Last year at this time the world was watching as China displayed its new image to the world during the Summer Olympics. I watched most of the coverage and was particularly impressed with some of the feature stories about life in modern China. This reinforced my opinions about how China has emerged as the world’s leading power – not just economically but socially. About five years ago I was fortunate to spend a week in China. This was a life-transforming experience that gave me an awesome appreciation for this values and norms of this ancient society. Since then I have taken many opportunities to talk with Chinese people I encounter on Campus and elsewhere.
In particular, for the past decade I have studied the Millennial Generation (those born since 1980) as a social movement. This generation (including my two kids) are going to inherit a world that is a major mess. Unfortunately, too many American youth have lost much of the passion and power to control the future of the world. That challenge and opportunity will fall to the youth in other parts of the world (including Asia, Canada and Europe.) Fortunately, Chinese youth appear ready, willing and able to help pull our world away from the brink of disaster. Last year I was also fortunate to watch an amazing documentary “Koppel on Discovery: The People’s Republic of Capitalism.” You will find a review of that four-part series, as well as selected Chinese proverbs.
As the Chinese society and economy continue to evolve toward capitalism, the Chinese are facing many of the same social problems and political pressures that are inherent in any dramatic societal transformation. In particular, Chinese youth (born since 1980) are seeking to create a totally new system that keeps the best collective and respectful values, while encouraging the kind of freedom and fun that they admire in western culture. This will be a very important time to learn from each other. One way or another, American and Chinese youth hold the future in their hands. This article will explore all aspects of the modern Chinese youth culture, attitudes, and values.
Small World, Big Stakes
By Elaine Shannon (Time Magazine) – Jun. 20, 2005
Last year Americans bought clothes “Made in China” to the value of $11 billion and additional goods worth $185 billion. Yet for all the ubiquity of Chinese products in U.S. stores, to most Americans China remains a mystery. For both nations, that is unfortunate; though it does not have to, a mystery can all too easily metamorphose into a threat. Most Americans don’t realize the extent to which China’s future and that of the U.S. are linked. It isn’t just down vests–or toys or shoes–that bind the U.S. and China together. China holds billions of dollars of U.S. debt; its companies increasingly compete with U.S. ones for vital resources like oil; its geopolitical behavior will affect the outcome of issues of key importance to U.S. policymakers, like North Korea’s nuclear arms capacity. Although their political cultures are radically different, in many ways and many areas both countries essentially want the same things. …
What does it mean when Wal-Mart has become a major force for change in China, as a buyer and seller of goods but also as an employer? What does it mean when several Chinese city governments hire pollsters to gauge their effectiveness and a district leader conducts town-hall meetings and answers thousands of e-mails from the public? How should the West understand a society in which environmental protests are common and underground churches thriving–and yet in which information is tightly controlled and long prison sentences are handed out for those who transgress dimly defined laws on state secrets? Chinese officials bristle at American finger wagging and warn that how the U.S. treats China will affect Beijing’s posture. For each side, finding–and maintaining–common ground will require understanding what’s truly happening on the other side of the globe.
If China’s rise looks scary to some Americans, from Beijing’s perspective it seems very different. At last, think China’s rulers, the world is being put into proper balance. After 500 years during which China fell asleep, it is once more taking its rightful place among the great powers. But most casual observers outside China don’t understand that even as the nation gains respect, its people are haunted by a deep sense of past slights. China’s long journey toward modernity began not because the dragon gently flexed its scaly muscles but because others prodded it with a sharp stick.
When China began to open up to the world 150 years ago, it did so because gunships of the British Royal Navy, working in the service of opium smugglers, forced the imperial government to accept foreign trade. As China sees its history, the country was subjected to foreign humiliation for the next century, its territory invaded and dismembered, its people raped and massacred. Along with the foreign interventions came homegrown catastrophes: rebellions, revolutions, civil wars, famine and unspeakable cruelty. Luan, the Chinese word for chaos, is perhaps the single most important concept that the outside world needs to grasp about the new China, for the memory of the long years of chaos continues to have a profound impact on Chinese thinking today.
The opposite of chaos is stability, and for the 16 years since the massacre near Tiananmen Square in 1989, China has enjoyed more stable leadership and prosperity than at any time in the past 150 years. Incomes have grown, and millions of lives–like that of Liu Li–have improved beyond imagination. To be sure, China is not one big, bucolic Iowa; all sorts of tensions over land use and workers’ rights and free speech and endemic corruption and environmental despoliation loom, and they come into view in a startling number of riots and protests–big ones too. But compared with what China has been through in living memory, these are good times. …
The great question now is whether internal pressures or external forces will somehow throw China’s rise off course. Outside its borders, the new China has plenty of friends. How could it not? Its growing markets and voracious appetite for the world’s goods are making companies and their workers wealthy, from Latin American cattle ranchers to French vineyards. In the U.S., the ever increasing flood of low-priced Chinese products has enabled rising standards of living for years (even as it has made job security in some areas more tenuous). …
Perhaps the greatest risk to China’s continued rise–and to the way it behaves internationally–comes from within. The extraordinary changes in the past 20 years have brought prosperity to many, but to scores of millions, the wealth so evident in cities like Shanghai and Beijing is a prize continually being yanked out of reach. Economic reforms have reduced the entitlements to a steady job and basic health care that were enjoyed by earlier generations. “Life in China is much more uncertain now,” says Li Yinhe, a sociologist at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. “Economic instability can cause social instability.”
