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Wake up world: Chinese youth wave is coming

Wamg Wen / GLOBAL TIMES Share:
Students of Hou Kong Middle School participate in a flag-raising ceremony marking the Chinese Youth Day in south China's Macao, May 4, 2018. Friday marked the anniversary of the May 4th Movement, a patriotic campaign that started from universities and was launched in 1919 by young Chinese to fight imperialism and feudalism. May 4th later was established as Youth Day in 1949 by the Chinese government. (Xinhua/Cheong Kam Ka)

The other day, my son recommended me a piece of 8K music, which means music produced with a high-tech display resolution with superior clarity and depth. As I put on the headphones, it felt like I was surrounded by a full 360-degree wave cycle.

This is not the first recommendation of new things from my 12-year-old. He has let me try out a pair of breathable basketball shoes, an interesting App, and even informed me about a celebrity that I had no idea of. He also talked to me about his views on the US.

Young people in China will not simply follow the footsteps of previous generations step by step.

In the 1970s, US political scientist Ronald Inglehart put forward the theory of intergenerational value changes. Inglehart postulated that changes in economic development and living conditions will lead to intergenerational value changes and that major events in an era would affect the value priorities of that generation.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, interactions between China and the world have been accelerating. China became a member of the World Trade Organisation in 2001, hosted the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, and experienced the 2008-09 financial crisis. These historical experiences opened up a window for young Chinese people to see the acceptance and competition between China and the world.

Each generation of young people has their distinctive characteristics defined by the times. The ongoing changes in the national strengths of both China and other countries are influencing psychological shifts among the post-1990s and post-2000s generations in China.

Since 2000, the international ranking of China’s GDP has been rising fast. Since 2010, China has steadily ranked as the second-largest economy in the world. China has successfully seized development opportunities in the Web2.0 era. With the popularization of information interaction, connection, transmission and sharing of technologies, such as social media platforms like Weibo and WeChat, China is leading the world in certain sectors, such as e-commerce, infrastructure construction, and mobile payments. The process is shaping the values of the young Chinese generation.

Compared with young people in developed countries, China’s post-1990s generation has a stronger sense of national pride. They have abandoned the previous generation’s worship of the West, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic revealed structural weaknesses of Western governments. They are even more forward-looking in accepting the world’s cutting-edge information, products and lifestyles, including cashless payments, high-speed railways, and high-speed communications networks.

About 98 percent of Chinese aged 18 to 35 are proud of their being Chinese, according to a survey of 8,212 respondents conducted by the China Youth Daily from April 24 to 28. Another survey of 13,074 respondents, jointly conducted by Fudan University and Shanghai Open University from 2015 to 2017, found that 69.8 percent of university students trust the Chinese government, 71.3 percent of university students believe adhering to government policies is important to national development, and 82.5 percent think the country’s prosperity will improve people’s living standards. When people of the post-1990s generation were asked to rank the core values of socialism, they put “prosperity” first, and then “civilization” and “harmony.” “Freedom” and “democracy,” values Western societies endorse, are ranked the fifth and seventh, respectively.

Compared with their parent’s generation, the young generation has many shortcomings: They tend to easily become arrogant, despise other countries quickly and don’t save money. While they’ve inherited properties from their parents, they may feel at a loss about their objectives for hard work.

But I believe in China’s future, which is dominated by these young people. They will not replicate Western ways, but will instead make China more prosperous and powerful. They will enable our country to better communicate with the world.


The author is professor and executive dean of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China, and executive director of China-US People-to-People Exchange Research Center.

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