Searching for Life's Meaning

Changes and Tensions in the Worldviews of Chinese Youth in the 1980s
Luo Xu
Chronicles the changing worldviews of Chinese youth in the tumultuous decade leading up to the Tiananmen demonstrations


As a young teacher in China during the 1980s, Luo Xu thought that he knew his students well. And yet, in the summer of 1989, as he completed his first year of study in the United States, a student movement erupted in Beijing unparalleled by any other in Chinese history. A wide-ranging phenomenon that affected more than 600 universities and over forty cities, the demonstrations at Tiananmen Square seemed uncharacteristic for a generation of students deemed individualistic and self-centered. Xu began to wonder how his former students could have orchestrated such a large-scale action demanding such idealistic devotion to a common cause. Was it because they had changed since he had left? Or was it because he had not understood them well in the first place?

Searching for Life's Meaning deftly chronicles the profound changes in the beliefs and values of Chinese youth that occurred during the 1980s and that ultimately led to the confrontation in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Depicting a country in search of a grand unifying and guiding vision, Luo Xu explores the many historical forces that both shaped and inspired China's youth movement of the 1980s. From the collectivist value systems of Confucianism and communism to the individualism of the West, Searching for Life's Meaning depicts the circuitous path traversed by these young adults on their journey to understand not only themselves but also their place in the new world order.

Both poignant and thought provoking, Searching for Life's Meaning utilizes Luo Xu's personal experience as a teacher in 1980s China to help better define the culture that ultimately drove the events at Tiananmen. Supporting his arguments with hard-hitting research and solid primary source documents, Xu persuasively contends that the contemplation of the meaning of life, along with other philosophical questions, was an integral component of the general social crisis leading up to the movement of 1989.

Luo Xu is Assistant Professor of History at State Universiy of New York College at Cortland.

Praise / Awards

  • "Xu's exposition, which ends before the dramatic events of the spring of 1989, would be valuable even if these events had never occurred. In any case, given the complex and often contradictory forces that left their mark on China's youth in the 1980s, future scholars who seek to understand the Tiananmen uprising must come to grips with the decade-long process of generational transformation depicted in Luo Xu's masterful treatment."
    China Quarterly
  • "Not only has Luo Xu given us the best book-length study on Chinese youth attitudes and behavior in the turbulent 1980s, but he has also provided an indispensable resource for those seeking to understand why a practical, even self-centered 'me generation'—as Luo Xu had remembered them from his days as a history teacher at Capital Normal University in Beijing—were so willing to participate enthusiastically in such a large-scale collective action centered around a common and idealistic cause."
    —Stanley Rosen, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, Pacific Affairs, Summer 2003

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Copyright © 2002, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 376pp.
  • 31 tables.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 2002
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-11239-5

Add to Cart
  • $94.95 U.S.