CHINA BY THE NUMBERS
China has more than four times the population of the U.S., nearly all of it concentrated in the eastern half of the country. (China = 1.3 billion and US = 295 million
- 63,900 = Number of retail outlets opened in Chongqing, 1998-2004
- 1.3 million = Number of private cars in Beijing, up 140% since 1997
- 300+ = Number of skyscrapers in Shanghai. In 1985 there was just one
- 620% = Shenzhen’s population growth since 1990, from 1.67 million to 12 million
- Percentage of the world’s ice cream consumed: 20%
- Percentage of Chinese with a positive view of U.S.-China relations: 63%
- Communist Party officials disciplined for corruption last year: 170,850
- Percentage of counterfeit goods seized at U.S. borders that come from China: 66%
- World ranking in automobile deaths: 1
- Percentage of urban Chinese with a college education: 5.6%; Rural: 0.2%
- Smokers: 350 million
Chinese Adolescents are Being Influenced by a Variety of Forces. As China’s youth population grows, the forces shaping it are changing. What are these factors, and how are they molding Chinese youth characteristics? The fervor among Asia’s youth to bring about change has died down in recent years. Street protests are far less common; Chinese youth appear to be more interested in jobs and other personal matters than in social issues or politics. This could have much to do with the region’s own transformation. As economic development breeds the onslaught of increased personal freedoms, the lure of politics is declining in the region. Corruption and ineffective older politicians are thought to have turned the young away. …
One such control has left Chinese youth in an interesting situation. Due to their government’s strict one-child policy, many of them are only-children. This has created for a uniquely self-interested youth identity in China’s modern political climate. In addition to this, China is in a period of in-depth reform and rapid development, a burden and opportunity borne by and granted to Chinese youth. Overall living standards of Chinese people are rising (though they remain relatively low). As China’s middle class population rises, their political demands are becoming louder. In addition, there is much more possibility for upward mobility in modern China.
According to Jieying Xi, Yunxiao Sun, and Jian Jian Xiao, Chinese youth culture is much changed from past generations. In their book, Chinese Youth in Transition, the authors explain that Chinese youth’s increased self-interest shows a marked change from the group-oriented behaviour of their forefathers’ generations. In addition, new Chinese policies have given them more autonomy. The global evolution of technology has altered their communication and interaction patterns. In addition, increased exposure to the outside world, along with maturing traditional values have allowed for a more open attitude towards formerly taboo subjects like sex. Increased access to education has meant that Chinese youth are less prone to illiteracy, and access to free higher education has opened up a whole new set of possibilities to lower income Chinese youth. Government propaganda continues to pervade education programs, which has resulted in the cultivation of a strong nationalistic feeling amongst Chinese youth. …
They are feeling the power of economic freedom, and even social freedom, as Western values pervade their society through the internet, television, and other forms of mass media. Their education has become all-important. As their government has made higher education institutions free of cost, competition to gain entry to these schools is intense. Chinese students, often their parents’ only hope for economic stability after retirement, often do little but study.
With their newest freedoms and economic independence, Chinese youth seem to have little to protest; their self-needs are mostly satisfied. And those who do care enough to protest are aware of the corruption that takes place within their government and feel powerless to effect change. Their identities have been constructed to feel distanced from politics to the point of apathy. There seems to be a preference towards keeping silent so that nothing can get in the way of their dreams.
This story from Radio Netherlands provides a great overview of how social change has impacted families and youth in China.
Family life in China has undergone equally radical changes in the post-Maoist era. The first single parent’s club in China was recently set up in Beijing, reproductive services have been made legal for single women, telephone advice lines for gays have been set up in Shanghai, and the Divorce Club of Shanghai was launched on Valentine’s Day this year. With the introduction of market reforms, increased urbanization, a rising level of prosperity and education, and growing private responsibility, Chinese family life is increasingly reflecting trends in the West.
However, a unique aspect of family life in China is the country’s one-child policy, which has been enforced by the authorities since about 1978 and which restricts families in the cities to one child only. In the countryside, couples may try for a son if the first-born is a daughter, and exceptions are made for certain regions and minorities. Nevertheless, the one-child policy has had a profound effect on the relationship between parents and children, the status of women, marital prospects, education, urban planning and even the design of cars. The first generation of children of the one-child policy have now reached adulthood and are developing their own unique new view of family life.
The one-child policy has succeeded in bringing down the birth rate from 26 percent to 8 percent a year. However, the traditional importance of male lineage and of the son as a support to the whole family, especially in rural areas, in combination with reproductive technology and the one-child policy, has resulted in a serious sex-ratio imbalance in China today. The gender imbalance has now reached 120 boys for every 100 girls born. It is believed that 40 million men will not find wives in the next ten years, some of them are already living in “bachelor ghettos”, and China has been described as “the world’s biggest lonely hearts club”. Cases have been reported of women being abducted, and because of the importance of carrying on the male lineage, some men resort to sharing or borrowing a wife, who is then free to go after she has produced a son. The authorities have tried to deal with the sex-ratio imbalance by, for example, forbidding prenatal sex screening.
The problem is compounded by the migration of a huge “floating population” of productive rural adults to the factories and cities where their labour is fuelling China’s economic boom. There are villages where children and the elderly are left behind to care for each other. Few migrant rural women are willing to return to the countryside. They hope to find urban husbands in order to obtain urban registration, so they can qualify for better housing, pensions, jobs and health care schemes.
While families are spreading out to wherever work can be found, marital infidelity and especially cohabitation have become so predominant that the new marriage law of 2001 explicitly condemns bigamy and polygamy. “My personal experience is that it is unspoken, people gossip and everyone knows in the village, but it is not openly articulated, as long as it doesn’t break the unity or economic cohesion of the family,” says Melody Chia-wen Lu, an affiliated fellow with the International Institute for Asian Studies at the University of Leiden, specialized in gender issues and migration.
In contrast to the rural population, young educated urban professionals are facing very different problems when it comes to marriage and family life. With the increased privatization of education, health care and care for the elderly, they are under enormous pressure to get excellent grades, to get into university and compete for good jobs. That means postponing marriage until they can afford to buy an apartment and provide well for a child. The average marrying age is now 28 for men, 27 for women.
Chinese citizens are required by law to care for their elderly parents, and being an only child adds to the pressure. At the same time, surveys show that 40 percent of men and 47 percent of women disagree with the idea of raising a child for one’s own security. Melody Lu believes the emotional aspect of parenthood is gaining ground over considerations of economic security.
As in the West, some young urban professionals, including women, are opting to remain single, while some couples settle on being “dinkies” (double-income-no-kids), and there is more divorce, particularly in the cities. The 2001 revision of the family law reformed the legal position of divorce, simplifying the procedure. Melody Lu says marriage is no longer a life-long thing but a contract between two individuals. “It’s easier for urban people to treat marriage as a contract, but in the rural area there is still the cultural stigmatisation”, Lu points out, “You have more trouble finding a new partner. In fact a lot of divorced women have to migrate to find another husband, because it is very difficult to remarry in the same locality.” Furthermore, because of the continuing importance of the father-son axis, an only son is likely to be placed under the custody of his father, not his mother.
