:00AM Sunday June 10, 2007 By Portia Mao
After reading the book, Wei Li checked out her son's haunts. A novel portraying Chinese students in New Zealand as drug dealers, black marketeers, gamblers and prostitutes has upset foreign students and worried their parents in China.
Around 100,000 copies of Christmas in Summer - Chinese Students in New Zealand are being printed in China, after an initial print run sold out. Written by former Manukau Institute of Technology and Auckland University students Mengmeng Xi and Ning Gu, it tells the story of Chinese attending both tertiary institutions. The main characters skip school, sell DVDs and paua illegally, take and deal in drugs, and frequent Auckland's casino and local brothels.
Money worries force one female character into prostitution. Another lives in an $800,000 Mission Bay house bought with her parents' money while her no-hoper boyfriend gambles with money he steals from her.
Most Auckland Chinese students say the novel completely misrepresents them, while others say there are grains of truth to it.
And it's caused so much concern among their parents that at least one mother spoken to by the Herald on Sunday has checked out her son's living environment in Auckland.
Now working back in China, author Mengmeng Xi has defended her work and insisted it's based on real people and situations.
"I was one of the Chinese students in Auckland, why should I demonise Chinese students?... The book actually shows how young people grow up through mistakes.
"I just want to show something true and make readers think why all these things happen."
A few Chinese students say the book does bear some resemblance to reality. Massey University student Guoling Xu told the Chinese Herald the book was based on truth, but that "the authors hurt many innocent Chinese students' feelings by generalising their situation".
Stella Jing, a former student of Auckland University's Business School, from which the two authors graduated, said she was worried Christmas in Summer would mislead Chinese readers.
"It displays the life of 1 per cent of Chinese students. Writing such a book... is not responsible behaviour."
Auckland University of Technology student Rebecca Mu said she had studied in New Zealand for more than five years but had never met anybody like the characters in the novel.
She said with English as a second language, and often having to work part-time to support themselves, Chinese students usually worked harder than the locals. "How could real students have time for other things?"
Wei Li came to New Zealand in May for her son's graduation ceremony. She had read Christmas in Summer and was worried enough to make her son and his friends take her to one of the pubs mentioned in the story.
She was satisfied the place wasn't "a place where dirty things happened or dirty deals were made". However, she said other Chinese parents could easily believe what was written, particularly because the authors were former students in New Zealand. She had at least 10 friends whose children had studied here.
"I am so worried because I am afraid many Chinese parents wouldn't want to send their children to New Zealand after reading the book."
Robert Stevens, chief executive of Education New Zealand which markets New Zealand as a destination for foreign students, said he was aware of the novel.
"From what I've heard about this book, it is not consistent with the recently completed research... undertaken by the University of Waikato," he said. "I can understand why it upset many hardworking Chinese students, as it is unfair and inaccurate. It is a shame."