Wow. This is such a tough book to review - it is unlike anything else I can think of at the moment.
Zhang is ABC - American-Born Chinese - in the 22nd century, after the United States has undergone a socialist revolution; the one-time world power has become a third-class nation, and the definition of of success is to be able to study and live in China. However, Zhang doesn't share that goal, except as far as a Chinese engineering education would help him get a secure job - he just wants to stay in New York City. Zhang also has secrets. Although his father is Chinese, his mother is Hispanic, and they spent a great deal of money on genetic therapy to adjust Zhang's genome to make him appear more Chinese (to enhance his future career/social prospects.) Zhang is also gay - or "bent", as he puts it - which is absolutely taboo in this future society, and could lead to loss of employment and housing, or even placement in a re-education camp, if anyone in authority learned of his sexual orientation.
Forced to accept a six-month work assignment at an Arctic Circle science station, Zhang unexpectedly gets the opportunity to go to China and study at Nanjing University, paving the way for him to achieve his goals despite a system designed to harness his skills for the good of the state, regardless of personal choice.
This is a wholly inadequate description; I cannot do justice to the scope of this story. Read the book.