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Morning exercises Xixiang middle school Shenzhen China. Image by Chris available at flickr.com under CC license.

10:18 pm | 29. January 2020

The Future and China's Youth

Greta Thunberg has gained massive support from the youth across Europe. However, the question "how dare you" has not resonated among young people in China. How and why do Chinese youth differ from their European peers?

By Zhu Yi

Key points

  • In comparison to their European peers, Chinese youth seem to be more materialistic and less concerned about global issues such as climate change. Three major factors have shaped the gap in priorities across different social and political contexts:
  • While the concept of generational conflict provides a powerful frame for youth activism in the West, Chinese youth have never gained normative legitimacy in challenging power and demanding change. Instead, the frame of nationalism dominates political life in the country.

  • Chinese youth have strongly embraced new technologies and related opportunities, while in many developed countries young people tend to be less interested in newly emerging careers. But the downside of high income in China's tech sector is intense competition and new forms of labor exploitation.

  • The traditional norm of filial piety remains the foundation of China's social doctrine. In the fact of new social challenges, such as the single-child family structure and the heavy burden of education and health costs, the bond between generations in Chinese families has grown even stronger.

In a recent op-ed reflecting back on the past decade, New York Times opinion columnist Bret Stephens characterized the 2010s as the “decade of disillusion” dominated by the young, from disruptive technological creations, to Greta Thunberg’s climate activism, to the “moral convictions of the young” driving protests from Cairo to Hong Kong.

Stephens’ column, which begins with the global question of youth – “Why and how did the young dominate the decade?” – quickly turns its focus to the United States, as though we can simply take for granted that young people across the world are similarly disillusioned, or that they share convictions sure to shape the future.

But if we want to understand youth globally, and to understand how their beliefs the youth might will impact our future globally, it is important to look more closely and critically at youth in other regional or national contexts, beyond Western societies. In this Echowall series we explore the question of China’s youth. Have young Chinese experienced their own “disillusion”? If so, what are the factors shaping views? How might their concerns and convictions impact the West, and the rest?

Dreams of Consumption

When it comes to this last question, about the significance of understanding China’s young generation, one argument from the business community in the West is that China offers huge economic potential in the form of a growing consumer culture. Looking at Europe in particular, this argument is happening against the backdrop of postmaterialism, as younger generations in developed countries increasingly redefine their lifestyles, prioritizing autonomy and self-expression over material lives as consumers, resulting in movements like “Fridays for Future.”

China, or so some imagine, is a brave new world of consumerism with millions of hardworking young people ready to spend. Last year, Herbert Diess, the CEO of Volkswagen Group, said that “[the] future of Volkswagen will be decided in China.” Sales reports from the company seem to support this belief. Volkswagen, Germany’s largest carmaker, delivered 3.26 million vehicles in China in 2019. Particulary, the sports utility vehicle (SUV) segment was boosted significantly in China last year, and VW has talked about strengthening its SUV business to reach younger Chinese consumers.    

For high-end European brands, China has been called the “future of luxury.” In April last year, McKinsey, the management consulting firm, released a report looking at how “young Chinese consumers are reshaping global luxury.” According to the report, Chinese born in the 1980s and 1990s were the main contributors in 2018 to luxury spending in China (115 billion dollars), which now accounts for one-third of global spending on luxury goods. “Having grown up in step with China’s emergence as a global superpower,” the McKinsey report said Chinese youth “are the primary beneficiaries of the economy’s rapid and unbroken growth.”

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While these numbers may seem decisive in the short term, however, it is not clear that rapid economic growth in China will be sustainable, or that young Chinese consumers buying up German SUVs and French luxury goods are typical of the country’s younger generation. The social, economic, and ecological risks underlying China’s economic growth and its unbridled consumerism are mostly unknown factors. How do young Chinese, who live in one of the world’s most unequal countries of the world, perceive that inequality? What are their expectations for the future?

Against the view that young Chinese represent huge consumer potential, a growing list of European companies, from Daimler and Dolce & Gabbana, to Dior and Versace, have come under attack by nationalism trolls from China over perceived slights to China’s national character that “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.”

How do young Chinese, who live in one of the world’s most unequal countries of the world, perceive that inequality? What are their expectations for the future?

 

The differences between Chinese and Western youth also came to the fore in Germany in 2019 as the General Students Committee (the AStA) at the Technical University of Berlin made a statement to voice solidarity with protesting students at Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University. The Society of Chinese Academics at the Technical University responded by demanding an apology from AStA for what it regarded as an affront to Chinesee sovereignty over Hong Kong. AStA members were shocked to also receive anonymous death threats over the incident.

