Welcome to ZZ’s world: a whirl of good weed, wild parties and wilder girls. In Beijing.
This is no joke. The seat of China’s age-old civilization is as seamy on the inside as it looks imposing from the outside, judging from “China High,” a memoir scribbled under the nom de plume ZZ by a Shanghai-born, U.S.-trained lawyer in his 20s.
Written before the global credit meltdown, “China High” lifts a curtain on a side of Beijing seldom seen by tourists. ZZ captures the nocturnal buzz of a city where rave parties in derelict factories are a staple and orgies have become a rite of passage. Then there’s the pot, which locals call the Big Numb.
Beneath the froth lies a serious message: The world’s largest developing economy is seething in social tension, displaced people and hypocrisy. It’s a land of official sexual equality run by men who often keep under-30 mistresses, a.k.a. their “little honeys,” on two-year contracts. A country given to bouts of xenophobia among people who fawn on foreigners.
A Chinese national, ZZ graduated from Brandeis University and Boston College Law School, says his publisher, St. Martin’s Press. Then he went to Hong Kong in late 2000 to work for Sidley Austin Brown & Wood LLP (now Sidley Austin LLP) and transferred to its Beijing office in late 2001.
An administrator at Sidley Austin in Hong Kong declined to comment. The managing partner of the regional office, William Fifield, didn’t answer an e-mail seeking comment.
By 24, ZZ was earning $250,000 a year. He took the Beijing posting for thrills and got some chills to go with them.
A few pages in, our protagonist learns that a woman he has bedded is 18, not 22. She’s pregnant and he takes her for an abortion (“encouraged” under China’s one-child policy, he claims). He later discovers that she was two-timing him with a filmmaker, he says.
Thus begins ZZ’s initiation into Beijing’s world of commerce, conflict and concupiscence. China meets “Sex and the City” as our young lawyer describes his flings with models, Mrs. Robinsons, kept women and what he delicately terms “local girls with jungle fever” in the Sanlitun bar district.
The city is so freewheeling that ZZ doesn’t hesitate to smoke the Big Numb in public, betting that the police don’t know any better and that his accent-less English gives him immunity. He’s wrong, and spends two weeks in jail for his mistake.