China Underground

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At the beginning of the 21st century, it is hard to imagine a place more exciting than China. Westerners hear much about China’s role as the next “global superpower,” but they know less about the young people who make up China’s varied and fascinating subcultures.

Drawn by the streets humming with the energy of constant change, Zachary Mexico, who had spent two years in China, returned there in the summer of 2006 to conduct formal research on how the changing environment has affected the Chinese of his generation. Readers are introduced to a wannabe rock star from the desert of Xinjiang, trying to make it big in Shanghai; a disillusioned journalist; a budding screenwriter; a vagabond ladies’ man; a straight-A student at China’s best university; a Chinese mafia kingpin; a punk band trying their best to stay relevant; a prostitute; the world’s most polluted city; Beijing’s drug-fueled club scene; and many others.

This is an engaging firsthand account of a young American writer’s encounter with the new China and the young people who are pursuing their future there. China Underground tells their stories, and some of Mexico’s own.

General information

China Underground.jpg
Author Zachary Mexico
English title China Underground
Publisher Soft Skull Press
Date of publication 2009 exactly on 2009/03/01
ISBN 978-1593762230 (find this book)
Number of Pages 320

Subject of the Book

This book focusses mostly about the following subjects:


Cover Design: Fogelson-Lubliner
Interior Design: Beth Kessler
Drawings: Isabelle Rancier
Publisher: Soft Skull Press, Brooklyn, NY / PopMatters


  • (c) Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)

Collected through intimate encounters over an impressive range of travels, Mexico's menagerie of voices tell the unique story of contemporary China's seismic social shifts from the point of view of the marginalized and disaffected. A musician and writer, Mexico is a remarkably eloquent and perceptive participant-observer. Focusing on and dissecting broader cultural, political and economic issues in episodic chapters, he puts faces and names to the staggering statistics. We learn about the government-estimated 5 to 10 million active homosexuals, through the story of a closeted graphic designer. We meet an infamous photojournalist who chronicles China's mining disasters, corruption, car accidents and environmental degradation. We encounter bohemians—80-year-old women selling marijuana on the side of busy streets and slackers whose indolence is a protest against the frenzied consumerism that surrounds them. One such self-proclaimed social parasite opened a bar in a trendy area of Beijing to sell drinks at cost and only to his friends. The overall effect is a seamless portrait of a complex modern society in which an ancient culture persists in spite of lightning-speed economic changes.

  • (c) The New Yorker

Through encounters with sundry artists, musicians, students, bar owners, gangsters, prostitutes, and slackers, Mexico assembles a compelling portrait of China's contemporary youth culture and the limits of Communist control. The book's subjects include a twenty-seven-year-old self-taught disaster photographer from the coal country in Shenyang; a twenty-nine-year-old mobster in Qingdao; a twenty-two-year-old Hendrixian Uighur guitar player making a splash in Shanghai; a Beijing university student who wishes that the system encouraged less rote memorization and more original thought; and an investigative journalist who no longer publishes himself, instead leading Western reporters to controversial stories. Mexico, a musician and poet who was a student in Beijing and subsequently managed a night club, has assumed a pseudonym to avoid trouble with the Chinese authorities. While occasionally anxious about his youth and his lack of credentials, he is a good listener and knows how to tell a provocative and illuminating story.

About the Author

Zachary Mexico started studying Chinese at age fifteen, and traveled to China for the first time at age sixteen. He has studied at Columbia University in New York and Qinghua University in Beijing. He plays in the rock group The Octagon ( and the electronic duo Gates of Heaven ( He lives in New York City's Chinatown.

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