Many in Europe, including politicians and business people, have voiced concern that the trade war between the US and China might signal a broader decoupling of China and the West. But it is rarely discussed to what extent the two sides were ever “coupled” in the sense of shared values, social norms, and priorities.

Climate change is one area where we can see a clear gap in views between youth in the West and youth in China.

 

Climate Gaps

According to the latest Shell Youth Study published in 2019, this being the most influential empirical study on youth in Germany, nearly three out of four young Germans (between 12 and 25 years of age) cited pollution and climate change as their main concern.

 By contrast, a study based on nationwide survey data in China published in August last year showed that just 14 percent of Chinese expressed genuine concern about global warming. The study showed that those concerned about global warming tended to be younger and female, corresponding to survey results elsewhere in the world. But the larger correlation was with those who expressed greater interest in values associated with political democracy and civil liberties. Youth, in other words, did not correlate strongly with concern about climate change.

If we understand the lackluster interest in climate change among Chinese, it is easier to understand the overwhelmingly negative perception of young Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg in China. In the West, where Thunberg has gained massive support, particularly among the youth, it may surprise people to learn of the hostility voiced toward the activist. Thunberg’s Asperger’s syndrome and her appearance are constant points of mockery on Chinese internet forums, and much fake news stigmatizing her is quickly translated and shared on Chinese social media.

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Screenshot of a news piece on qq.com, a popular Chinese internet platform among young Chinese, claiming that Greta has become the West’s new religious leader. The photo and text originate from the Russian media outlet Sputnik.

Statistical reports on China’s internet show that around 70 percent of internet users are under the age of 40. These younger users are also the segment of internet consumers in China who are most likely to be finding and translating information from Western sources. This suggests that for many young Chinese, Thunberg does not personify the “power of youth.” Correspondingly, we can note that the “Fridays for future” movement has not resonated in China.

Assuming that these online voices are representative of how youth in China view environmental activism, what can account for the gap in views on climate change and other issues? And what do these gaps mean for our global future given China’s rising power in the world?

One of Germany’s most influential sociologists of the 20th century, Helmut Schelsky, identified three factors determining the social roles and identities of youth. First, there were basic social structures, including family and gender roles. Next, there were changing social structures, such as industrialization. Finally, there was the historical-political situation. These factors can also help us understand the differences between Chinese and Western youth. Since we’ve identified the gap in views of Greta Thunberg, let us stay for a moment with the activist and look at each of Schelsky’s factors, beginning with the historical-political situation.

 

How Dare You!

Thunberg’s success lies in large part in her framing the climate change issue as a generational conflict and a question of justice. As fresh as her message may seem, the generational conflict is a concept that has been embedded in public life in the West since the 1960s, as discussed by American anthropologist Margaret Mead. But Chinese society has never passed through a similar process in which the young have gained a normative legitimacy in challenging power and demanding change.

In China, the cry, “How dare you!”, is not a legitimate question to be raised by the youth. Some may object that the example of the so-called Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) is a case of youthful rebellion in which students opposed their parents and teachers and called for revolution. But the Cultural Revolution was never about the rights or freedom of the young, but rather was instituted by Mao Zedong as a top-down political purge to consolidate his own power.  

Chinese society has never passed through a similar process in which the young have gained a normative legitimacy in challenging power and demanding change.

 

Today, the Cultural Revolution and the violent actions of the Red Guards are synonymous with disorder, and it is revealing to note that Greta Thunberg is often referred to in Chinese as the “environmental little general” (环保小将), comparing her to a Red Guard and associating her with disruption of social order.

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Chinese students protest in Beijing on May 4, 1919, after learning of the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. Public domain image available at Wikimedia Commons.

The first attempt of Chinese youth to pose a generational challenge to old systems emerged at the end of the 19th century, culminating during the 1910s in the New Culture Movement, in which young intellectuals promoted science, individual rights, and linguistic and literary reforms. But the 1919 Treaty of Versailles was a real moment of disillusionment for many Chinese, who viewed decisions by major Western powers – including the ceding of Qingdao to Japan – as a deep betrayal of china’s interests. Nationwide protests followed, and the path of the youth movement ran into a nationalistic and radicalized direction. The slogan, “Wrestle for national rights abroad, punish traitors at home” (外争国权,内惩国贼), reflected a strong sense of nationalism, which became the dominant frame for Chinese state narratives of legitimacy even today.

