“When I am practicing, I come home a bit later, you know? Normally everyone else has already eaten dinner and then I sit by myself and eat; on the one side is my mum and on the other my grandma. They watch me eat and I can’t stand it. I just don’t like the feeling that I am being supervised by others.” Zhang X. 18 years old.
The year is 2005. Zhang is one among dozens of Chinese girls and boys interviewed by Michael Stanat for his essay book: China’s Generation Y: Understanding the Future Leaders of the World’s Next Superpower. Her account of hands-on parental supervision is highly revealing about the ways and means by which young people are being raised today in China.
240 million Chinese girls and boys are arriving at adulthood amidst strong family and societal pressure. I am not referring to the kind of political harassment Westerners got used to associate with post-Cultural Revolution China. Zhang is not being raised to blend in with the masses. She needs to study, do her homework, get good grades, so as to excel and advance as an individual. Like the vast majority in her cohort, Zhang does not have any siblings. She was born under the ‘one-child policy’ act – by which the Chinese government restricts every family to a single child. She is the sole bearer of her families’ biggest aspirations and unfulfilled dreams and will get a sheltered upbringing due to that.
China’s Millennials were born during the first stage of “Reform and Opening” (1978-1989) – when Communist reformists lead by Deng Xiaoping relinquished their dreams for an agrarian socialist utopia and introduced economic market principles in China, decollectivizing, privatizing and opening up the country to foreign investment. GenYers grew up during the second wave of reforms (1989-2002), an unprecedented period of economic growth, with large-scale privatizations and the liberalization of the financial sector, converting China to the economic juggernaut we know today. Second only to the US.
The flipside is that social inequality also increased, with low-paid jobs and niches of poverty proliferating, particularly in the neglected rural world. China arrived in the 21st Century as one successful market economy, yes – but with limited social opportunities and, thus, fiercely competitive.
A recent InSites Consulting youth survey focusing on the experiences and attitudes of GenYers around the world, shows that Chinese young men and women have internalized the importance of social competition and individual progress. 72% find it is important to be better than others at a hobby or an activity. 65% feel that the most important thing one should have is a fitting set of skills and abilities. 30% claim that starting a company is one of the most important things to achieve in one’s lifetime.
China’s GenYers are of a very self-disciplined stock, due on the one hand to their sheltered upbringing and on the other hand to the mixed cultural legacy of Millennial Confucian philosophy and authoritarian Communism they inherited. However, while their ancestors were focused on spiritual enlightenment and the collective good, young Chinese women and men are more attuned to personal and career advancements.
In addition, China’s GenYers are very inclined to new technologies, entertainment and its associated consuming habits. They are already among the most tech-savvy in the world. For example, 85% own a smartphone, 58% a laptop and 41% have ‘surfing the web’ as one of their top 3 favorite pastimes. 73% associate creativity with technology. With the high levels of demand they find at school and in their household and with no siblings in sight, it is no wonder that GenYers are turning to the web, in search for social interaction and comfort.
Growing up amidst a successful economic period, sheltered by their parents, beneficiaries of a robust education system and immersed in new technologies and the online world, GenYers in China are growing up to be quite ambitious and resourceful.
They are fully committed to impress – family, friends and community – and are even a bit exhibitionist in that way. 65% admit to owning products and brands to impress others. 55% claim to buy products and brands as a way to self-express. 31% would love to work in the fashion industry.
Hot tweetaway: 65% of #Chinese #GenY admits to owning brands to impress others insit.es/1Aa4xz3 by @CoolBrands via @ #mrx #millennials
But they are not willing to win and consume at all costs. When looking for a job, 59% of Chinese GenYers go for socially and environmentally responsible companies. 65% try to purchase products and brands that are environmentally friendly and 66% choose products manufactured under ethical conditions. 48% just say no to luxurious brands!
Hot tweetaway: 59% of #Chinese #GenY go for socially & environmentally responsible companies insit.es/1Aa4xz3 by @CoolBrands via @ #mrx #millennials
In addition, they want to have a good time! 66% want products and brands that allow them to have more fun. And 43% refer the city of Paris as the coolest place on Earth – outperforming Shanghai (22%) and Beijing (27%). These figures run against recurring western stereotypes of China as a nation of hapless state servants.
It is true that Chinese GenYers are particularly concerned with excelling at school and following on to well-paid jobs. But they are not on their way to become 1984-esque grey-suit bureaucrats. Excited with the new technological tools and the socio-economic opportunities available to them, GenYers are eager to try out, have fun, travel, learn, connect and they go online so as to achieve these goals.
In the coming decades, China’s Millennials will achieve more and more rapidly than their counterparts around the world. But fear not, western readers! China will not shape and mold the world in ways unbeknownst to your viewpoints and habits. China’s GenYers will actually be pretty much just like you.
Stay tuned as we’ll be sharing more facts & figures of this InSites Consulting youth survey in the coming weeks and months. And don’t forget to pre-register for the full Generation Y around the World report!