Teenagers are reaching puberty about a year earlier than they did 15 years ago, in some cases before they are 11.
In East Asia, teenagers socialize less than one hour a day, compared to 2 to 3 hours in North America. Many lack social skills to deal with a increasingly competitive world.
One study found that 45 percent of Chinese urban residents are at risk to health problems due to stress, with the highest rates among high school students.
A teacher in her 30s told Peter Hessler in a National Geographic article, “When we were students there wasn’t a generation gap with the teachers. Nowadays our students have their own viewpoints and ideas. And they speak about democracy and freedom, independence and rights. I think we fear them instead of them fearing us.”
Another said, “We had a pure childhood. But now the students are different, they are more influenced by modern things, even sex, But when we were young, sex was a taboo for us.”
Many urban teenagers have computers and cell phones and are very Westernized. One young woman told the International Herald Tribune, “Kids now have computers, surf the Internet and watch different types of television programs. From a young age they are exposed to the outside world.” .
Still traditional values endure. On her hopes and dreams one 17-year-old girl told the New York Times, “As long as I study hard and love my parents, I’m quite content with what I have. My mother’s expectations are high. She wants me to grow into a person of talent and education, with manners and a career.”
Some teenagers and people in their early 20s in places like Shenzhen are regarded as wasted youth, The work at odd commercial jobs in the day and hang out nightclubs, drop ecstacy and have casual sex at night. Newsweek described on young man who liked to hire prostitutes to perform oral sex on him while he raced around in his car on Shenzhen's highways. Website: teen digital habits in Beijing and Palo Alto Danwei.com:teen digital habits in Beijing and Palo Alto Danwei.com: ;
Youth in China
Chinese kawaii Pop culture researcher Jeroen de Kloet wrote: “In a country that seems particularly keen to periodise, these developments have given birth to yet another term for a generation conveniently classified by a decade: the 1980s ( balinghou ). This new generation of “little emperors,” as they are often cynically referred to, all come from one-child families, born after the Cultural Revolution. For them, China has always been a country which is opening up, a place of rapid economic progress and modernization, a place of prosperity and increased abundance, in particular in the urban areas. For this generation, “June 4th”---the term commonly used to refer to the Tiananmen student demonstrations of 1989---is an event of a long forgotten past, if they remember it at all. The Chinese Communist Party is a tool for networking; becoming a member facilitates one’s career. Different labels are used, besides balinghou, for this generation, like linglei (“alternative”), “the birds” nest generation,” and the “zhongnanhai generation,” named after a cigarette brand name. Zhongnanhai---also the central headquarters of the Chinese Communist Party, close to the Forbidden City---is the song title of one track by Carsick Cars. [Source: Jeroen de Kloet, Danwei.org, June 11, 2010, Jeroen de Kloet is the author of China with a Cut , which looks into dakou culture and then the ensuing commercialism of China's music market.
On Youth in China today, Zhang Shouwang, lead singer of the Beijing rock group Carsick Cars, told Micheal Pettis in Esquire magazine: “I think one thing we all have in common is that there is such a huge gap in our experiences and understanding compared to Chinese who are in their mid-thirties or older. It seems that we live in very different worlds. More and more of us are exploring new ways of thinking and living, and I see this even more for young people who are four or five years younger than me.” [Source:Michael Pettis, Danwei.org, May 11, 2009. Pettis is finance professor at Peking University, China Financial Markets blogger, and owner of live music venue D22 in Wudaokou, Beijing.
Zhang Shouwang also said, “I think many of us feel that much of what we learned in school and in the media was not really true, or perhaps didn’t really fit our lives, and so we are reading books, listening to music, and sharing ideas that are very different from what we had been given. I think very few of our generation have beliefs the way older Chinese do. We believe in real things, and we find it hard to take seriously all the big, empty ideas that we were given.
Yang Haisong of the punk band P.K.14 told the Telegraph, “The youth culture in China was never mainstream, you can't even say it's a counter-culture, in fact we have no youth culture, because everyone is subject to the media and external influences---they do not have their own point of view,” he says.
Chinese Youth Culture and Activities
The London and Hong Kong-based brand consultancy, Hunt Haggarty produced a report in 2009 that today’s youth have few ties with Mao era and they are more likely to find solidarity with friends than family and have rising self-confidence, tinged with a new cultural nationalism.