Another nascent youth rebellion took shape in the early 1980s in the wake of the Cultural Revolution, as young Chinese began searching for new models for Chinese society in Western theories. This period ended with the 1989 crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests, a “How dare you!” moment in which students and other demonstrators had called for political reform and spoken against gerontocracy.

Ever since 1989, the Chinese Communist Party has worked to strengthen its ideological work and nationalism education to ensure that such a generational conflict is not repeated. During a plenary session on June 23-24, just three weeks after the crackdown, Party leaders pledged to “strengthen ideological and political work, work to carry out education in patriotism, socialism, autonomy and self-determination, and arduous struggle, actively opposing bourgeois liberalization.”

It is within this post-Tiananmen political context that young Chinese today came to adulthood, and this has significantly shaped their views and values.

Nationalism has very different perceptions in the differing historical-political context of China and the West, and we can see this again reflected in survey results. In the Shell Youth Study in Germany, nationalistic attitudes were regarded as populist, and just nine percent of young people in the survey were identified as national populists. The study cited as positive its finding that 52 percent of young people surveyed regarded xenophobia as a social problem.

Nationalism has very different perceptions in the differing historical-political context of China and the West.

 

By contrast, a comparable research project in China published last year, based on a survey of more than 10,000 university students in nine provinces, reflected strong nationalistic views. Nine out of ten Chinese students surveyed either “strongly agreed” (17.8 percent), “agreed” (54.9 percent) or “generally agreed” (20.4 percent) with a statement that “one should not dare to forget the interests of the nation even if one’s status is humble” (位卑未敢忘忧国) – a phrase that encapsulates the Chinese sense of the need to always consider the country’s interests as a central priority.

Further details in the Chinese study clue us in to what these ideas of “nationalism” mean in practice. For example, 85 percent of the students surveyed felt that the boycotting of South Korean and US products during the 2017 dispute over the THAAD missile defense system was a positive response.

Despite the strong nationalistic sentiments revealed by the study, the Chinese researchers still voiced concern over the “infiltration of Western culture,” as 50 percent of the students surveyed agreed with the statement: “Some elements of Western culture can be borrowed, and university students should have appropriate access.”

 

What’s Wrong With Greta Thunberg?

The narrative of national primacy is a factor also driving the domestic debate about activist Greta Thunberg. In a recent opinion piece, one of China’s top commercial newspapers, The Beijing News, asked: “Why don’t Chinese netizens like Greta?” The article concluded that one important reason is that Chinese people believe in Deng Xiaoping’s statement that “development is the top priority” (发展是硬道理), and they see the demands of climate activists in the West as obstructing China’s development.

According to the author, actions such as tree planting, which China has carried out for decades, are “real work” to promote environment protection, whereas Thunberg’s activities are seen as “empty talk.” In fact, China’s ministry of education has made tree planting an established part of school life, demanding each student plant at least one tree. At the university level there are more than 3,000 student environmental organizations. However, as Chinese researchers have observed, most of these organizations are organized, financed and supervised by communist youth leagues at universities and lack real initiative and volunteerism. "We are not used to these kind of social movements [that Greta instigated]”, said the article in The Beijing News. It also noted that Chinese generally have a critical view towards what it called "Western political correctness".

The defensive and antagonistic posture of nationalism can make it difficult for views that are more tolerant, empathetic or nuanced about global events to become part of the conversation. One recent example was an article on the Chinese internet that harshly criticized Australia for its incompetence in dealing with the bushfire crisis, laying the blame squarely at the feet of Western values like “human rights and freedom,” and praised China for its supposedly bold response to a major forest fire in 1987. While Australian firefighters and government officials had selfishly failed to act over the Christmas holiday, the article suggested, 211 Chinese firefighters during the 1987 fire had given their lives “for their land and their people.”

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Screenshot from the social media public account of the Central Committee of the Communist Youth League, the official youth organization in China. It retweeted the "Youth Courtyard" article about wildfires, praising the authors' "positive energy".

The article, posted to a WeChat public account called “Youth Courtyard” (青年大院), went viral on social media, yielding more than 20 million views and 300,000 likes. But it angered older journalists and media researchers, who pointed out that reports in 1987 by the China Youth Daily and other media had been a breakthrough in Chinese media history: Young reporters at that time actively exposed government incompetence in dealing with what was actually a “man-made disaster.”

