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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.)


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