Published On: Fri, Jul 12th, 2019

Contemporary Factors Shaping Chinese Youth

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The fervor among Asia’s youth to bring about change has died down in recent years. Street protests are far less common; Chinese youth appear to be more interested in jobs and other personal matters than in social issues or politics. This could have much to do with the region’s own transformation. As economic development breeds the onslaught of increased personal freedoms, the lure of politics is declining in the region. Corruption and ineffective older politicians are thought to have turned the young away.

Structure of Chinese Society Affecting Youth

China is a socialist republic, run by the CPC, whose power is guaranteed by the constitution. There are other parties, but the opposition is of little substance, as the CPC normally wins by default. The country’s politics have seen significant liberalisation in recent years, but China’s population remains subject to strict controls.

One-Child Policy and Living Standards

One such control has left Chinese youth in an interesting situation. Due to their government’s strict one-child policy, many of them are only-children. This has created for a uniquely self-interested youth identity in China’s modern political climate. In addition to this, China is in a period of in-depth reform and rapid development, a burden and opportunity borne by and granted to Chinese youth.

Overall living standards of Chinese people are rising (though they remain relatively low). As China’s middle class population rises, their political demands are becoming louder. In addition, there is much more possibility for upward mobility in modern China.

Chinese Youth Characteristics

Contemporary Factors Shaping Chinese Youth

According to Jieying Xi, Yunxiao Sun, and Jian Jian Xiao, Chinese youth culture is much changed from past generations. In their book, Chinese Youth in Transition, the authors explain that Chinese youth’s increased self-interest shows a marked change from the group-oriented behaviour of their forefathers’ generations. In addition, new Chinese policies have given them more autonomy. The global evolution of technology has altered their communication and interaction patterns. In addition, increased exposure to the outside world, along with maturing traditional values have allowed for a more open attitude towards formerly taboo subjects like sex. Increased access to education has meant that Chinese youth are less prone to illiteracy, and access to free higher education has opened up a whole new set of possibilities to lower income Chinese youth. Government propaganda continues to pervade education programs, which has resulted in the cultivation of a strong nationalistic feeling amongst Chinese youth.

China’s Eduction System

In the structure of China’s current education system, intellectual criticism and creativity is largely absent. Pajares and Urdan explain in their book International Perspectives on Adolescence that obedient learning is reinforced by authoritarian politics. The authors state that studies have deduced low levels of intrinsic motivation for learning among Chinese students; for many, their sole motive is to pass the examination. Chinese students are forced to work extremely hard, due to the competitive atmosphere at examinations. In fact, students are so overburdened with schoolwork that the Mainland government has issued guidelines to reduce students’ burden 49 times since 1985.

Say Pajares and Urdan: ‘Mainland students spend an extraordinary amount of time learning in schools, doing homework, and attending complementary classes. Hence, students may not have enough time to play or even to sleep.’

The authors also cite that suicide rates are also comparatively high amongst Chinese youth. Indeed, this is the leading cause of death among the 15-24 Chinese age group.

Implications for Chinese Youth

Not only do Chinese you have to deal with their own biological transformations, but they are living through the tumultuous economic growth of their country, a fact which affects their daily lives. They are living in a generation far different from previous ones, where families are dramatically decreased in size, and the only-child has become the foremost concern. They are thus given more say in familial decisions and decisions about their future.

They are feeling the power of economic freedom, and even social freedom, as Western values pervade their society through the internet, television, and other forms of mass media. Their education has become all-important. As their government has made higher education institutions free of cost, competition to gain entry to these schools is intense. Chinese students, often their parents’ only hope for economic stability after retirement, often do little but study.

Their academic achievements have been constructed to form a significant aspect of their identity. Exposed to the visions of all that wealth can bring, they hunger for it like never before. Though Confucian values continue to exert an influence on their society, the group-oriented, collectivist identities that formerly were so pronounced in China is fading among youth, whose identities are increasingly inward-looking and self-interested. In addition, with their newest freedoms and economic independence, Chinese youth seem to have little to protest; their self-needs are mostly satisfied. And those who do care enough to protest are aware of the corruption that takes place within their government and feel powerless to effect change. Their identities have been constructed to feel distanced from politics to the point of apathy. There seems to be a preference towards keeping silent so that nothing can get in the way of their dreams.

About the Author

- Paul Linus is an eminent online journalist who has been writing news, features and editorials on different websites from across the world for about a decade. He can be contacted at knowledgeherald@gmail.com

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