In the end, however, many of these dissenting views of the “Youth Courtyard” post and its nationalistic views were censored online, while the original post was allowed to remain. In China’s digital media landscape, where profits are driven by traffic but traffic must abide by stringent controls, nationalistic content like the above post can be a huge revenue source – in turn feeding the populist echo chamber.

This online environment has a huge impact on Chinese youth, and it brings us to the second of Helmut Schelsky’s three factors in the formation of youth identities and values – that of changing social structures. The pervasiveness of digital media and new technology in China constitutes a new social structure for China’s young generation, but in ways that may again create greater divergence with the values of youth in the West.

Digital Darwinism

In comparison with their Western counterparts, Chinese youth have embraced new technologies and their opportunities whole-heartedly, with few misgivings and little consideration of the potential social costs. In his New York Times op-ed, Bret Stephens suggested that youth today had grown more skeptical of Silicon Valley innovation and how personal data is being used (or abused). Some Studies have supported this view, showing that young consumers in the West are more wary of data privacy.  

The same cannot be said, however, for young Chinese. Over the past quarter century, the internet has fundamentally transformed Chinese society, and the speed of change has accelerated over the past 10 years.

Several factors have driven this spectacular growth. First, there is China’s unique political ecosystem. In 2010, the Google search engine withdrew from the China market, citing censorship demands. And nearly all of the social media platforms popular across the world have been shut out of the China market. This situation has left China’s massive market wide open for domestic internet companies, offering these companies an opportunity to evolve and expand, independent of global competitors. 

Another key factor has been the rapid expansion of inexpensive domestic smartphone brands in China, which has encouraged mobile internet usage. Since 2012, the smartphone has been the most used device for internet access in China. Contrast this with just 23 percent of internet usage in 2012 in Germany.

China’s mobile dependency has boosted the development of mobile applications that have transformed the country’s economic landscape. Chinese youth are the most critical factor in this growth. As the biggest single market in terms of user numbers, China has a vast young internet population compared to EU countries. Digital natives (those born after 1980 who have engaged with digital technology since a young age) dominate China’s internet market, accounting for 70 percent of the total number of internet users. With a greater affinity for technology, they are mobile consumers, business entrepreneurs, and the principal source of labor for emerging technology industries.

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By 2013, China’s Internet economy had already surpassed that of the United States, France, and Germany as a share of GDP, according to a McKinsey study. The latest statistics show China’s internet sector accounting for more than 18 percent of total GDP.

 

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Tencent founder Pony Ma Huateng is seen by many youth in China as proof of the possibility of success and wealth in the internet sector. Image available at Wikimedia Commons under CC license.  

A recent study from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) expressed concern that too many teenagers in OECD countries were focused on the career types of the past, and were not sufficiently aware of or interested in newly emerging jobs, particularly in information and communications technology (ICT). By contrast, many ordinary young Chinese, the internet business seems to be one of the very few fields where they could potentially become rich and successful by dint of hard work and innovative ideas, rather than relying on social capital such as family connections.

This sense of possibility is mirrored back to youth in the founders of China’s tech giants, all of whom come from ordinary family backgrounds – whether Jack Ma of Alibaba Group, Pony Ma of Tencent, or Zhang Yiming of ByteDance (whose TikTok app has achieved global success). Venture capital, from both domestic and foreign sources, has actively sought the next great Chinese business idea, fueling the sense that technology is where future wealth can be found.

In the survey of Chinese university students published last year, “high income” was listed as the most important criterion influencing choice of career, while “entrepreneur” was given as the most popular choice of profession in the survey group. Only just over 30 percent of the students surveyed disagreed with the statement that “having massive wealth is an important measure of a successful life.” China’s official state news agency, Xinhua, has encouraged the association between technology innovation and extreme wealth as a positive value. A report in September 2019 said: “Entrepreneurs like Ren Zhengfei [of Huawei] and Jack Ma [of Alibaba] have served as models to emulate, and are one important reason for the appetite students in the new era have for money.”

This intense focus on materialism among Chinese youth contrasts rather sharply with the professional expectations voiced by young people in Germany. According to the Shell Youth Study, the top four priorities identified by German youth were:  1) a secure workplace; 2) a meaningful profession; 3) opportunity to make one's own contribution; 4) sufficient leisure time beyond work.

It is natural in many European countries these days to think about the issue of work-life balance. Most young Chinese, however, would find the notion of work-life balance an alien concept.  The downside of high income in the tech field is a high level of competition, self-sacrifice, and general ignorance and avoidance of labor rights violations.  

