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When she told her father about the German, his response was “Be careful, he may be a spy.” She found later there was absolutely nothing to worry about, as the German showed little knowledge about China. He’s interested in China’s recent history and hopes to discuss it with Sally.

But this isn’t a topic Sally feels comfortable talking about.

“In his eyes, Mao was a horrible figure,” she said, “but he doesn’t know our parents’ generation still thinks he was amiable and respectable.” Many Chinese people in their fifties or sixties still sing “red songs” to pay tribute to Mao, and carry out memorial ceremonies for him annually, so he shouldn’t just identify Mao as a “dictator,” she tried to explain to him. A 21-year-old college student in Beijing, who would only like to be identified as Jean, tells me she dated a guy from the US two years ago.

The relationship lasted for just six months, because Jean found they “couldn’t communicate” because of their “different standpoints.” Jean’s ex-boyfriend was nine years older than her, and a graduate student in international relations at another Beijing university.

Unlike some other young couples, Jean said, they talked a lot about serious topics, including Chinese politics.