The Old Guard
Progress in China is slow--and means different things to different people. Liu Tianyou, now in her mid-nineties, is one of the last survivors of Chairman Mao's Long March. Liu, who lives in Yan'an, where the yearlong march ended in 1935, still believes true Communism will be established. The main obstacle, she says, is that the Chinese people are too individualistic.
The New Force
To Beijing-based Ai Weiwei, famed for his sculptural installations and his collaboration with Herzog & De Meuron on the Bird's Nest Olympic stadium, art is a platform to speak out for freedom. He has stayed in China to try to change it from within.
The Enforcer
The effects of China's one-child policy have rippled through society. Zhong Rufang, a gynecologist in Yunnan Province, is both a physician and local implementer of the policy. Doctors like her often must perform abortions on mothers who are seven or even eight months pregnant with another child and caught by the police. It's an especially wrenching task for Zhong, who has been unable to have a child herself.
The One-Child Family
Sun Liping and Huang Kunhua live in Huaxi, Jiangsu. A Pleasantville built on socialist values, the community has homes that could be in a Denver subdivision; tidy roads; and strict curfews. Sun and Huang have white-collar jobs in factories. As with most residents, their salaries are paid mainly in the stock of the firm that owns everything in town; move away, and they must give it all back. But their crowning success is Huang Jingxuan, their son and only child.
Nouveau Riche
China's new upper class is typified by tycoons like Xia Yang, a self-made industrial titan who also owns Beijing's Sunny Times Polo Club. Horses are his passion: He so loves them that his bedroom has a window into his stables. One of his goals is to restore polo's luster in China, where its last heyday came during the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907). Xia's inspiration is Britain's polo-loving Prince Charles.
The Ancestral Way
The life of Chabasan, an ethnic-Mongolian nomad who resides on the forbidding high plateau of Qinghai Province, is remarkably similar to that of his forebears. He lives in a tent and herds his livestock on horseback. By his people's traditional measures, he's a wealthy man, with 30 camels, 25 yaks, and 7 horses.
The Laborer
The upside of the government's huge investment in agriculture and industry is that it has lifted millions of Chinese workers out of poverty. For Li Hui, it has meant a job as a cotton quality-control worker at a huge mill in Xinjiang in China's barren northwest. An artificial river was built to spirit water to the fields that supply this mill.
The Activist
The downside of China's rapid industrialization: its great ecological cost. In Yunnan Province, environmentalist Zhang Zhexiang has devoted his life to restoring Lake Dian, whose waters are choked by sewage, industrial waste, and toxic algae. The local police have repeatedly arrested and beaten Zhang, but slowly he has built a coalition of scientists to back him up.
Onward, March
China's Tiger Mom-in-chief? The government. Nearly half of all Chinese, including Lt. Col. Chu Weiwei of the People's Liberation Army, are employed by the state or state-owned enterprises, a rate far higher than in most nations in the West and a sign of the central role Beijing will continue to play in driving China forward both politically and economically.