Source, a Shanghai-based lifestyle clothing brand with gallery dedicated to street life, tries to sum up a nascent new Chinese individualism as “there are those who find a need to live their lives the way they want, to express themselves, to have their own identityour ideals are simple---the right to choose the right to be unique.”
In the late 2000s it became kind of popular for some young people who didn’t know each to meet one another over the Internet and get together in real life in a place they were unfamiliar with. Described as shan wan (“lightning play”), the networking technique was typically employed by young adults when they went to a new city and wanted some companionship. In typical cases couples or small groups of four or five met and went on outings such as sightseeing or singing at karaoke, paying dutch as they went. Some participants didn’t use their real name and said they found the idea of spending the day with strangers stimulating, saying they could open and express themselves more freely than they could with people they know. [Source: Straight Times]
Youth Problems in China
Psychological problems are on the rise among young people. According to one survey, 30 million teenagers under 17 have mental problems. In April 2004 a Chinese health official said, “Psychological and mental problems among juveniles have become prominent as the country is changing fast into a modern society and mental illness becomes the top disease” of “Chinese teenagers.”
The government is trying to address “youth problems” by banning the release of new foreign films during school holidays, closing down Internet sites, racy magazines, text messaging aimed at teens and building “Youth Palaces”---party community centers that provide a dose of party propaganda along with sports and activities.
So far government efforts have born little fruit. The head of a Chinese marketing firm told the Los Angeles Times, “The party is trying to do a little updating and repackaging. But compared to campaigns by professional ad people, they still fall short. Most people would rather watch videos.”
See Juvenile Crime, Crime, Government
China's Obese Teens
Chinese teenager Zhu Lindai used to weigh 152 kilogrammes (335 pounds). "I used to stuff myself with hamburgers, crisps, doughnuts and buns. I ate too much," admits the 15-year-old, who withdrew from school to devote herself to slimming down. [Source: Sebastien Blanc, AFP , December 7, 2011]
Authorities said in September that obesity had become a major public health issue for China's children. Around one in five young urban Chinese is now overweight, according to market research firm QF Information Consulting.
"There are two main reasons for childhood obesity: consuming too many calories and a lack of physical activity," Jia Jianbin, secretary general of the Chinese Nutrition Society, told AFP. "For example, the recommended consumption of oil per person is between 25 and 30 grammes (around one ounce) per day. In Beijing, people are eating on average at least 50 grammes a day," he said. "At the same time, people are not exercising enough. They drive to work, and at the weekend, they stay home and relax, watch television or surf the Internet." [Source: Sebastien Blanc, AFP , December 7, 2011]
Sha Zhiyu, who has taken a break from her education in the northern province of Shaanxi to attend weight-loss classed is a classic example. "Before, I was really into computer games. After meals I would sit for ages in front of my computer and play them. Then when I got tired I'd go to bed," the 17-year-old Sha told AFP. "I never did any exercise and I just kept putting on weight."
The problem has been exacerbated by China's one-child policy, which has resulted in hundreds of millions of only children who are known as "little emperors" because they are often pampered by their parents. Many Chinese parents are also keen for their children to experience the luxuries they were denied under the country's former leader Mao Zedong.
Gyms in China for Obese Teens
The GYD centre in Beijing is dedicated to helping obese adolescents lose weight. A 42-day residential course that oversees eating and exercising cost 16,800 yuan (around $2,600). Zhu Lindai has shed nearly 50 kilos at GYD. Sha Zhiyu went from 139 to 114 kilos during the course. [Source: Sebastien Blanc, AFP , December 7, 2011]
Under the supervision of an instructor, Zhu exercised for two hours every morning and afternoon with an optional extra hour in the evening, following a strict regime of running, pilates, group gymnastics, push-ups and sit-ups.
"People come here for various reasons," says Peng Tianci, the manager of GYD. "Some do not feel desirable in their personal relationships, while others are suffering from image problems at work, or believe their appearance will prevent them from getting a job. But the most common concern is health."
At GYD, the fight-back starts with the daily menu. "Here, we avoid calorie-rich foods. We mostly serve high-fibre vegetables and fruit," says founder Gu Yudong as he sits surrounded by young diners in the GYD restaurant. After a brief pause to digest their dessert-free lunch, the teenagers head back to the gymnasium.
