Chinese Youth Need Own Group Belief

This is my translation of an op-ed piece of Southern Metropolis:-

“Today is the anniversary of the May 4th youth movement. In the past 8 years, this day has become just one of the seven public holidays in a year, which has the effect of diluting the significance of the youth theme. People have been forgetting that the spirit of youth should be encouraged and invigorated on this special day. Yet this year, the day May 4th has resurrected itself and reminded people that it is not just a holiday, or just a day for consumer spending and making merry – there is a calling that needs to be rejuvenated and a spirit that needs to be commemorated. Incidentally at this very moment, the youth of China are playing a leading role in a patriotic movement and they once again have become a resounding group, forcing people to scrutinize their spiritual status and psychological condition.

According to the National Statistics Bureau’s 2006 census figures, there are 200 million Chinese adults aged 30 and below. No doubt there are innumerable differences amongst these adults, but they are all linked to one another by their similar life experiences that their époque has bestowed on them.

The majority of China’s youth today are under the immense pressure of their materialistic way of living. For the financially better off ones, this era provides a ladder to luxury – there are always more expensive things that can push vain people to the limit of their purchasing power. For those young people who strive to improve their lives, the middle-class dream is enough to crush anybody – it is a matter of how, before reaching middle-age, to be able to earn enough to buy a home, pay parents’ medical bills and send children to college. Yet many university graduates face the dismal fate of not finding jobs, or find their salaries staying stagnant after jobs are found, or when they look up they cannot see any room for advancement, unable to see their future clearly while knowing their youthful years are numbered….. For the greater number of youth who are struggling to get by, their city jobs take up almost all of their time, yet returning to the village is unthinkable, no matter how hard it is to stay in the city – they can earn just enough to feed themselves, not daring to think about personal growth or development.

In the context of the historical stage in social development, China’s rapid economic growth shifting to high gear is bound to whip out the last ounce of energy from every individual in his pursuit of prosperity. No other theme better marks this era than a fierce fight to get ahead, a relentless effort to achieve a better and more modern lifestyle. However, this macro-analysis cannot explain away the micro effects: although the pursuit of luxuries and the struggle to survive are two different matters, the youth in this era are all equally subjected to the same pressure of materialism – the degree of individualism is something that is determined by the social system; their independent and sober spiritual selves have been suppressed and distorted; they are almost totally incapable of realizing their will power to live a free and uninhibited life.

The majority of young Chinese today lead a spiritually disoriented and rootless life.

It is not a problem for young people to be rebellious. The problem is that this era does not provide any reliable set of values for them to rebel against, and thereafter to return to. The older generation believed in the power of the masses, the philosophy of class struggle and the beauty of revolution. The prior generation believed in the nation’s crises and democratic principles helping to unite and motivate the masses. The still earlier generation believed in allegiance to the emperor and the three roles and five humanities (三綱五常). Regardless of whether they are good or bad, none of these spiritual concepts that used to bind society is found to have prevailed in today’s Chinese society.

Some people say that this is a consumerism era. But some academics shrewdly point out that we don’t have an integrated consumerist society – the individualism that is embodied in liberalism not being materialized and the lack of a democratic constitution mean that China’s consumerist society can only be a flat one. We are only allowed to consume the lower end consumer products which are material products but not the higher end spiritual and political products. The end result of a distorted social structure impacting on the individual’s spiritual life is: a Chinese-style exuberant consumerism culture accompanied by a shriveling spiritual life.

It is natural that the young people who grew up in such an environment tend to be more skeptical and more prone to sinking into isolation. In general they are unable to find any group whom they can trust and who can give them a sense of belonging. In their solitude, it may be their ambitious wish to find a group and then through the power of that group to make an imprint on the world. If one interprets in a positive way this current explosion of the youth’s patriotic fervor, it may be seen as the young generation’s effort to rebuild a sense of nobleness from scraps.

May 4th is a youth commemoration day. Its focus is not the commemoration of the 1989 student movement or the New Culture Movement. Rather, it’s the youth’s spiritual style exhibited in those two movements. This spiritual style cannot be substituted by the simple word ‘patriotism’, nor can it be embodied in the pursuit of tangible goals like western science and democracy. A spiritual style that is always touching is passion, guided by reason, evolving into a sense of responsibility, a sense of mission and a sense of nobleness. A movement is always short-lived, today’s youth who have been swept up in the patriotic movement need to have the ability to conduct a subsequent self-analysis and introspection and to observe society closely – where would they place themselves? Perhaps under the present materialistic pressure and weak spiritual tendency, China’s youth needed to go through a group baptism - a group movement that allows a catharsis leading to establishment of reason, in order to build a group spirit of their own era, a group belief that belongs to them.”