Today is the Chinese National Holiday and a time for young and old to celebrate. Everyone knows just how quickly the country has changed in the past few decades. But just how different are young Chinese students today compared to their parents?
Sounding old in front of a colleague
Recently, I made a bit of a fool of myself in front of one of our Chinese professors (and probably many other professors as well…but that’s another story!) I was talking about the forthcoming celebrations in China for October 1st and referred to it as Liberation Day. On my first visit to the country in 1996, this was the term that my official Chinese guide had used. Since then I had happily used the expression and had never been corrected.
My colleague burst into spontaneous laughter. “That makes you sound so old!
“Nobody in China calls it that anymore” he said through his tears of joy. We just call it the National Holiday.”
My humiliation would have been lessened if the professor were a lot younger than myself. Unfortunately, only a few years separate us! So, since I am clearly out of touch with anyone in their late thirties, let alone in their early twenties, I decided it might be useful to talk to some young Chinese students to get their opinion on the differences between themselves and their parents. Their answers are fascinating.
Gen X and Gen Y in China
A lot of rubbish has been written about Gen Xs and Gen Ys in the West. Although work practices may vary a little with young graduates today, the idea that they are incapable of inhabiting the same workspace as anyone their parents age is absurd. However, for young Chinese students today the differences between them and their parents are very real. Economic development and technology has made a massive impact on the lives of the new generation.
“My mother…told me that how she was exciting when the cars entered her eyes in the city and she was curious why so many foreigners could drive” said one student.
Young people often expect a car to be one of the wedding presents they may receive from these very same parents. Indeed, two years ago, China became the world’s number one market for car sales.
Things have changed at an amazing speed in the country. Just think about telephones. Most Chinese students have never known what it is like to have a land or fixed line telephone in their house. For most of them, in 10-15 years they have gone from having no phone, to having the very latest cell phone. This change can be seen in some statistics. A recent Gallup Poll found that 71% of the under 24s had heard of Microsoft, compared to only 15% for the over 60s. This should not surprise you. Only 2% of these elders had ever actually used a computer.
Hard working parents and easy going students
The wonderful thing about the answers I received was the maturity of the students. Most of them felt that their parents were far more hard working and selfless than themselves.
“Most of our parents will say that” we work for you” “we live for you”, they seldom think that they live for themselves.” said one.
Another student added:
“…they are more naive, not pursuing the material life, but they are more responsable than us.”
They deemed their own generation to be rather frivolous and too interested in spending money and having a good time. There are 300 million under 30s in China today and a survey by Credit Suisse First Boston estimates that their income was increasing at about 10% per year. Clearly, they have money to spend.
“Young people care about entertainment events with friends more than their everyday life. Parents may care more about their wealth growth and what to eat in daily life.”
Perhaps this is no different from parents across the world, though the hardships that Chinese people went through in the 1960s and 1970s may have made this even more acute.
Freedom in love but pressure to succeed
Most of the students saw themselves a being much freer to make choices about their personal lives. They speak of the semi arranged marriage process for their parents and their own freedom to decide.
“Today….a lot of young Chinese people choose to get married/have child later or even didn’t choose to have family since of the career pursuit or personal affection reason.”
“For teenagers, following their heart is the most significant thing.”
However, all this freedom does NOT mean there is no pressure on them.
The new generation is really the hope of the society. They are smart and dashing, but under high pressure.” exclaimed another student.
This is clear when they speak of education.
“Because most of family in China has the only child, that makes the child become the only hope of the whole big family. Moreover, there are so many people in China that the competition is very fierce. So clearly, my generation has unbelievable pressure from the family, the society and also from ourselves.”
They may feel a certain amount to pressure, but they also seem ambitious too.
While currently, as the dynamic economic environment, young people believe work hard but also work smart, a lot of young people dream to have their own company or trying to do some challenging but interesting job. And today female get more and more equal right for job.
Small details matter
I received so many detailed and interesting replies here that I could not possibly quote all of them. As always, it is the small things that are the most revealing. One mail began simply:
Yes, that is right; a Chinese student had addressed me by my first name! If you are an American or a British student this wouldn’t be surprising at all. However, for a Chinese student to address a professor by his first name is quite amazing. This would have been unheard of even a few years ago. The fact that even one student was prepared to do it is quite remarkable, not to mention a little endearing. If ever there was a symbol of change, it is that.
The future for Chinese students
This short cross section of answers gave a fascinating insight into how Chinese students see themselves today. They are more astute with technology, they have more freedom to choose their partner, they have more time to enjoy themselves and they are certainly more wealthy. However, they are also under a good deal of pressure to succeed and their future may be a little less certain than it has been in the past.
For all this freedom and wealth, there is one truth that most of these students will not be able to avoid. As they venture out into the uncharted territories that lie before them, they will find out that in a blink of an eye, they will have become their own parents. The people that they see today as being stable, conservative, lacking knowledge about technology and spending too much time thinking of others will be them.
So to all those students, have a wonderful day, enjoy celebrating your National Holiday and good luck in fulfilling your own dreams in the coming years.
GlobalEd: “Today, Chinese universities are still in a catch up with regard to their colleagues from the USA and Europe in particular. The Shanghai Jiaotong University Ranking System which ranks the top 500 universities in the world has no Chinese university in the top 100.”
GlobalEd: “The 2012 once again confirmed the supremacy of American universities where more than half of the top 100 being from the USA. 9 years on the winners are….the USA (though with warning signs), China, Australia, New Zealand and Saudi Arabia. And the losers? Japan, Germany and perhaps India.”
Operaviva: “During a business meeting with a foreign trade consultant the usual question popped up: “how is it to live here ?” And the most common answer is: “It’s fantastic ! The quality of life is great.”
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