All in all, family life in China is changing but is not by any means in decline. There is more emphasis on personal choice and freedom, more equality of the sexes, and there is an even stronger bond between parents and children than under the collective security of the Maoist era. Parents are prepared to make huge sacrifices for their children, partly because “always in the back of their mind is old age security”, says Melody Lu.
The fact that it is the daughter-in-law that is usually the primary provider of care for the elderly has also changed the status and value of women within the family. And even though the trend is towards a smaller family unit, the proverbial Chinese family business is one institution that continues to thrive. Chinese family businesses account for one-third of the names on the Fortune-500 list of the world’s biggest companies.
The image of Chinese youth has been so badly tarnished and misrepresented in the media lately that some justice needs to be done. For a country of China’s size, the population has to be much more diverse than to allow the generalization of all its youth into one stereotypical category. Having interacted with members of my generation from various nationalities, I would say that mainland Chinese are among the most knowledgeable and mature in thought. If you get to know them well enough to engage in a discussion of sensitive issues — anything concerning their government’s policies — as they cautiously thread their responses, you realize China’s youth have a great burden to bear. But more importantly, they have their own views with regard to many subjects.
Don’t be surprised to hear young Chinese confess that they do not trust their state media, or that they do not watch CCTV news because its reporting style hasn’t changed in decades. Engage them deeper and they may share their multiple ways of circumventing Internet control (a must-know for every Chinese Internet user). Western audiences would be happy to hear that as much as the credibility of Western media like CNN and BBC has been hurt by inaccurate or biased reports on Tibet and the Beijing Olympics, Chinese readers well-engaged in current affairs still trust Western media to provide professional news reports — as long as the subject doesn’t involve China.
As one of my Chinese classmates explained, Chinese sentiment toward the media and their country is “very complex.” As much as Chinese do not believe in their own state media, when their country is under attack, they temporarily put aside criticisms of it. This is why the popular catchphrase among Chinese youth has transformed from “don’t be too CCTV” to the current “don’t be too CNN.” Westerners must learn that while individualism is highly regarded, Chinese place greater emphasis on team effort and unity; hence, the current wave of patriotism, or what the Western media prefer to label as “irrational nationalism.”
My classmate is one of the many sensible, well-educated Chinese youth out there who can objectively point out the faults of both the Western media and the Chinese government. Western media demonizing China is expected, and as China transforms to become a superpower, it has to be prepared to face hostility from other nations.
China has the largest youth population in the world. The generation has been largely shaped by a strong culture and turbulent history. China’s massive youth population is set to make a very important impact on the world we live in today. In order to know the type of impression they will make, it is necessary to understand who they are. In order to do that, we must understand where they have come from. Let’s take a look at cultural and historic factors that have molded modern Chinese youth characteristics.
Past and modern Chinese culture has largely been ruled by Confucian values. Confucianism is concerned with good conduct, practical wisdom, and proper social relationships. Central to Confucianism, which is not a religion but is often treated as such, is the value of learning and social mobility. This is achieved through intellectual development, and education is used largely for acquisition of personal power.
Confucianism encourages collectivism in society, and there is an emphasis on obedience and loyalty towards the family and clan. However, while Confucian teaching continues to dominate certain practices in present-day China, exposure to Western culture has led to the adoption of Western values by younger-generation Chinese. However, collectivism continues to play a dominant role. Family ties and filial piety remain extremely important in Chinese adolescent life. …
Mao, of course, had once been young himself, and was attempting to recreate a similar atmosphere to the one he had experienced when he joined a Marxist study group at Peking University and became one of the original members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). It was during this revolution that Mao made the famous statement: ‘The young people are the most active and vital force in society, the most eager to learn and the least conservative in their thinking.’
At the end of the GPCR, youth were once again expected to submit to rigid authority under a democratic-centralist system, and many youth were sent to the countryside to work alongside and learn from peasants. It was not long until another youth-oriented event shook youth back into their shells. In 1989, one of the most memorable tragedies of the modern world took place in China. In a political centre point, hundreds, possibly thousands, of Chinese youth were massacred after a prolonged stalemate during which they had occupied Tiananmen Square for six weeks. The political statement made by these self-sacrificing youth demanding political reforms shook the world, and the Chinese government. The event is thought to have largely shaped Chinese youth today.
Chinese young people whom I interviewed liked Secretary Clinton’s use of an ancient Chinese aphorism to propose that China and the United States are “in a common boat,” an idea which “must continue to guide us today.” Secretary Clinton repeated that proverb in her meeting with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, and she has emphasized positive themes every time that she has spoken while in China. As a result, Ms. Clinton undoubtedly leaves China with a more positive image for herself and the U.S. in Chinese eyes than before her trip.
But this does not tell the whole story. The loudest group of Chinese youth is known as fen qing, or “angry youth.” Described by Evan Osnos of the New Yorker as “the new generation’s neocon nationalists,” the rage of these young people finds clear expression on the Internet. Moments after Secretary Clinton’s speech at the Asia Society, the “angry youth” were at work, criticizing her statements on blogs and discussion boards. “Let’s judge by her deeds, not her words,” said one poster, using a traditional saying, and several others agreed in more colorful and less Confucian language.
Few mainstream young people here appear ready to let the “angry youth” be the voice of their generation, though, suggesting that the United States could play a considerable role in shaping its own image. Indeed, the views of young Chinese people about the United States are clearly in flux. President Obama’s election has been warmly greeted by the Chinese. …
One untraditional but promising way for American leaders to connect to Chinese youth occurred to me during a recent conversation with a young Chinese professional. He reminded me that the lives and concerns of young people in China and the United States are quite similar, despite the profound dissimilarity of the societies in which we have grown up. Chinese youth, he observed, don’t save much money, have a hard time finding jobs even after earning a college degree, and, most fundamentally, just want to lead happy, healthy, and interesting lives. That sounds pretty familiar to me.
