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What is on the mind of the young in China?

2006-09-24 22:53Sun Wenhou

  It is said that “young people often look ahead to the future while the elderly look back on the past”。 The young are quick to respond to changes and are at the forefront of new trends in society. Of course, what they choose to do is largely determined by their backgrounds.

  Renowned writer and thinker Lu Xun had described the situation in China during his time as “being on the threshold of entering into a great era, but this does not necessarily mean a new lease of life, it could also spell doom.” This, I find, is an observation that is equally valid for present China.

  The most frequent criticisms levelled at present-day Chinese society are“a spiritual vacuum” and the “demise of morality”。 “Everyone for himself and the devil take the hindmost” - a conduct condemned by scholars of the past - has now become an unspoken standard behaviour.

  As a result of a social transformation, old rules have been broken and the Chinese society has disintegrated into segments that have obvious differences. There are also great divisions among the young.

  Deep in their hearts, today‘s young people still find it hard to discard the traditional Confucian aspirations of “self-cultivation, regulating the family, governing the country and establishing peace throughout the world”。

  On the other hand, they also find the strong pull of material culture and its products, many of which are in “bad taste”, irresistible.

  The lure of materialism has dominated the thinking of young people and led them to pursue as much personal gains as possible. During the Mao Zedong era, the society suffered when ideology reigned supreme over everything else. After the June 4 incident, ideas on freedom and democracy had been suppressed as well as misunderstood.

  In fact, everyone enjoys more freedom and openness now. And in some areas, we have more freedom than what people had called for during the Tiananmen incident.

  But the factors cited above have caused the young today to lose momentum in the exploration of ideas such as freedom and democracy. In the 80s, young people were engrossed in serious thinking on constructive issues

  By the 90s, the tendency of the young to rebel against authority had been weakened. They now take the lead only in the worship of a secular or material culture, displaying a superficial gloss devoid of any real value.

  On the other hand, as a result of the impact of globalisation and information technology such as the Internet, the young now also have a wider world view.

  Undergraduates are the cream of the crop. They are quite unhappy with the injustice of unequal opportunity for young people due to factors like connections with the rich and powerful and crony capitalism.

  However, they have, undeniably, a vested interest which makes them less critical of the current system - most young people are after a job that pays well and a chance to study overseas.

  While we have reason not to be too optimistic about the young, we can seek solace in well-known scholar Chen Duxiu‘s writing that “to society, the young are like fresh new cells to the human body.”

  Life, of course, has its ugly and undesirable side, but the young in China are still dynamic and creative because of a more open environment and plenty of choices.

  (The writer is a postgraduate student of Peking University, China. Translated by Yap Gee Poh.)

  中国青年在想些什么?

  ● 孙文后

  “青年人常思将来,老年人常思既往”。青年人对于社会有着敏锐的反应能力,并且引导着时代的潮流。但青年不是生活在真空里的,社会背景极大地影响着他们的选择。

  当代中国青年的生活都比过去自由和开放多了。

  鲁迅先生这样概括当时中国的状况:“中国现在是一个进向大时代的时代。但这所谓大,并不一定指可以由此得生,而也可以由此得死。”当代中国又何尝不是如此!

  环顾当代中国,“信仰危机”、“道德崩溃”是人们在评判社会时用的最多的词汇。为先贤所诟病的“人不为己,天诛地灭”,已经成为大家心照不宣的行为标准。

  在社会大转型的今天,过去的社会整合已经被打破,中国社会已经分裂成许多有明显差异的部分,青年的分化也很大。

  在当代中国青年的心灵深处,一方面仍旧抹不去“修身、齐家、治国、平天下”的传统士大夫式的抱负,一方面却也很难抗拒物质文化的强烈诱惑及其带来的种种“低级趣味”。

  在拜物主义的牵引下,最大程度地追逐个人实利已经主导着青年人的思维。在毛泽东时代,意识形态挂帅给社会带来了负面影响:“六四事件”后,自由民主思潮又受到打压和误读。

  事实上,现在每个人的生活都比过去自由和开放多了,在某些层面甚至超出了“六四”时期人们的呼吁和期盼。

  但是,上述三种因素使得当代青年人对自由民主理念的探求失去了动力。中国青年在80年代还在思考着各种深层次的具有建设性的问题。

  但到了90年代,他们的反叛性已被弱化,现在只是扮演着世俗文化领头人的角色。在整个社会,青年人呈现出一种表面的浮华。

  不过,在全球化思潮的冲击下,在现代传播方式如互联网的影响下,中国当代青年比以前更具有全球视野。

  中国大学生是青年中的精英。由于权力资本和“裙带资本主义”造成青年人机会不平等,因此,他们对于不公平的现象怀有相当大的敌意。

  可是,他们同样是所谓的既得利益者,这就使得他们的批判性被大打折扣。更多青年人所追求的东西,是高薪水的职业和出国留学。

  虽然中国青年人的现状不容乐观,但诚如陈独秀所言,“青年之于社会,犹新鲜活泼细胞之在人身。”

  诚然,当代生活中充满了丑恶和污秽,但中国青年依然有多样的生机,依然有四散的新意。因为,当代青年毕竟具有更为开放的环境,拥有更多选择的机会。

  (作者是北京大学研究生)

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