Dedicated slimming centres have sprung up across China over the past decade to take advantage of soaring obesity rates, as newly wealthy young Chinese swap rice bowls for burgers and bicycles for cars. GYD opened less than two years ago and already, people come from all over China to attend its courses. GYD's main competitor in Beijing, Bodyworks, says it has counted 50,000 clients since it opened in 2002.
Young Adults in China
Many unmarried people in their 30s still live with their parents. Traditionally, living at home until one was married has been the norm in China. Chen Xinxi, a researcher at the National Women’s Association, told the Los Angeles Times: “In the U.S. when kids become 18 their parents consider them adults and shoo them out of the house, In China, parents of single children don’t want them to leave home, no matter how old they are.”
The incomes of 20 to 29 year olds rose 34 percent between 2004 and 2007---faster than any other group. These young adults are the children of the one-child policy: a group that grew up spoiled and isolated and has responded by becoming obsessed with consumerism, the Internet and video games. Many work hard and party hard, take international trips to places like Egypt and Hawaii and have theme parties on Christmas and Halloween.
My wife teaches Chinese exchange students at a university in Japan. She said that many of her students---who grew up in China the one-child policy, Little Emperors era---have difficulty negotiating and coming to an agreement as a group. She attributes this to growing up without brothers and sisters. Many spent a lot of time on their own. One single child told the Los Angeles Times, “We grew up alone. I like to watch movies on my PC, alone in my room, where I can cry if I want to.”
See Children, Little Emperors
Selfish Young Adults in China
The “post-80s” generations refers to people under 30 who have grown up long after the Mao period was over and have only known relative economic growth and prosperity. Surveys show members of this group are more interested in personal “identity” than traditional “harmony. Psychiatrist Li Zhongyu complained to the China Daily, “This generation is spoiled. They don’t know what responsibility is.”
The one-child policy has produced a generation of self-centered young adults who have an exaggerated sense of entitlement and are unable to sustain relationships. There are cases of marriages falling apart after months or even weeks, with some couples breaking it off so they can spend more time with their lovers. In some cities one third of all divorces involve young adults from the one-child policy generation. Prof. Fucius Yunlan, a U.S. trained psychiatrist, told Reuters, “They are weak in horizontal bonding, communicating with the same generation. They attend to apply a vertical approach to horizontal relationships.”
Ambition and hedonism are increasingly characterizing today’s young adults. One university student told National Geographic, "I'm going to use my brains to get ahead. I'm thinking about leaving the country some day. I like Western culture because it seems more natural." When one girl was asked by National Geographic what young people in Beijing want, she replied, "To get on the Internet, to play sports, to dance at discos.”
Urban young adults are surprisingly apolitical. One young account executive for the foreign advertising firm Ogilvy and Mather told Time, “There’s nothing we can do about politics. So there’s no point in talking about or getting involved. Events like the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward are viewed as ancient history. Some even regard the crackdown at Tiananmen Square as something “certainly needed.” On young woman told Time. “Our life is pretty good. I care about my rights when it comes to the quality of a waitress in a restaurant or a product I buy. But when it comes to democracy and all that, well...That doesn’t play a role in my life.”
The one-child policy has also resulted in a lot of nerds. One university student told the Washington Post, “Most young people my age have only focused on their studies since childhood. We are relatively delicate and fragile.”
Young Adults and Their Attitudes About Life
One 28-year-old Chinese woman told The New Yorker, “In my generation, there’s a lot of desperation to be different, to be individual. Because we are only children, we grew up the center of attention in our families and now we want the attention of society.”
One young middle-class woman told The New Yorker,”Most of my generation has a smooth, happy life, including me. I feel like our character lacks something. For example, love for the country or the perseverance you get from conquering hardships. Those virtues, I don’t see them in myself and many people my age.”
National Geographic photographer David Butow, the creator of a photographic journal of China’s young people wrote: “The young are living with an almost boundless sense of possibility in China, and with some equally large anxieties, You see it most in the big cities...The government encourages individual ambition , as long as it doesn’t run afoul of the central plan. But there are few role models for young people to emulate. A 25-year-old can’t follow in the footsteps of a 45-year-old. The paths that the older person took are no longer on the map.”