U.S. foreign policy in China would be well served if, alongside our immediate and essential policy objectives, our leaders could connect directly and sympathetically with ordinary Chinese people, whose concerns about the economy, access to adequate health care, better education, secure jobs, and a happy life are, at bottom, also the concerns of ordinary Americans. These are at the core of identifying and furthering the common interests of the two countries.
We should be speaking directly to the Chinese people about an America that wants to give Chinese students the opportunity to learn from the United States, not to deny them visas; an America that wants to make its policies understandable, not opaque; an America that wants to continue representing “freedom, opportunity, and choices”; an America whose young people are eager to learn more about and connect with China. We should also be looking for ways to build programmatic bridges between the younger generation in both countries, not simply bridges between government officials and business people in both countries. This is the best way to allow China and the United States to remain in the “common boat” that Secretary Clinton described–not only “today,” but also tomorrow.
Lost in a moral vacuum, Chinese youths are dropping out of mainstream society and turning to crime. Kids make up China’s fastest-growing criminal group. The number of offenders under 18 has more than doubled to 12% of all those convicted in China between 1997 and 2000, the last year of full statistics. These aren’t artful dodgers nicking change to pay for their porridge. Teen crime is increasingly violent, with rape and assault especially common. …
As the experts see it, a moral vacuum is driving such kids to bomb and bash. Communist ideals like “comradeship” have proved bankrupt, and the dubious ethics of rapacious capitalism haven’t filled the void. Ask Chinese teenagers to name a hero and most draw a blank. The moral ABCs they learn at school seem to come from a different language—children still study propaganda idols like Lei Feng, the soldier who loved communism so much he secretly darned his comrades’ socks. Religion, discouraged by the government, hasn’t plugged the morality gap.
Even after-school activities like team sports, normal in most countries, are rare in China. Families, once the bedrock of Confucian society, are meant to take up the slack, but they suffer a divorce rate that has quadrupled in the past two decades to 10%. A quarter of juvenile delinquents—many of them from middle-class families—come from these broken homes. “There’s a deep gap between the values kids are taught and what they see around them,” says Sun Dongdong, a forensic psychiatrist at Peking University who studies youth crime. “They form gangs to fight the emptiness.”
Most worrisome, youth violence has soared even more than the statistics show. Thanks to the one-child policy, the ratio of kids under 14 has fallen from 28% of the population a decade ago to 23% today. Youth crime as a fraction of total crime should have dropped accordingly. Its stubborn climb raises fears that as these juveniles enter adulthood, the overall crime rate in China will rise even beyond the 21% increase recorded from 1990 to 2000. Three out of every four youth crimes are committed by gangs, many with connections to hardened criminal syndicates. The ties these juveniles build in childhood could bind them together for a lifetime of lawbreaking, says Shan Guangnai of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. ‘With this many kids going bad,” he says, “it looks to me like society is falling apart.”
A recent survey shows that in today’s society, Chinese young people’s life goals have become more diversified than before. When young people are asked what they will struggle for, all the 16 possible choices listed in the survey are picked up by someone. Of these 16 choices, 53.5% of the people say their life goal is “to earn money to buy a house and a car for themselves”. In addition to this practical goal, some people pick up their life goal as “working towards the creation of fairness among people and towards the construction of a harmonious society” or “helping the needy”, the China Youth Daily reported. …
But in fact, everybody will surely find something that is interesting to him/her. Today, some young people who were born in the 1980s have already made a fortune in their life. In addition, there are some other young people have started to manage their own business on the strength of the wealth inherited from their parents. Their stories of success have prompted more young people to work hard in life. These young people who have achieved success in life have set a good example for other young people and prompted them to realize their own values. The fact that more and more people want to live a better life shows that the society is making progress and people’s life goals have become more practical. Let’s just wait and see what would happen to Chinese young generation. After all, they are the hope of our nation’s future.
Chinese people defend traditional family values
Tuesday, 13 November 2007
A recent survey revealed by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) shows that despite great social changes, traditional values like family harmony still play an important role in Chinese people’s heart. In doing the research, CASS tried to find out to what degree Chinese people felt harmonious in their state of mind. In doing it, CASS listed four criteria that were used to judge a person’s mental harmony: self-satisfaction, interpersonal relationship, family relationship and attitude towards society. Interpersonal relationship is regarded as the most important among the four. Of the four criteria included in the research, family atmosphere won the most score, indicating that Chinese people are most satisfied with their family relationships.
And a harmonious family relationship helps raise people’s general condition with regard to their mental harmony. When society is undergoing transformation, Chinese people’s family structure has also undergone great changes. Despite this, many people still respect traditional values that focus on family harmony. Compared with other aspects, Chinese people like to devote more energy to maintaining their families and as a result, they tend to get more support and help from their families.
Chinese young people under strong pressure: survey
Work, personal relationships and emotional problems are the major causes of stress for Chinese young people, according to a survey released Wednesday by China Youth Daily, one of the country’s leading newspapers. The newspaper’s survey center interviewed 1,129 people aged between 19 and 35 across the country in April. The survey found 52.3 percent thought their jobs gave them the most stress in life. Interpersonal relations and affection-related problems ranked second and third with 40.4 percent and 35.3 percent. Of the men interviewed, 66.5 percent said they felt heavy pressure while only 3.7 percent said the pressure was small. Merely 0.3 percent reported feeling no pressure at all.
The survey also found that students were under more pressure than other groups. To let release the pressure, they often resort to music, conversation, sports, diary-writing. Psychological counseling were recognized as “a sound way for relaxation” by 37.1 percent of the surveyed. But 24.7 percent responded that they worried about the clinics’ service and 7.8 percent said they would be seen as “weird in others’ eyes.” Moreover, 41.1 percent said they could not find a clinic or they did not know where to find one.
Young urban Chinese just want to have fun – including sex. The results of China’s first-ever sex survey show an increase in openness on sexual matters, which were a taboo subject for decades after the Communist revolution. The survey shows that more than half of China’s urban youth agree with pre-marital sex, while one-third approve of extra-marital relationships. A total of 6,500 young people, aged between 14 and 28, were questioned by a Communist Party organization, and the results were published in the official media. One of the most striking figures is that one-third of those surveyed said they believed extra-marital sex was “a natural outcome of love”. Extra-marital affairs are thought to play a major part in the spread of STDs, which increased by 37% in China last year. China also has rapidly increasing HIV rates, the virus which can lead to Aids.
