This is the China Writing Digest, a weekly roundup of recent essays and articles published on the Chinese web, with links to translations on the Marco Polo Project.
This week’s digest takes a look at the Chinese Gen Y – generally known as ‘the post-eighties’ (80后) – through three posts written by representatives of this generation. Xi Mu confronts an older friend’s criticism that the post-eighties are spoilt apolitical only children by putting forward a number of concrete grassroots initiatives led by them. Written from a Christian perspective, Tan Ni’s article reflects on history to try and understand how the second-hand memories of the Cultural Revolution affected the post-eighties. Finally, Zhang Junkai takes us across the straits to consider the common experiences of the post-eighties generation in Taiwan.
Can you blame the post-eighties generation?
By Xi Mu 1984, 09 October 2012
Xi Mu 1984, himself a member of the post-80s generation, encounters violent criticism of his age group from an older friend who accuses young people of irrational stupidity in the wake of recent anti-Japanese violence.
The post-80s generation is often described in very negative terms as made up of selfish, rebellious, and spoiled individuals with no political sense. Too young to be strongly influenced by the political movements of the 80s, they content themselves with the illusory freedom of entertainment and mass-communications, rather than pursuing actual political freedom and democracy; they enjoy the results of China’s economic opening and reform, while refusing to look at the dark side of politics.
However, Xi Mu contends that all new generations are criticized by earlier ones for similar reasons. Unlike the previous generation, the post-80s tend not to see themselves as having a grand historical mission, and abandoned political romanticism; they prefer to focus on grass-roots actions addressing a specific issue. Xi Mu mentions the 2007 walk in Xiamen, organised by the post-80s, when no riots ensued – and no garbage was left after the passage of the demonstration. He also mentions an initiative by a friend in Hanzhou who successfully used micro-blogging activism to question traffic regulations. He concludes by noting that the post-80s are now beginning to enter Chinese political life, but are still maturing. What people accuse them of is not so much a generational flaw, but the normal shortcomings of young people.
From collective scars to family scars, a look at the post-eighties and post-nineties generations
By Tan Ni, 02 October 2012
This article is written from a Christian perspective, and is based on observations of Chinese international students who join Christian communities. The picture of the post-80s generation painted in this article is very close to that proposed by Xi Mu. However, Tan Ni focuses more specifically on this generation’s relationship to history, using the concept of ‘scar’ – generally used to describe the repressed memories of the Cultural Revolution – to describe shared wounds of the post-80s. These ‘scars’ are largely those left by an inadequate family environment.
The parents of the post-80s grew up during the cultural revolution, where they developed a sense of extreme uncertainty, and learned to value money and power over all. For that reason, perhaps, the post-eighties experienced difficulties in their families – the former red guards found it particularly hard to educate their children properly, and bring them up with a sense of trust in the world. Tan Ni mentions a group set up on douban called “parents are a plague”, where members listed the various forms of violence and hardships they experienced in their families – from verbal abuse to total indifference. Because of this, many young people from the post-80s generation share a common sense of anxiety and uncertainty.
To conclude, Tan Ni proposes the church as a focal point for these young people to rebuild a sense of trust.
The story of Taiwan’s post-eighties generation
By Zhang Junkai, 02 September 2012
In this post, Zhang Junkai reflects on the defining historical experiences of his generation, who grew up in a time of major transition for Taiwan.
As children, they grew up with a strong sense of being Chinese. At school this Chinese identity was closely associated with the Guomingdang and the figure of Chang Kai Shek. Out of school, the books and pop cultural productions for children also had strong Chinese elements, but with a slightly fuzzy, romantic sense of what ‘Chinese’ meant.
As they reached high school, under the influence of political leaders, this generation was encouraged to develop strong anti-communist feelings. This became particularly strong in the 90s, as political rhetoric hinted at a possible future of independence from China, and the population experienced the fear of war.
The Taiwanese post-80s also experienced major changes in Taiwan’s economy: in the 80s, the island grew considerably richer while experiencing increased globalisation – manifested particularly by the increased influence of English and international culture. A shift to neo-liberal economic models also led to an increased gap between rich and poor.
In the 2000s, with increased economic cooperation, some of the post-80s went to the mainland for economic opportunities, or even for study. They faced the same economic difficulties as their mainland counterparts when reaching adult age. Like the mainland post-80s, they were criticized for their selfishness and lack of social spirit – with the label of ‘strawberry’ youth – seemingly glamorous, but easy to damage.
Zhang Junkai concludes with a note of hope: because his generation grew up in times of transition and with a strong romantic relationship to China, they could play a crucial role in building bridges towards the mainland.
All articles in this digest and a large range of other Chinese readings are accessible at Marcopoloproject.org. Some are available in English, French and Spanish translation. (You can join the project if you’d like to help with translations.)
Danwei is an affiliate of the Australian Centre on China in the World at The Australian National University. This posting is a result of one project that is part of that on-going collaboration.