Liuman is an untranslatable term that roughly mean loafer, hoodlum, hobo, bum and punk.
It is not uncommon to find company bosses who drive around in $100,000 BMWs to be in their mid or late 20s.
Cultural Revolution Generation on the Consumer Revolution Generation
In 2010, Alec Ash of China Beat interviewed professors Zhang Weiying and Pan Wei of Peking University (known as “Beida”) to see what people who grew up in the Cultural Revolution thought of young people today growing up in singl-child families at a time of rampant consumerism and quest for money. [ Source: Alec Ash, China Beat, July 13, 2010]
Prof. Zhang Weiying, who is at the forefront of the “New Right” and helped to pioneer economic reforms in China in the early 80s, was asked what he thinks of Beida’s elite students, China’s future? No, of course there are bright sparks of independent thought (especially amongst his own students, of course). But in the “post 80s” generation as a whole, there is a worrying trend towards ziwozhongxin---self-centeredness. As the first generation of single children (the one-child policy came into effect in 1979), they take everything for granted.
One upshot of this, especially for the “post 90s” kids who are not used to hardship (like the generation young during the 60s and 70s are), is that the pressure gets on top of them when they enter university or working life. Professor Zhang pointed to the spate of Foxconn suicides---all young workers who had joined the company just months before---as an example.
Pan Wei is on the other side of the political spectrum, the “New Left”. He took his PhD at Berkeley, but back in China he was firmly of the opinion that China should follow its own path, not the West’s. A big problem at Beida he said was the declining number of students from the countryside. According to him, 70 percent of PKU’s students were from rural areas in the 1950s. 60-70 percent in the 60s. Today, the number is less than 1 percent. I can’t check that figure---Chinese universities are secretive about figures which would be public in Britain---but the trend itself is certainly incontestable.
Onto youth. Professor Pan echoed much of what Professor Zhang said. Young Chinese, single children and without the history and suffering of his generation, become weak. The same memes of individualistic and psychologically vulnerable came up. Also an astute comment, I think: that, on the whole, they aren’t interested in their parents’ history (more so in their grandparents”). But you could rephrase: the problem is that parents aren’t interesting in relating their history to their children.
Another result of their upbringing, Professor Pan told me, was nanxing de nuxinghua---boys becoming more like girls (or at least zhongxinghua---their neuterization). A boy who is loved excessively (ni ai) can’t fight for himself. At this point, he declared that this results in more homosexuals. This, I should say, was delivered in the spirit of observation not prejudice. I see no factual basis for it.
2007 Midi Music Festival
China's Youth Embrace the 'Diaosi' ('Loser') Identity
Wu Nan wrote in the South China Morning Post, “When a large Diaosi billboard appeared in New York's Times Square last month advertising the new online game, onlookers who know the meaning of the Chinese words were surprised. Diaosi, which has a crude translation, was originally used to curse someone as a loser. But the phrase has gone mainstream since 2011 and is widely used by young Chinese as a trendy way to describe and poke fun at their own low status. [Source: Wu Nan, South China Morning Post, May 10, 2013 \^]
“An estimated 526 million identify with the term, or 40 percent of the Chinese population, said a survey recently released by online game developer Giant Interactive Group and yiguan.cn, an IT market analysis website. The survey reflects the rise of a particular generation mostly born in the post-1980s and just starting their careers. They largely live on online, where they are able to unleash their frustrations and play out fantasy scenarios. In real life, their diaosi identity is worn as a badge of honour, especially for those who have made it big.\^\
“According to the recent survey, these youths are eager to improve their lives financially and personally. On average, they earn 6,000 yuan a month; two-thirds of them are single; and more than 94 percent spend long hours online, shopping for products and otherwise killing time so they are not so lonely.”\^\
“Online fiction writer, Geng Xin, based in Zhengzhou city in central China's Henan province, said diaosi were more cynics than dreamers. In Geng’s eyes, they talk more than they act. They don’t have bigger life goals. When they are not eating or working, they are online, reading fantasy fiction or playing video games. He compares diaosi with the Chinese Everyman, who can be found in literature, such as Wei Xiaobao in Jin Yong's The Deer and the Cauldron and Ah Q in Lu Xun's The True Story of Ah Q. \^\