Authorities tolerate new freedoms. Younger Chinese are enjoying more sexual freedoms than ever before. Far from appearing concerned, the report’s author, Wu Lu Ping, told the BBC that he believed the survey showed the positive qualities of increased openness, tolerance and self-reliance among China’s urban youth. These attitudes are in sharp contrast to the views of older Chinese, who grew up in the decades after the Communist revolution, when sexual matters were considered completely taboo and extra-marital sex was deemed a crime. However, some young people surveyed did hold more traditional views. A third believed that extra-marital affairs are wrong and should be punished. Another 12% said they would prefer to remain celibate. But most young people – at least in China’s cities – appear to have embraced sexual freedom partly in an act of rebellion against their parents’ attitudes. The authorities seem to be taking a tolerant view. A network of 2,000 sex shops, with a turnover estimated at $20m, is flourishing throughout the country.
One of the less-covered stories within Western media’s ever-growing coverage of China, that rising giant looked upon with equal measures of suspicion and fear, is its continuing sexual revolution. Over my past two years here, I have consistently had any lingering preconceptions of conservative Confucian mores shaken by numerous sites: the multitude of sex toy stores, the open affection of young lesbian couples walking along the street, by high-school lovers making out in a club…in front of the guy’s parents, no less! This is a country modernizing as much in the bedroom as it is on the work floor. …
So, where do young Chinese go to find out about sex and its many mysterious aspects? Online, of course! Apparently, a number of Chinese language sites and message boards exist dedicated to sexuality topics, and now even radio agony aunts (and uncles!) are openly answering anxious youngster’s pleas for advice. Beyond sex ed, there are a number of curious differences between young Chinese sexual mores and that of the West. … young women are apparently free to dress as “tomboys” in men’s clothing and short hairstyles without ruffling many feathers, whereas any men considered too effeminate or homosexual in styling are largely condemned as “sissies.” It may have been Mao who first proclaimed that “women hold up half the sky.” One thing is certain: the One Child Policy, in shifting the focus of intercourse away from being merely a means of reproduction, has unwittingly opened up a whole new world of sexual freedom and opportunity for the average Chinese, of which they’re increasingly eager to take advantage.
Surprisingly, there has been little attention in Chinese policy or academic circles to the potential for solving China’s social problems by building up its meager reserves of social capital, defined as social values, networks, and institutions that promote trust and cooperation. This is the “glue” that holds both market and society together. International analysts and commentators, by contrast, rediscovered the importance of social capital or “social cohesion” residing in voluntary associations in sustaining any economy following the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s. There has been growing consensus that sustaining human and economic development requires social capital, which can be viewed as a kind of “stock” of human connections based on a shared sense of community. …
China’s lagging attention to social development theory may be due in part to the fixation on ensuring social “unity and stability,” a static concept unsuited to the reality of China’s rapid, unceasing social change. To some extent, the export-driven development strategy has been substituting transnational financial and social capital — overseas Chinese networks — for domestic financial social capital. This will now change with the decision in 2002-03 to strengthen the domestic market as the primary engine of future growth. China will need to build up its meager reserves of social capital to make this happen. …
China lacks a tradition of a strong public culture, an autonomous social sector, and public-benefit philanthropy. Weak cohesion of traditional Chinese society resulted from the family-clan orientation, which inhibited trust outside circles of kinship and personal acquaintance. Philanthropy was targeted at family lineages and hometowns. Social organizations were dependent on vertical ties to patriarchal authority. …
China’s highly conformist culture, reinforced by the Maoist legacy and current authoritarian institutional structure, poses an obstacle to the development of civil society and the social capital that results from voluntary association. Ordinary Chinese people are hesitant to join or support any nongovernmental organization without explicit state endorsement, worrying that involvement could invite trouble as long as “nongovernmental” may be interpreted as “antigovernment.” …
There is a deficit of humanitarian values throughout society stemming from decades of class struggle mentality coupled with the current un-tempered pursuit of short-term material gain. These are combined with a weak cultural and institutional basis in China for philanthropy outside of family-clan channels or state patronage mechanisms. The government’s control over society weakens a community sense of ownership, and a lack of transparency in the nonprofit sector makes the public suspicious of donating funds or volunteering time for fear of irregularities.
There is widespread concern in China over the violent crime rate, the rapid growth of organized crime, and large-scale outbreaks of social tension and destruction. In the countryside, the majority of conflicts are related to exorbitant fees and taxes extorted by officials and to competing claims to land or water rights. In the cities, property disputes and unemployment are involved. Petitioners with few channels of redress resort to mass demonstrations and strikes, as well as to bombings and suicide. …
Income disparities likely will surge through 2010, due to the economic reforms required for World Trade Organization (WTO) compliance. Marriage and family relations suffer from these social and financial tensions. Yet there is little counseling or training in values and techniques fostering tolerance, mutual respect, and nonviolent conflict resolution. Only in the commercial sector, in which dispute resolution is a growing field, and in the legal-judicial sector, with its mediation program, are there some new measures to augment political education campaigns and police campaigns to deal with extreme situations.
The crisis of public trust goes hand in hand with crises of belief and identity. As Chinese one Internet author put it, “Today old-fashioned virtue and moral character have practically died with the new modern world, but new virtue and morality have not been birthed…. We cast out our belief in God as ‘superstition’ but have found nothing new to replace it.” The Communist Youth League scrambles to help parents and youth wrestle with the moral pressures of academic competition and consumer culture. Even the so-called “winners” who are competing successfully in China’s reform era are experiencing a kind of vertigo from the stress of rapid change. China’s young urban professionals struggle with a sense of paralysis over life choices amid conflicting demands and opportunities posed by traditional family values, requirements of the state, and the highly competitive work environment. …
In China, there is a “missing middle” of organizations effectively linking informal social networks to formal institutions. State policies and regulations are still designed to limit and control such associational activities, redirecting them to state purposes, rather than to encourage the proliferation of start-ups and the creative social entrepreneurship that would allow the nonprofit sector to contribute greatly to progress.
