By WANG KUAN
By WANG KUAN
THE function of young people in society is the same as that of new cells in the human body,” wrote Chen Duxiu in an article for The New Youth magazine which he founded in 1915.
The year 2018 has seen the youngest post-90s generation grow up from a teenager to an adult. The population of those who were born between 1990 and 1999 has reached 190 million in China. They are nicknamed “new people” and have received numerous comments and criticism for their individualistic behavior. Now they are taking the stage and beginning to shape the country.
Individualism and Diversification
The common keyword about the post-90s generation is individualism, but there is no reason for them not to be individualistic. They grew up in the period during which China saw peace and prosperity. Their parents mostly received proper education and they have only known a stable and affluent life. They are also the first generation that has grown up with the Internet.
China’s leading video broadcasting and streaming portal, Bilibili, is one of the most popular websites among the post-90s crowd.
The post-1980s have been nicknamed as “little emperors” being the first generation of the one child policy. The older generation has expressed their concern over the post-80s. The post-90s, who like to use Martian language (a kind of brain-damaged online informal language that is essentially standard Mandarin written mixed with other signs such as other foreign languages and emotion icons), have exaggerated hairstyles, and pout their lips when taking photos, have been nicknamed as a “collapsed generation.”
“The post-90s are often compared with the post-80s. They share some similarities as they both have grown up in the most open and prosperous period of China’s history and they both live in an era of Internet. They are also the only child of their families. Most of them are well-educated, so they are more knowledgeable and experienced, with broadened views. They enjoy better living standards and have richer international experience than the previous generations. However, the two generations also share similar weaknesses. For example, they are ill-prepared for difficulties and they need to improve their interpersonal communication skills,” said Zhang Yiwu, professor of Peking University’s Chinese Department.
Professor Zhang pointed out the two groups have different backgrounds. The post-80s grew up in the initial period of the reform and opening-up, when the Chinese people were just becoming able to meet their basic needs such as clothing and food. At that time, they had limitation in terms of living standards and perspective. In comparison, the post-90s grew up in a period when China sees the fastest economic growth and changes.
Olympic medalist Fu Yuanhui attends the FINA World Aquatics Gala on December 2, 2017 in Sanya, South China’s Hainan Province.
Some people joked that the post-80s hate working overtime, while the post-90s don’t want to work at all. The more appropriate way to interpret this is that most post-90s are not willing to follow the instructions. According to a survey on the post-90s by Analysys, a Chinese Internet data analysis products and services provider, about 11.7 percent of the post-80s will prioritize their interests when choosing a job, while the proportion is 21.3 percent for the post-90s.
A stable and affluent environment where the post-90s grew up has enabled them to pursue their needs and interests. Compared with the previous generations, they expect more diversified professions and careers.
The prevalence of unique, self-defined and multiple simultaneous career choices is proof. Young people no longer want to engage in only one profession. “I am a white collar/ gym trainer/ travel writer/ photographer/ Taobao shop owner.” “I am an accountant/ florist/ online fiction writer.” They enjoy multiple professions. A survey targeting Chinese young people aged from 18- to 25-year-old shows that about 82.6 percent of them want to have varied careers.
Fan Shizhong, who was born in 1992, has a passion for creative design, especially designs for practical use. He spent two years to work with firemen to develop a “life slide.”
His design encompasses slide, crane, and rescue ladder. The rescue slides are divided into three sections. People being rescued can slip down from the high-rise building, just like playing slide. A buffer area between two sections can effectively slow down the rate of decline. It is also designed for guiders and persons who can give some help. Aviation grade insulation coating used on the surface of the slide can resist high temperatures of fire; ventilation device on the top can protect people from smoke. The top of the device can also break windows and extend into the room.
The design has won Fan a series of awards, including the Red Dot Design Award, IF Design Award, A’ Design Award, Golden Pin Design Award, and LITE-ON Award. Fan himself was included into the list of China’s Top 30 Most Promising Designers by Forbes in 2015. He is not only the youngest but also the sole student included into the list.
Although not everyone can achieve fame as Fan has, most post-90s are exploring their personal values during the work.
Guo Yi, who was born in 1992, is an intern at a hospital. He said he is maturing and learning when he took the night shift and overcame the fatigue, when he saw a patient pass away in an ICU (intensive care unit), and managed to refuse the presents from family members of his patients.
Global Perspective and Patriotism
The post-90s generation enjoys advantages in access to information. With access to the Internet, they keep themselves abreast with the latest developments around the globe, absorbing global cultural resources by watching American TV series or taking Harvard courses online. Therefore, their views have been broadened, enabling them to have a global perspective.
