China Dreams

Fan Dai
Feb 4th, 2014

Chinese President, Xi Jinping, has spoken of his nation pursuing the 'Chinese Dream.'  ALR Blogger Fan Dai reflects on dreams and whether they can come true. 

After a recent guest lecture on “cultural montage” (a fancy expression I used to showcase an ideal life, drawing on different aspects of life I witnessed or experienced in various parts of the world) at a university in Nanjing, two women students approached me in low yet eager voices, their eyes shining with shyness: “Would you say you’ve always pursued your dreams?”

I wasn’t surprised that the word “dream” came up. College students tend to live on dreams, dreams they eventually find too far out of their reach, or too expensive to keep. 

“No, I can’t afford to dream. I don’t think I can handle a broken dream. So I chose not to dream, or rather, I pretend I don’t have a dream. One’s instincts are the most basic needs. Once they’re satisfied, one will be happy,” I said, vocalizing this life philosophy for the first time. “Instincts are the other side of dreams, I’d say.”

The girls’ eyes opened wide.

So I had dreams after all. In my own way.

It is a bit strange to think and talk about dreams after all these years. These days, young people are encouraged to dream. In fact, this has become the theme for advertisement. No matter whether a dream is spiritual or materialistic, it drives the person to strive for it. Hence effort of all kinds: in the form of further study, or spending money, or taking advantage of opportunities, etc.; and hence all the kinds of heartbreak, frustration and tragedy that render us so human.

Now that I come to think of it, my husband, who is not so romantic and humorous, has been on a life-long dream, through the physical signs of his dreams. I know this because his body makes small and varied motions when he dreams.

“Dreaming again?” I nudged him.


“What is it this time?”

“Oh, I just slam dunked...”

The next second he was snoring.

I concluded that his physical dreams are boring and interesting all at once. They invariably fall into three kinds: sitting for exams for Peking University, playing basketball or football, or fighting. I’m immensely grateful for the latter two, believing that the dream outlet made sure that he has never shown aggression toward me for over two decades. My dream marriage demands a good-natured husband.

Peking University was my husband’s dream. But he didn’t do too well in the entrance exams and ended up at Sun Yat-sen University where he spotted me in the library, shortly after which he was admitted to Peking University for graduate study. Yet neither was consolation enough for him. He keeps dreaming about Peking University, in spite of the fact that he had lectured there a number of times and once turned down a job offer.

I came to admire him for his persistence. Yet he told me that I won his instant admiration because when we met about 30 years ago, I told him that I hoped to write some day in both Chinese and English. He must have considered that my dream. That was probably why, 26 years after that conversation, when I mentioned, according to him, for the fourth time, how interesting an MFA program in creative writing seemed, he declared that he’d pay for the tuition that I couldn’t possibly afford.

Instinctively, I said I would go for it, because I knew and he knew, it would send me to the dream ride of writing in both Chinese and English.



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Fan Dai
Last blog date: Mar 18th, 2014


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