A turnaround in official attitudes and policies could unleash the potential in the nonprofit sector to contribute new humanitarian values, attract funds for development, generate employment, and narrow the gap between rich and poor. Growth in the stock of public social capital would help create the modern large-scale private corporations and private nonprofit organizations needed to compete in the international market, which Chinese planners have decided must fuel future growth. Developing the third sector is essential for addressing the difficult challenges China now faces, and in turn could ease the transition to more democratic political institutions, increasing the chances for peaceful change as nonprofits play a stronger role in mediating between state and society.
Lost Generation By TERRY MCCARTHY
Time Magazine (Asia) OCTOBER 23, 2000 VOL. 156 NO. 16
China’s young people have a driving ambition. But where is their road map to the future? Youth is about renewal, fresh ideas challenging old traditions and a yearning for the untried. Youth finds change inebriating, not intimidating. Youth is also impetuous, unpredictable: with the promise of a better future comes a veiled threat to tear down the past. Authoritarian regimes in particular know the dangers of enraged students. Youth breaks all the rules.
Youth is colorful, irreverent, entertaining, sometimes shocking, almost always rebellious. Youth is on the vanguard of fashion, music, literature and popular culture. But the young are also the first to hurl stones, to lob bombs, to rush to the barricades. Youth is, in a word, energy—energy that in vast China can be funneled into the excesses of Red Guards or into the excitement of an Internet start-up, into the mob that threw paintballs at the U.S. embassy in Beijing after the Belgrade bombing, or into the eager line of visa applicants who stand outside the same building now, hoping to study at Harvard or Berkeley.
For China, youth is the future, in all its mystifying, complex, exciting uncertainty. “The world is yours,” Mao told a group of Chinese students in 1957. “You young people, full of vigor and vitality, are in the bloom of life, like the sun at eight or nine in the morning. Our hope is placed on you.” Mao soon abused those hopes, dooming an entire generation to the destructiveness of the Cultural Revolution. But Mao is gone now, and a new generation of young Chinese is coming to terms with a new type of revolution—the revolt of the market, which has brought wealth, corruption, opportunity and confusion in equal measure to the world’s most populous nation. …
Accompanying this enormous change is an equally momentous loss of innocence, an awakening to the harshness of life in a free-market system. What does it mean to be happy in China today? Young people have no model to follow: all their parents taught them was to make as much money as they could, as quickly as they could. Spiritually China is a void; religion is a distant concept to most young Chinese, and they have found little with which to replace it. Contemporary Chinese works of art and literature are shot through with cynicism and a dash of despair at the all-embracing materialism they see everywhere around them.
They have few positive alternatives to offer. Chinese artists and thinkers suffer the peculiar impotence of all creative people living under an authoritarian regime—the anger at all one cannot say, and the accompanying guilt at not saying it. For much is still forbidden in China; economic change has not been accompanied by political liberalization. Today’s Chinese are expected to take responsibility for their economic welfare but are still denied any right to decide how they should be ruled, or by whom. In many ways this kind of repression hits the young hardest—partly because of youth’s predilection for revolt, and partly because of the puritanical instincts kids inspire in adults everywhere.
In August, in one of its periodic fits of censoriousness, the Public Security Bureau closed down all the interesting clubs in Shanghai and a good number in Beijing. No official explanation was given for the crackdown, but the authorities quietly muttered about drug use and youthful decadence getting out of hand. But, as in the West, China’s youthful energy could not be held back for long. Within a week of the closures, unofficial rave parties were being held all over Shanghai. Within a month the clubs on Maoming Road in Shanghai were open again—the goons with outsized sunglasses had gone back to chasing Falun Gong members—and Chinese kids knew they had gone one step back to go two steps forward.
Such is the erratic path of progress for youth in China today. They have an idea about what’s off limits but have no map to show them where they can go, no coordinates for their ambitions. Their search for the future has not been and will not be an easy one. But it will be fascinating—and critical—for the world to watch.
From Zha, Jianying, China Pop, (New York Press: New York) 1995.
The appearance of Western-influenced fashion was greeted with great enthusiasm by Chinese. Women began wearing dresses, skirts, and sun hats, and calf-length nylons became ubiquitous. Random English words emblazoned on tight-fitting tee-shirts or knit sweaters also proliferated. Make-up and permanents became common fashion statements. Even cosmetic surgery became available and acceptable Men began wearing xizhuang, or Western business suits, although the Chinese interpretation of the suit initially differed greatly from the original. Imported and domestically produced blue jeans, or niuzaiku (literally “cowboy pants”), became the standard casual dress for men and women alike. Presently, “traditional” Chinese clothing and the once universal Mao jacket and caps can only be found in souvenir shops for foreign tourists. Western-inspired fashions, on the other hand, fill the department shops, the stands, and the alleyway clothing markets that can be found every few blocks in modern Beijing.
The “freedom to have fun” was combined with the freedom to consume, and much of Chinese consumption was directed at durable household goods. In the 1980’s, most Chinese households purchased appliances such as washers, sewing machines, cassette players and, above all, television. Modern popular culture could not have emerged without the popularization of television and stereo ownership. By the late 1980’s, almost every urban household and many rural households had acquired an audiocassette recorder/playback unit. In addition to allowing more varied musical consumption than permitted by radio, most audiocassette units came equipped with dubbing facilities for tape copying. Most early imported music as well as underground Chinese music was initially distributed almost entirely through individual borrowing and copying.
The skyrocketing of television ownership was among the most significant tangible results of the reforms. During the early 1980’s, in a phenomena similar to the U.S. in the 1950’s, the majority of Chinese households purchased a television set. In 1970, one person in 16,400 owned a television set. In 1979, 1.42 million sets were sold, a 200 percent increase from the previous year, and by 198 one in every 280 people in China owned a television set. Rural families started purchasing TV sets at a high rate beginning in 1984. By 1986, 95 percent of urban families owned at least one set. In 1990, 74 percent of all households in China owned a television set. There were 166 million sets in Chinese homes, which translated into a nationwide viewership of over 600 million. There was one television set for every eight people in all of China, and in cities there was one TV for every three or four urban residents.