Linhai Tingtao, the Written Voice of China's Diaosi
“"I’m one of the diaosi," said Lin Hai. "We are common Chinese who are fighting for our dreams." Lin, 31, a popular online novelist, said their dreams were practical: buying a house and getting married. Even if prospects at attaining their goals are low, diaosi can always find a way - "even if it is in a virtual world", he said. [Source: Wu Nan, South China Morning Post, May 10, 2013 \^]
Wu Nan wrote in the South China Morning Post, “Lin is an example of a diaosi who has found success. Once an unknown designer in advertising, he is now a popular online sports fiction writer who has hundreds of thousands of fans.Using the pen name Linhai Tingtao, or "waves of the forest ocean", he signed with Qidianwenxue China’s largest online novel platform with paid services, in 2004. He earned 1,500 yuan (HK$1,862) with his first online novel, Do You Care That I Play Soccer?, in the first month alone. Previously, his full-time job paid him only 700 yuan a month. He threw out his plans to devote himself to advertising, which he studied at the University of Science and Technology Beijing. "I quit my job. Why not give writing fiction online a try?" he said. "I also love soccer." \^\
“Lin is one of hundreds in Qidianwenxue's army of writers. The website, whose name roughly translates as "literature's starting point", developed in late 2003 from an online society selling fantasy fiction that focused on myth and magic.The site's popularity snowballed as new writers continued to be discovered and signed, and readers continued to return and pay for the content. The website made a breakthrough in late 2005: it paid its writers 15 million yuan each. In 2006, Qidianwenxue was attracting 100 million page views a day. Lin's own rise followed Qidianwenxue's. He now earns 15 times more than when he started out. But he could be an exception. Not many novelists write about soccer. "Once you can write about the topic, it could be a hit," he said.
“Lin's first novel received a record 740,000 web hits, gaining him the name "No 1 sports writer" on Qidianwenxue. His most popular work, We Are the Champions, attracted more than 9.6 million clicks by readers. "The reason my works are popular is because my writing reflects the diaosi generation's dreams. They may be unrealised in real life, but they can come true in my novels. Diaosi can be rich, famous and even have many girlfriends," he said. "It sounds shallow, but those are their dreams. Everyone needs hope to survive and bear the burden of life." But Lin contends that Wei Xiaobao and Ah Q are typical diaosi. "Their spirit goes beyond being cynical. They were bitter because they were broke, but they had a thirst for life like common Chinese today," he said. Diaosi are more or less today's Everyman, Lin argued. \^\
Linhai Tingtao’s Soccer-Loving Diaosi' Readers
Wu Nan wrote in the South China Morning Post, “Lin’s portrayal of diaosi seems to ring true."I spent a few thousand yuan to read online novels by Lin Hai," said Momo, a 27-year-old from Mianyang city in southwestern China’s Sichuan province. A soccer fan, she once felt defeated in 2002 when China's national team failed miserably in its only appearance at the World Cup. "It is not just me. Many Chinese dream that China’s soccer can bloom," she said. [Source: Wu Nan, South China Morning Post, May 10, 2013 \^]
"It is like being doused by cold water again and again when we see the Chinese team lose," she said. "Reading Lin’s novels is different. You feel the blood running faster in your veins, you feel the power of being young and of finally winning a game and succeeding in life." Momo has followed Lin's writing since 2004. She met Lin once last year at a fan-club event in Chengdu. "Something in his novels draws me to them like a magnet. It’s the positive attitude to life, bringing hope so you can keep fighting in everyday life," she said.Momo graduated as an architecture major and works as an administrator at a construction company. "Maybe one day I can become somebody, just like the characters in Lin’s novels," she said. \^\
“Lin acknowledges that he manipulates reality. In his most popular novel, he changed the Chinese national team's destiny by letting them win the World Cup. The Chinese soccer team's hardships are a lesson for us all, he said. "You expect so much in life, but you cannot buy a house nor afford a car. Still, you struggle to live better each day. In that sense, every single diaosi’s dream makes up the whole Chinese dream." \^\