The downside of high income in the tech field is a high level of competition, self-sacrifice, and general ignorance and avoidance of labor rights violations.

 

For example, forced overtime in the tech sector is so prevalent that a special term, “996,” has emerged among ICT professionals to describe the phenomenon. “996” means working from 9AM to 9PM, six days a week. Forced ranking systems that evaluate individuals against their co-workers, as pioneered by General Electric CEO Jack Welch in the 1980s, are also widely used in China. Huawei, for instance, has implemented a forced ranking system since 2000 to phase out staff seen as underperforming.  Welch, who is  controversial even in the United States, remains a role model for many Chinese rulers in politics and business: He was invited to visit China by Premier Zhu Rongji in 1999, and in the following years offered a training program for Chinese party officials and entrepreneurs on how to govern companies and employees.

Earlier this month, the founder of Sohu.com, Zhang Chaoyang, epitomized the idea that: “Exploiting employees is what capitalists do.” Commenting on the “996” work culture last year, Jack Ma said that this was “a huge blessing” for people in the tech sector. Many people dream of this opportunity, he said, but do not get a chance. On this point, Ma may be right. For example, China’s estimated 140 million young migrant workers, must work under even more difficult conditions than those in the IT industry, but for very little payment and little access to essential services.

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In many Chinese public toilets, you have to use your WeChat app to get toilet paper. Image by Zhu Yi.

Far more than for their European counterparts, the lives of Chinese youth are determined by digitalization. In such a highly digitalized environment, even if you are not a tech worker or entrepreneur profiting from the internet, it permeates every aspect of your life and treats you as a source of profit. This month, Chinese official media proudly announced the online retail figures for 2019, totaling more than ten trillion RMB (1.3 trillion euro). Consider by contrast that e-commerce revenues in Germany last year totaled 58.8 billion euro.

In the push for internet development, data privacy and security receive little priority. Western observers often express admiration that digital payment systems in China are “light-years ahead.” The flip side of this coin is that payment systems leave you no other choice than to disclose your personal data.

“Parents are One's Curse”

Given that the internet has permeated all aspects of life in China, and that young Chinese are the major drivers behind the developing digital world, it’s fair to say that Chinese society has already entered what Margaret Mead called a “prefigurative era,” in which “the child represents what is to come.” However, the Chinese family has not experienced a “irreversible change” in which “the young can lead their elders”, as she predicted。

The Chinese sociologist Fei Xiaotong (1910-2005) described Chinese intergenerational relationships as a “return and feed” model (反哺模式), in which the older generation is responsible for raising the children, and adult children have the full responsibility for looking after their parents.

 

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A Grade 2 music book teaches children a song about a little crow who feeds his mother,  published by People's Education Press, Beijing.  

From a very young age, Chinese are instilled – through songs, textbooks, stories, plays, television dramas -- with the norm of having gratitude toward and repaying their parents. This norm, known as “xiao” (), or “filial piety,” is the cornerstone of Chinese social doctrine. The Chinese character for "xiao," consisting of one character meaning "elder" on the top and another meaning "child" on the bottom, is a clear visible representation of the hierarchy.

As Fei Xiaotong and many other scholars have pointed out, “xiao” is constructed by Confucianism as a means for maintaining social stability, requiring that the young abide by standards of obedience. China’s governing structures have also followed this paternalistic pattern, employing a parent-child hierarchy to define state-people relations, so that the obedience of the people to the government is enforced. Therefore, it is not surprising that soon after the Cultural Revolution, as the legitimacy of Maoism was questioned,  the CCP rediscovered Confucianism as a means to rationalize single-party rule.

As some scholars have noted, the emphasis on generational reciprocity also allows the state to avoid responsibility for social welfare. A People’s Daily article in 2012 argued, for example, that promoting “xiao” among the youth was a “pressing” task as Chinese society aged, but that the state could not adopt a social pension system model as in developed counties. While the family structure is undergoing dramatic change in China, outside of a few privileged social groups, the “return and feed” bond has generally grown stronger as people try to cope with the new challenges posed by the commercialization of the housing, education, and healthcare systems.

Due to the one-child policy, which was in effect in China until 2015, children from 1979 received a degree of attention and pressure from their parents and extended family that was unprecedented among previous generations. Chinese parents, whatever their social status, invest a high share of their income in their child’s education. For a high school student,  school fees and after-school fees expend more than 25 percent of annual household income for urban families, and more than 30 percent of the annual household income for rural families.  

