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First Single Children Come of Age

By staff reporter GONG HAN

POST-80s” has become a popular phrase in China. This epithet directly refers to the nation’s first generation of single children, but it also alludes to problems that have arisen from the huge changes that China’s family and social structures have gone through in the past few decades. Born at a time when the economy was booming, this group grew up with comforts never seen in any previous generation and, as only children, were indulged as the center of attention of their families.

Now in their late 20s and early 30s, the post-80s are at an age when they are meant to be gaining a solid footing in their careers and starting their own families, taking up the responsibilities as breadwinners and nation builders. This is a painful transition for many of them, who have often been spoiled and overprotected for much of their lives.

CETV1 recently launched a talk show called Zero to Hero, with the intention of facilitating inter-generational communication and offering advice to these young adults. On each episode, the show invites a celebrity from a different field to talk about their life and answer questions from the audience.

“Our guests are leaders of establishments where there is a big presence of post-80 workers, as this generation is now a major part of the workforce and consumers in China. Their significance in Chinese history can be compared with that of baby boomers in the U.S. More than that, they are all only children, which is not found anywhere else in the world,” said Xin Yuan (Cecilia), hostess and mastermind of the program. She believes the post-80s generation need and deserve a voice in the media so they can discuss their lives and share experiences. “What we are now producing is not a television version of the walk of fame or passive lectures about success stories,” she explains.

A graduate of the prestigious Peking University, Xin Yuan received her MBA from Columbia University and spent five years working in finance in the U.S. and China. Her childhood dream of working in the media, however, didn’t wane, and she soon found a job at a TV station.

During her years working with company executives, she was impressed by their opinions of her fellow post-80s. “Their comments can be summed up in three sentences: this generation is more capable than many think; they were enviably born and grew up in the best period in Chinese history; and they are generally impetuous.”

Many of this generation would argue against the truth of this second sentence. There is an ocean of Internet posts made by this demographic group deploring the misfortunes they have been haunted by at every major juncture of life. They point out how when they reached the age to go to college, the government began to expand the enrollment in higher education, diluting the value of college degrees. When they entered the job market, they had to compete with an unprecedented number of graduates, and the chance of landing a good job was significantly diminished. By the time they began to get married, housing prices had skyrocketed beyond their reach.

Some post-80s lament that the post-60s and post-70s are the real lucky ones, reaching adulthood at the dawn of China’s opening-up and reform when opportunities were abundant. This is why many rags-to-riches stories can be found in these two age groups.

When Feng Lun, chairman and founder of a real estate investment company, shared his own success story on one episode of Zero to Hero, he told the audience that people born earlier had no fewer troubles in their lives and careers. He stressed that there are winners and losers in every generation, and the key to success is one’s attitude to life. Feng’s story is testament to this.

A master of law, Feng taught at the Party School of the Central Committee of the CPC before he resigned to start his own business. Living on shoestring budget, he couldn’t afford any decent furniture or electric appliances for his poky home in school dormitory, which was so small he didn’t have space for a bed and had to sleep on the floor. On one visit a former colleague was appalled by the conditions he lived in and tried to persuade him return to the school job. Feng, however, persevered. It was not easy, and for a long time he and his partner had to constantly seek loans to keep their start-up alive, once spending five successive hours on the phone.

Stories like these, with revelations about the lives of big wigs and how to get to where they stand today, have much popular appeal in China, where the post-80s generation are inclined to measure success by net worth. But Xin Yuan believes that her program is more post-80s specific in that it reflects on the complex social situation they grew up in and tries to understand their psyches and steer them in the right direction.

Infinite Possibilities

On the show, Feng Lun shared the advice he had given his own daughter with the audience. Everyone faces two choices in life, he told them, to follow the same lifestyle of everyone else around you, or to break from the norm and perceived limitations and blaze a new trail. In short, be restless.

“Ninety percent of the population have no desire to take the second choice and five percent have already made it, leaving the remaining five percent to experience the anguish of indecision. They are in a struggle similar to that of a rocket thrusting through the atmosphere on the way to outer space. Whether it can make it depends on which force is more powerful, propulsion or friction. As friction is permanent and irreversible, the only thing scientists can do is to give the rocket greater momentum,” Feng told the audience. “Do what you believe is right and ignore what others may think or say. Every great person has to live through an ordeal before they can reach that greatness. How close you can get to your ideal is decided by how dedicated you are to it. In many cases one has to hoist one’s ambitions to the height of religion.”

The show also gives its audience the opportunity to put their own questions directly to the guests. The most popular subject is about how to realize one’s dream life, but topics range from romance, buying a house and studying abroad to losing weight and what kind of hairstyle to wear.

Feng was asked for advice about dealing with pressure from controlling parents. Feng spoke from his own experience as a son when, during the early days of his business, his father wrote him a letter that enumerated a long list of reasons why running a private company had no future. “I kept the letter, but kept on doing what I was doing,” he said with a grin.

With their extensive experience, the guests that appear on Zero to Hero have a lot to offer their audience. With their diverse lives and careers, they sometimes have vastly contradicting opinions about how to approach success. This is what Xin Yuan is trying to show her audience. “You can see there is more than one road in life. Different people will find different inspiration from our program.”

Generation Gap

After interviewing people of varying ages on her show, Xin Yuan has come to the conclusion that the claims of some post-80s that they are not understood and their ideas not properly appreciated don’t hold water. In this fast changing world everyone, regardless of age, has to face reality and follow current trends. Many guests on Zero to Hero remark that they are still in the process of growing and learning about life, just as the post-80s are.

Yao Xin, 32, was the first post-80s invited to talk on the program. Founder of Shanghai SynaCast Media Tech. Co., Ltd. and PPTV (formerly PPLive), Yao first appeared on the radar of venture capitalists when he was studying for his postgraduate degree. Dissatisfied with low-speed Internet video on campus while watching the 2004 UEFA European Football Championship, the computer major developed a video streaming software that combined peer-to-peer and media streaming technology. When he released it on the school BBS, the software immediately went viral and was downloaded on a massive scale. Its success inspired Yao to drop out of school and he began to improve the technology with some friends.

One day in 2005, Alan Song, a managing partner with Softbank China, called Yao to say his company was interested in PPLive. The young technician took Song on his old bicycle to the cramped and stuffy apartment that served as his office. On arrival, the sight of several young men stripped to their waists in the sweltering heat, toiling away at their computer stations, reminded Song of when he and his partners started their business from a garage in Silicon Valley. Soon after, thanks to their first investment from Softbank, Yao registered Shanghai Synacast Media Tech. Co., Ltd. (

The hostess Xin Yuan saw her own experience reflected in the story of this young computer genius, whose ambitions for his company resonate with the obligation felt by his parents’ and grandparents’ generations – that of creating a better life for his generation. Starting her own program and making it popular among young audience has been a difficult journey. “Do it or don’t do it. It’s a test of your courage. If you have the guts to risk failure and believe your efforts, whatever the results would be, are worthwhile, you will have a chance of success,” she said.

In the course of running this program she has received both approval and criticism, but remained unaffected by either. She sees herself as a commissioner of communication, and insists that in front of the camera both she and her guests present themselves as they really are, being frank and honest.

The young hostess believes that the post-80s live in an age of great change and opportunity, growing in tandem with their country, which is rapidly closing the gap between itself and the developed world. “The potential for the post-80s to find success lies in this change,” she predicts.

VOL.59 NO.12 December 2010 Advertise on Site Contact Us