The ethic of consumerism has infiltrated most aspects of leisure and entertainment. The urge to accumulate possessions can be seen in the fad of amateur collecting that has sprung up in urban China. In Shanghai, for example, an estimated 100,000 people have begun collecting sundries such as stamps, model ships and abacuses. Upwards of a million Shanghai residents have also taken up breeding small animals such as birds, fish or crickets. The consumerist trend is similarly illustrated by such enthusiastic pursuits- as “qigong fever,” “keep-fit classes fever,” “dressmaking fever,” and the revival of mahjong.
Many of the objects of Chinese consumerism were Western cultural commodities that sneaked in as a result of the “open door” policy. Countless more were not actually Western products but unique Chinese interpretations of concepts with foreign origins. The mere perception of something as “foreign” or “Western” was generally sufficient to make it considered “cool” and thus wildly popular in Chinese consumption culture. In an anonymous interview, one person observed The Chinese obsession with things foreign has taken many incarnations ranging from everything from Christianity to billiards and video games. One of the leading expressions of this is the wide and officially endorsed popularity of foreign dance styles. Ballroom dancing has become the most acceptably forms of dance, with ji-ta-ba (jitterbug), tan-ge (tango), lun-ba (rumba), wa-er-si (waltz), and fu-ke-si-si-bu (fox-trot) entering the lexicon of daily use. Most college campus offer weekly ballroom dances, and even the Communist Party sponsors “dance parties” around the new year. Official Party newspapers and periodicals have run positive articles about the dance craze. One article in Renmin ribao, “Young and Old Dance Away Their Spare Time,” explained,
Disco culture has also become popular, especially among urban youth. Glitzy di-si-ke- clubs were first established in large urban hotels to accommodate foreign businessmen and tourists. These earned the attention of local residents, and local dance clubs within the range of the average Chinese income level were established. In the midst of the 1987 crackdown, the Party lifted the ban on underground dance halls, which have since become numerous. Guangzhou alone had over 500 dance halls by late 1987. Disco dancing, which originally was considered a part of the rebellious youth, culture has become mainstream. It has even become popular with the elderly, and disco routines are now offered as an exercise alternative to tai chi. Many seniors rise early to exercise along with the television show Laonian Disco (Old People’s Disco).
The Ranks of Revolutionaries (Time Magazine)
By TANG HAISONG OCTOBER 23, 2000 VOL. 156 NO. 16
Tang Haisong founded Chinese Web portal etang.com
Hooked up, fired up and liberated by the Internet, China’s ‘Generation Yellow’ is laying the groundwork for change. Strolling down Shanghai’s boulevards, one sees well-dressed young Chinese constantly talking on their mobile phones, switching easily between English and Chinese. They jam the city’s Western-style bars and discos, even on weekday nights. They work at Internet startups or at Western firms. They are ambitious and confident. They are the models for Generation Yellow—the rising middle-class in China, aged 18 to 35—and they are the future.
Tens of millions of Chinese fall into this demographic, though most are obviously not as fortunate as Shanghai’s gilded youth. As a rule, they are more pragmatic, educated and cosmopolitan than their parents. Unlike their communist predecessors in Generation Red, Generation Yellow are forward-thinking and full of confidence, if somewhat disoriented by the lack of an overarching belief system in China. They are different not only in the opportunities that have been made available to them, but also in how they think and act. And the Internet has played no small role in those revolutionary changes. …
Individually, these kids have eagerly adopted bulletin boards, chat rooms, instant messaging and personalized home pages to express themselves. The importance of this phenomenon cannot be underestimated. Unlike their counterparts in the West, many Chinese are uncomfortable saying what they really think in office meetings or in other public forums. They worry too much about saying the wrong thing or embarrassing themselves publicly. But with the Internet, even the most timid can express their thoughts—and gain a hearing far beyond the audience they once would have had. …
This potential for the Internet to encourage democratic and free ways of thinking is one of the most important tools available to Generation Yellow. It allows our staff in places as diverse as Boston, Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou to discuss ideas without worrying about time differences or regional priorities. Faxes are too impersonal. Teleconferences can be too public for shy Chinese. But e-mail is the perfect medium for frank and interesting intellectual exchange. Already this new confidence has spurred an incredible wave of entrepreneurialism among Chinese youth.
INSPIRING AND INSTRUCTIONAL CHINESE PROVERBS
Chinese proverbs are famous for their simplicity and depth. Enjoy the simple narrative and appreciate these pithy sayings that take you back to first principles.
The participant’s perspectives are clouded;
while the bystander’s views are clear.
Pick the flower when it is ready to be picked.
Follow the local custom when you go to a foreign place.
It is impossible to change your basic characteristics.
Your neighbor’s wife looks prettier than your own.
A bird does not sing because it has an answer.
It sings because it has a song.
A book is like a garden carried in the pocket.
A nation’s treasure is in its scholars.
A rat who gnaws at a cat’s tail invites destruction.
Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still.
Deep doubts, deep wisdom; small doubts, little wisdom.
Dig the well before you are thirsty.
Do good, reap good; do evil, reap evil.
Each generation will reap what the former generation has sown.
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.
Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
He who asks is a fool for five minutes,
but he who does not ask remains a fool forever.
If you don’t want anyone to know, don’t do it.
After three days without reading, talk becomes flavorless.
Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness
A closed mind is like a closed book; just a block of wood
Distant water won’t help to put out a fire close at hand.
Distant water won’t quench your immediate thirst.
Dream different dreams while on the same bed.
Enjoy yourself. It’s later than you think.
Flowing water never goes bad; our door hubs never gather termites.
Great souls have wills; feeble ones have only wishes.
He who hurries can not walk with dignity.
He who sacrifices his conscience to ambition
burns a picture to obtain the ashes.
If a son is uneducated, his dad is to blame.
If I keep a green bough in my heart, the singing bird will come.
If you do not study hard when young
you’ll end up bewailing your failures as you grow up.
If you want one year of prosperity, grow grain.
If you want ten years of prosperity, grow trees.
If you want 100 years of prosperity, grow people.
If you wish to know the mind of a man, listen to his words.