Echo Brother, the Musical Voice of Diaosi
Wu Nan wrote in the South China Morning Post, “Online fiction is not the only way to feed diaosi’s dreams and desires. An audio service website called YY Yuyin, or YY Voice, has emerged as a favourite in the community. Started in 2005, it was designed for chatting and messaging related to the video game World of Warcraft. Its use soon spread mostly in secondary and smaller Chinese cities among music and entertainment enthusiasts. “On YY’s website, hundreds of amateur DJs host chat rooms where they play songs requested by YY members. Some play videos of themselves singing. The operation is similar to Qidianwenxue's website: members pay for a service that will connect them with their favourite DJs.[Source: Wu Nan, South China Morning Post, May 10, 2013 \^]
One of YY's biggest celebrities calls himself a diaosi. Selected as a star by members of the website, his stage name is Hui Yin, or Echo Brother, and no one knows his real name - or what he even looks like. The 26-year-old from Chengdu in southwest China wears a mask when he performs. Still, his fans are drawn to his voice. "It is rich, deep and so sincere," said a fan, Duan Leimin, 21. Lu Wenhan, 20, agreed: "It is an unforgettable, rich voice." \^\
“Both women spoke to the South China Morning Post at Echo Brother’s first commercial concert at Chaoyang No 9 theatre in Beijing on March 24. A few hundred young Chinese, mostly girls in their early 20s, had gathered in front of the theatre an hour before the show began. As an homage to their idol, some wore large black masks etched with his name in white Chinese characters. \^\
“Lu, a slim girl with long, black hair, was wearing light make-up and a pink outfit. She said she came a long way by train from Shandong province, east of Beijing. A freshman at university, she said she started to listen to Echo Brother's music not long ago. She fell in love with his voice almost immediately. "He sounds so real, as if he is one of us," she said. One event involving Echo Brother stands out in particular for Lu. It was a five-minute audio clip that spread widely online and made Echo Brother a hit. In it, he talks to one of his male fans, Picasso, in Putonghua with a Sichuan accent. He articulately and comedically rejected Picasso's advances. \^\
“Nothing like it had ever appeared online before. Local accents are commonly made fun of in movies and on television. The humour and Sichuan accent endeared Echo Brother to many. "We like that he is different from other superstars who are more commercial," Lu said. Concert organiser and music label Blay Music agreed that Echo Brother was not a typical musician. "His talent is that he is so real. Diaosi is also about being real," said manager Peng Huan. \^\
“On the day of the concert, Lu and Duan had a long wait before Echo Brother appeared onstage. Eventually he came out in a black mask, a black tuxedo and a black hat. His fans screamed and waved flashlights. "I love you," someone shouted. Pink and white neon lights shined behind him like shooting stars. His voice was the same deep tone, but this time, he acted like a real star. "He touches my heart, and he feels so close to me," said Duan. Duan is studying accounting. She just moved from central China to look for job opportunities in Beijing. "Who says your dreams won’t come true in a big city?" she said. "Look at Echo Brother!" \^\
Young People and Politics in China
On attitudes toward Tiananmen Square, well-known editor Li Datong, “The current young generation turns a blind eye to it. I’ve never seen them respond to those domestic issues. Rather, they take a utilitarian, opportunistic approach.”
Hessler found that few of the people in their 20s and 30s that he knew worried about politics, the environment or foreign affairs, they were more concerned about paying off loans for an apartment, earning more money and finding a spouse.
The founder of a software firm who received a PhD in the United States told the Washington Post, “I have struggled to win my piece in China. I want t protect it. I don’t want a revolution anymore.”
For teenagers born after Tiananmen Square massacre, the Cultural Revolution seems like distant history, as remote as the Opium Wars or the Tang Dynasty. But this is not true with parents who often push their children very hard to succeed because they belong to the “tragic generation” that had the prime of their life stolen by the Cultural Revolution. At the same age their parents were working in fields and had next to nothing to eat modern children are enjoying computers, cell phones, English classes and trips abroad. The children of parents who had their “golden years” are sometimes referred to as the “Coddled Generation.”
