, researching the Tiananmen Square massacre and dating foreign men, the cultural forces she and her fellow millennials face are different ... Kan’s candidness about Chinese culture and her experience, always mediated by affection for her country, makes this an invaluable resource to Western readers interested in Chinese life.