It is easy to dodge a spear that comes in front of you
but hard to keep harms away from an arrow shot from behind.
A Jade stone is useless before it is processed;
a man is good-for-nothing until he is educated.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.
Make happy those who are near, and those who are far will come.
The man who does not learn is dark, like one walking in the night.
Never do anything standing that you can do sitting,
or anything sitting that you can do lying down.
Never write a letter while you are angry.
One never needs their humor as much a when they argue with a fool.
One should be just as careful in choosing
one’s pleasures as in avoiding calamities.
Only when all contribute their firewood can they build up a strong fire.
An overcrowded chicken farm produce fewer eggs.
The palest ink is better than the best memory.
Regular feet can’t be affected by irregular shoes.
Reshape one’s foot to try to fit into a new shoe.
A single conversation with a wise man is better than ten years of study.
A smile will gain you ten more years of life.
Sow much, reap much; sow little, reap little.
Those who have free seats at a play hiss first.
To attract good fortune, spend a new coin on an old friend,
share an old pleasure with a new friend,
and lift up the heart of a true friend
by writing his name on the wings of a dragon.
To know the road ahead, ask those coming back.
To understand your parents’ love you must raise children yourself.
Use power to curb power.
When you want to test the depths of a stream, don’t use both feet.
You can only go halfway into the darkest forest;
then you are coming out the other side.
You cannot prevent the birds of sorrow from flying over your head,
but you can prevent them from building nests in your hair.
You won’t help shoots grow by pulling them up higher.
Your fingers can’t be of the same length.
Ted Koppel gave a lesson on China in a four-part Discovery Channel documentary
By Matea Gold, Los Angeles Times – July 7, 2008.
Changes in the Communist country affect us all, the newsman says. “Our future is so tied together with China’s future, and [the Chinese] get it. . . . The greatest tragedy of all would be if they keep plowing away at this and we become so relaxed about the permanence of America’s place in the world that we fail to see that there are people breathing down our necks.” …
Koppel’s series looks at the effects of capitalism on China, painting a portrait of a country in the throes of a modern-day Industrial Revolution. On one side is a burgeoning upper class with an appetite for luxury goods; on the other, a massive number of rural peasants getting left further behind. Koppel and his team spent eight months on the series, whose first part follows a structure inspired by the film “Babel.” The program jumps among seemingly unrelated groups of people — laid-off Briggs & Stratton workers in Missouri, Mexican migrant cotton pickers in North Carolina, young Chinese assembling boom-boxes in a Chongqing factory — then shows how they are linked through globalism.
The point, Koppel said: “The United States and China are so intertwined economically that you can’t undo it.” Maoism is now mostly a cultural artifact in urban areas, he found, the subject of nostalgic theater productions. Instead, the youth subscribe to a different mantra: “I want to get rich.” It’s a far cry from the China that Koppel visited more than three decades ago when he spent 10 weeks there for ABC News reporting on the effect of the Cultural Revolution. “You cannot imagine a more brainwashed population,” he recalled. “Ask people what they want to do: ‘Whatever serves the state.’
Ted Koppel Tours a China Brimming With Dreams and Consumerism
By FELICIA R. LEE July 8, 2008
Interviewing millionaires and peasants, drag queens and students as he tours nightclubs, classrooms, factories and upscale malls, Ted Koppel takes viewers beyond the oft-seen China in “Koppel on Discovery: The People’s Republic of Capitalism,” an ambitious four-part series that was shown on the Discovery Channel. The series, which depicts the complexities of an emerging capitalist economy tethered to an authoritarian government, vividly demonstrates the interdependence of the economies of China and the United States.
“We’ve covered a lot of bases,” Mr. Koppel said in an interview, adding that the series is especially important now that many of the news media have cut back on foreign coverage. He has been a managing editor at Discovery for the past two years, after a quarter-century as the anchor of ABC News’s “Nightline.”
“The People’s Republic of Capitalism,” one of a number of in-depth documentaries Mr. Koppel has done for Discovery, allows viewers a lingering look at Chongqing, a city of 13.5 million people in southwest China. A boomtown of luxury goods and nonstop construction, it is emblematic of the face of Chinese capitalism but unknown to most Americans. “The U.S. relationship to China is so intricate and so deep that Americans need to know that it’s more than cheap labor at Wal-Mart or tainted toys,” Mr. Koppel said. “We’d have a hard time extricating ourselves from it.”
As “The People’s Republic of Capitalism” illustrates, big American companies like Wal-Mart and Ethan Allen have cut costs by relying on Chinese factories, which in turn allows them to sell lower-priced goods to American consumers. And while it means that some Americans lose jobs to workers overseas — and the series shows the pain of that displacement — even those unemployed workers find themselves shopping for the products made in China and arrayed in budget aisles across this country. …
Mr. Koppel contends that the story of China is as entertaining and dramatic as any novel: 300 million people have escaped poverty in less than a generation, and millions are migrating from the countryside to places like Chongqing, where the juggernaut of capitalism is powering a rapid transformation.
Often the new values have fueled a kind of lust for acquisition that Part 2 of the series calls “MAOism to MEism.” Viewers see young Chinese students intently learning English in order to take their place in the global economy, and a woman who has made millions from owning a restaurant and hotel complex says: “I am proud of being rich. I made my money through hard work.” No one in China talked that way in past decades, Mr. Koppel said.
The tension between the old and the new finds its way into the series. As an automobile magnate interviewed in Part 2 says, “With the pressure you get today, you realize in the old days was very simple.” A young singer who performs in English in a Chongqing nightclub observes, “Like any city that develops quickly, people are more or less lost in transition.” That means that almost anything goes, as long as it happens quietly and is not political. …
Mr. Koppel said that what has stayed with him are the stories of people who for the first time in their lives have enough to eat and clothes on their backs, allowing them to strive for something more. They call these the “best of times,” he said. He recalled a married couple in the country, earning $1,500 a year from manual labor and living on $600 a year so that they might put their two children through school. They dream that the next generation might become professionals with better lives than their own. “These are what we call great American success stories,” Mr. Koppel said. “Well, those kinds of things are happening in China all the time, and it’s a thing to behold.”