See Urban Working Women
AK47 Playing in Xian
China's Brainwashed Youth and Their Hatred of Japan
Qi Ge wrote in Foreign Policy: “Ever since the 1970s, I have known that the Chinese people are the freest and most democratic people in the world. Each year at my elementary school in Shanghai, the teachers mentioned this fact repeatedly in ethics and politics classes. Our textbooks, feigning innocence, asked us if freedom and democracy in capitalist countries could really be what they proclaimed it to be. Then there would be all kinds of strange logic and unsourced examples, but because I always counted silently to myself in those classes instead of paying attention, the government's project was basically wasted on me. By secondary school and college, my mind was unusually hard to brainwash. [Source: Qi Ge, Foreign Policy, September 21, 2012]
Even so, during my college years, I still hated Japan. I felt that the Japanese had killed so many of my countrymen, the vast majority of them civilians, that it wasn't enough that they had eventually surrendered. It was only after studying Japanese and reading additional historical materials that I gradually understood the true face of history: When the Japanese army invaded China in 1931, Mao Zedong, in those days still a guerrilla fighter, turned and ran. Chiang Kai-shek, China's nominal president at the time, stayed behind to fight the Japanese in his wartime capital of Chongqing, but Mao's Communist Party fled to the north to establish a base of anti-Japanese resistance in the provinces of Shaanxi, Gansu, and Ningxia, where there was no Japanese army at all.
Today's youth are repeating the same growth experience I had, but unlike my generation, whose hatred of Japan remained at the verbal level, they have taken the streets to demonstrate. Even though China's constitution permits demonstrations, the government prohibits them except in special circumstances. Anyone familiar with Chinese history knows that when Chinese law says one thing, it might mean the opposite. For example, Chinese law says that everyone is equal before the law, but in fact Hu Jintao and his colleagues are more equal than everyone else.
So, Chinese young people today ought to thank the Japanese government, for if it hadn't purchased the Diaoyu Islands, the Chinese government wouldn't have opened the net a little, allowing them to take to the streets last week. The demonstrators chanted monotonous and boring slogans, like telling the Japanese to get the hell out of the Diaoyu Islands; plainclothes cops intermingled with the marchers, keeping in nervous contact through their earpieces. Protesters even carried images of Mao, who died in 1976, though I wish he had died much earlier.
Many of the young marchers were terribly excited. For decades, TV shows about the Anti-Japanese War of 1931-1945 had distorted historical facts and turned the Japanese into a stupid, aggressive, cruel race of cockroaches that needed to be exterminated. Amusingly, the Chinese actors portraying those Japanese devils only spoke Chinese, bowing and scraping shamelessly, their every move no different from those of corrupt officials throughout China today.
Now, the Chinese government feels that it's not enough to smear the enemy through television alone, and the time has come to allow young people to demonstrate, a chance young people welcome because through their patriotic actions they can prove their worth in this world. Many of them are ordinarily very humble, drawing a low salary and struggling in expensive cities. They can't afford to buy homes, have a family, raise children, or take care of their parents, and no one pays any attention to them. But now, these trampled marionettes have finally made the leap to the center of the political stage, so they willingly allow their strings to be pulled.
But the Chinese government's brainwashing education is more sophisticated than this. For a red regime to stand so long, to match Western countries in capitalistic indulgence, it needs to surpass the crude Soviet model. And sure enough, after the smashing and burning, the propaganda machine flung out the slogan "rational patriotism": It's the same old follow-the-party's-instructions, but it's a different era and the party must be hidden, which means that it must emphasize the fashionable word "rational." The Communist Party and its Propaganda Ministry have always kept pace with the times.
In this delicately authoritarian society, "rational patriotism" means respecting the rules set up by the totalitarians. This sort of rationality, and this sort of patriotism, would be familiar to Joseph Goebbels. Yet the brainwashed patriotic youth of the mainland don't understand this. The Hong Kongers who protested the "patriotic education" imposed by the mainland government really know how to protest -- unlike on the mainland, their demonstrations were truly spontaneous and did not have government support. No wonder domestic news outlets did not report on them. Strangely, on the microblogs, a surprising number of well-known intellectuals strongly supported the rational patriotism slogan. I found this baffling at first, but then it hit me: When they sat in ethics class in primary school, they must not have had my fondness for counting to really high numbers.
Image Sources: 1) Posters,Landsberger Posters http://www.iisg.nl/~landsberger/ ; 2) Family photos, Beifan.com ; 3) 19th century men, Universty of Washington; Wiki Commons; Asia Obscura
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated July 2015