Those under 40 represent an almost total break with the generation of their parents
Macau Business | October 2022 | Special Report | Chinese millennials
The nature of a childhood and youth experienced in post-Maoist China, in its expectations and experiences, is profoundly different from that of parents and grandparents, due to unprecedented economic and social transformations, the strict enforcement of the one-child family policy and the widespread influence of modern parenting practices, according to the book Modernization as Lived Experiences: Three Generations of Young Men and Women in China (2020).
In a review of the book, “which draws on 98 life history interviews conducted in Beijing in 2011-2012 with male and female secondary school students and their parents and grandparents, incorporating findings from their life stories and commentaries”, Professor Wan-Ning Bao explains that the author, Fengshu Liu, examines “some prominent experiences of childhood and youth across the three generations on topics such as parenthood, intergenerational relations, schooling, gender and sexuality”. According to Bao, “this book represents a masterpiece of sociological research from a historical point of view”.
She adds: “A major change is the expressive rather than instrumental role of children in the family. Contemporary children are no longer economically useful, helpful and supportive to their parents as they were in previous generations. Instead, they have become emotionally valuable and valuable when their academic achievement brings psychological comfort and security and a sense of accomplishment to parents, and happiness to family life in general.
Interviews conducted by the book’s author, Fengshu Liu of the Department of Education at the University of Oslo, demonstrate that changes have occurred in all areas, even the least expected.
In an example from Wan-Ning Bao’s comment, “Unlike their parents and grandparents, who were closed-minded about sexuality during courtship and even perceived talking about sex as a taboo subject, young people are open to a sexual relationship with their romantic partner, and frank and knowledgeable about sexuality and reproduction.
Therefore, she adds, “for older generations, marriage is the natural and ultimate outcome of courtship and love, and sexuality can only be granted within marriage. For the younger generation, however, romantic relationships and premarital sex are expressions of sexual attraction or emotional attachment at best, but do not necessarily lead to marriage.
In a completely different area, the growing aspiration for academic achievement in post-Mao China has not only been intensified by the market economy, the high demand for an educated and skilled labor force, and the fierce competition for desirable and secure employment; it has also been reinforced by the long Chinese tradition of respecting education as an exemplary standard.
Professor Emeritus of Sociology, IUPUI (Indiana/Purdue, Indianapolis), summarizes Modernization as lived experiences thus: “From the early 1980s, when post-Mao China was going through a period of rapid and dramatic social, economic and cultural transformations, Chinese youth, especially in urban cities, suffered the great impact of these social changes. These changes could be felt in almost every aspect of their life, from family life to school experience and interpersonal relationships. Growing up in an ever-changing society, China’s urban youth – also known as the “one-child generation” – have emerged with a youth culture that breaks deeply with long-established tradition. »
“They focus more on a stable life”
Chin Pan Lei, Assistant Professor, Department of Communication, University of Macau, who researches areas such as popular culture, gender studies and urban studies, answered four questions to Macau Business:
How would you compare your 20s and 30s with the same stage in your students’ lives today?
Chin Pan Lei – Wow, a tough question. When I was 20 (30 years ago), I thought a lot about my future; I had many plans; and I was looking forward to exploring the world. When I was 28, I decided to pursue a PhD in the UK. when I was 29, I spent a month in New York to complete a short course. Before I was 30, I had traveled to almost 20 countries and never thought about buying an apartment (even though apartments were quite affordable back then). However, most of the young people I met in Macau are not that interested in the world outside Macau. Most of them want a stable life, a well-paid job, and many of them marry and have children very early. In other words, they are young, but their lifestyles do not resemble those of young people.
Did you find significant differences between young people from various places, especially between Westerners and non-Westerns that you met?
PLC– There are many differences between the young people of these places. It is not easy to summarize their characteristics in a few sentences. In mainland France, they are hard-working, but sometimes not very open-minded. In Taiwan, given the cultural diversity and liberal environment, they are sensitive to various kinds of social issues. In England, young people are actively engaged in society. In Macau, they focus more on a stable life.
During your years as a university professor, have you noticed changes in the way young people are (or are these changes happening too slowly, which makes them difficult to notice)?
PLC– This is a question related to the situation in Macao. In the past 10 to 15 years, since Macao’s economy was good, it was too easy for young people to find high-paying jobs, so they didn’t think it was necessary to learn more or develop an expertise. Now the situation has changed dramatically and they will have to adapt. Life will no longer be as simple as before.
Last year The Economist published a special feature on young Chinese describing them as “materialistic and titled, a generation of ‘little emperors’ adored by their parents”. Would you like to comment on this sentence?
PLC– I would agree with that to some extent. However, most young people everywhere are somehow materialistic, since we live in a capitalist society! Who doesn’t want nice clothes, new smartphones or a vacation in a beautiful foreign country? The key point is, what else do they want? What other values do they have? In other developed regions, we see a tendency among young people to have different types of social consciousness, to seek social justice and even to devote themselves to changing society for the better. In Macau, I see very few young people with this kind of awareness.