Compared with the previous generations, the post-90s enjoy more opportunities to go abroad. In 2009, the year when those who were born in 1990 finished their entrance examination to university, the post-90s who went to study abroad on their own expenses accounted for 60 to 70 percent of the total number of students that went to study abroad during the summer vacation. The post-90s enjoy overseas experiences and cross-cultural communication. They believe China and Western countries are equal and they seldom think Western countries are superior to China.
Nine out of the total staff members at the Huangtujing Station, a small railway station in the border area between Hunan Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, are of the post-90s generation.
According to a report on Internet-based public opinion in 2016 released by People’s Daily Online, the post-90s are confident with the Chinese culture. They have enjoyed the benefits brought along with the reform and opening-up, and they have witnessed how the country has become stronger and more prosperous, so they highly believe in the national development model and course. Deng Xiquan, director of the China Youth and Children Research Center’s Youth Research Institute, said the post-90s are patriotic as they are confident with their country.
According to a survey conducted by Horizon Research Consultancy Group on the post-90s, about 79 percent of interviewees think China is a strong country; 93 percent feel proud to be a Chinese; 81 percent said they prefer living in China than other countries.
Most interviewees admit that China still lags behind developed countries in terms of environmental protection, wealth gap, food safety, and social security. However, they believe China is able to solve those problems. They generally oppose prejudice by some countries against China as they believe many similar problems also exist in foreign countries.
“When managing the website, one of the biggest impressions that the young generation has given me is that those post-90s are very patriotic. They lived a good life, they are well-educated and sincerely think they live in a good country and love our country dearly,” said Chen Rui in a public speech. Chen is chairman of China’s leading video broadcasting portal Bilibili, one of the most popular websites among the post-90s.
In June, 2016, a Chinese hip-hop group Chengdu Revolution (also named as CD Rev) composed of four post-90s released a rap video This Is China, in a bid to show foreigners a true China.
The video never shies away from the country’s problems such as pollutions, food and drug safety, and corrupt politicians. From the point of view of the singers, who grew up in southwest of the country, “Higher growth rate is always accompanied by pain.” In the end of the video, those young singers expressed their attitude by singing “Although the country does have these terrible things to deal with, we have made progress.”
This video created buzz on both foreign and domestic media. Wang Zixin, leader of CD Rev, said: “No matter how foreign media comment on our video, at least we have shown the world how Chinese young people are firmly believing in our country.”
From Zhang Yiwu’s point of view, although the post-90s sometimes feel unsatisfied about the current Chinese society and they demand more, they seldom go to extremes. They expect happiness and social development. They are confident with the current development as they already enjoyed comfortable lives, as well as rich experiences and culture.
“The current status of the post-90s shows that a more open society which is amid a fast development phase will ensure that young people will be able to integrate into mainstream society, with diversification and individualism existing in the overall harmony,” said Professor Zhang.
New Minds, New Lifestyles
The post-90s generation is probably the first generation that doesn’t feel anxious about how to own their own property. The 2017 Social Blue Book published by Chinese Social Sciences Academic Press showed that the post-90s graduates value the quality of life rather than owning their own apartments. They are likely to become a generation that will not be eager to buy a home, as only over 30 percent of them said they are willing to buy their own apartments at the sacrifice of life quality.
During the 2016 Rio Olympics, Chinese athlete Fu Yuanhui became an overnight social media star with her exaggerated facial expressions and enthusiastic style in interviews. Fu was born in the 1990s. After her team narrowly missed winning a medal in the 4x100-meter medley relay, she said in the interview: “I don’t think I performed very well today. It’s also because my period came yesterday, so I felt particularly tired.” Some Western media such as The New York Times and the BBC commented that Fu’s feminist comments have raised awareness and shattered barrier in this regard.
In the end of 2017, Reuters interviewed a dozen post-90s in Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu, and Wuhan and it reached the conclusion that those young people are optimistic, open-minded, pragmatic, ambitious, confident, and happy.
On July 14, 2012, Yang Fan began his journey around the world by riding a motorcycle, searching for other “him” who was also born on October 5, 1990. Yang decided to explore their different cultural backgrounds, lives, and stories. After two and half a years, travelling as far as 13,000 kilometers, Yang finally found a total of 23 people who share the same birthday with him, including an orphan who is a fan for heavy metal, a bartender from Moscow, and a rebellious girl who enjoys writing poems. Those stories recorded by Yang also reflect his own observation and thought about the world.
Yang dropped out of school at the age of 13 with the support from his parents and devoted himself to the pursuit of art. Although his life track is unusual, dropping out of school is acceptable in the Chinese society today. However, Han Han, one of China’s best-selling authors, born in the 1980s, once triggered heated debate across the society because he dropped out of school in his teenage.
The Chinese post-90s generation defies simplistic labels and definitions. They are individualistic and they want to live their own lives. As they grow up and become mature, they are becoming the most dynamic group that is shaping the Chinese society.
WANG KUAN is a veteran of the media industry.