Once children have completed their education and are busy with their professional lives, the parents’ focus turns toward assisting their children in the formation of their own families. This includes financial support for property purchases, as most young people cannot afford to purchase property due to high real estate prices (and home ownership is regarded as crucial for new families). It also includes matchmaking for their children.

China’s marriage markets, where parents exchange information about their children in the hope of finding suitable matches, prompt shock and amusement in the West, where people find it difficult to understand the intervention of Chinese elders, and why young people would consent to it. But in the “return to feed” model, the resources of adult children and the quality of their marriages are regarded as part of the shared family capital, and so are of direct relevance to the interest of the parents.

The most crucial expectation placed on the young in this “return and feed” model is that they will support their parents once they are old or sick. Because social and health services are unequally distributed in China, this dependency of the old on the young has continued and even deepened. For the estimated 176 million Chinese who are the only child of the family, the pressure is even greater. As Chinese media quoted one only-child discussing the pressure of caring for the elderly: “I don’t dare die, or dare to earn too little, or dare to move far away, seeing as my parents rely on me alone."

 

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Screenshot from the Facebook account of the People’s Daily newspaper sharing a photo capitioned “The Only Child.” The image went viral in China in 2018.

Despitethe ubiquitous emphasis on parental authority and filial piety in Chinese society, not all young people accept parental intervention that impedes on their individual interests

In 2008, a chat group called “Anti-Parents” was launched on the Chinese social networking service Douban, whose users are primarily urban. The group coined the phrase, “Parents are one’s curse” (父母皆祸害), a provocation taking on the traditional value that one’s parents are always right, and caused an uproar online.  The forum, which offered a platform for voicing anger about parental control, eventually gained 120 thousand members.But in 2017, “Anti-Parents” drew condemnation from the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Youth League, the official youth movement for people aged 14-28, which said it had “radically departed from socialist core values and traditional ideas of filial piety.” The group was banned shortly after, making it clear that Chinese youth are the targets of the charge, “How dare you!”

"Only a Pretty Woman is a Perfect Woman"

While the “Anti-Parents” debate and unrelenting family pressure reflects a largely middle-class problem, one group that might be said to have clearly benefitted from changes to Chinese family relationships over the past decade is that of young rural women who made their way to China’s cities for work. For many years, problems of domestic violence, conflicts with in-laws, and financial and social stress took their toll on young rural women. In 2009, the World Health Organization still reported that suicide was the leading cause of death among young women in the countryside. With hundreds of millions of female migrant workers now living in urban environments, this situation has improved dramatically.

This is a relative gain, of course, and it does not mean that these young women no longer face gender oppression. Gender discrimination in the workplace, for example, is a phenomenon that cuts across social classes. And despite the level of education among young women now being the highest in China’s history, being young and pretty is still regarded as their most important source of capital. Correspondingly, the industry of cosmetic surgery is growing fast: According to SoYoung Technology, a Chinese plastic surgery social network listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange, China will lead the world by 2019 in terms of cosmetic procedures performed.

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Screenshot of an advertisement for cosmetic surgery, made by SoYoung Technology.

The picture above is from a video advertisement made by SoYoung in 2019. In the ad, the women sang to the melody of Beethoven’s “Ode of Joy”: “Only a pretty woman is a perfect woman.”

Aired on video screens in nearly every elevator in office towers across China, SoYoung tried with this ad to reach the target customers: young female white collar workers. However, many women were infuriated by the message and protested on the internet. In recent years, especially through the anti-domestic violence campaigns and through the Chinese MeToo movement, the awareness of gender justice is increasing among many mainly well-educated young women. They are one group of Chinese youth with the strongest voice saying: How dare you?

This article provides just a glimpse of the trends and issues defining the young generation in China. In this new Echowall series, we are pleased to present five unique articles that analyze Chinese youth from five different perspectives. Written by young Chinese authors, the series offers their insights on why Chinese youth matter to the future.

China's Youth

With a focus on China's youth, this ECHOWALL series presents young Chinese authors from different backgrounds, offering their insights on why Chinese youth matters to the future.

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The Future and China's Youth

29. January 2020
Author
Zhu Yi

Currently a researcher at the Institute of China Studies at the University of Heidelberg, Ms. Zhu has her research focus on political communication, media perceptions and China’s social changes. With a close examination of data from Chinese social media, she is completing her PhD project on how Chinese lawyers, intellectuals and journalists initiated public debate on abolition of the re-education through labor system​.