Ah, to be young……and to be in China

In response to the documentary, Young and Restless in China.


1. Why do you think Miranda Hong describes her generation of Chinese as “confused”?


In life, everyone needs some kind of a foundation, or a value system, on which to build one’s identity, perspective and future. However, Miranda Hong’s generation of Chinese lack such a foundation, or have a shaky one at best. It has been less than a couple of decades since the China’s economic and social policies have begun undergoing a transformation, moving more permanently away from the previous Maoist authoritarianism to a more liberalized democratic and capitalist society. Hong’s generation is somewhat stuck in the middle of the two starkly different phases. Their parents’ generation had lived a full lifetime knowing little of the world outside communist China. Meanwhile, Hong and her generation spent their childhood under similar—more or less liberal—conditions, but China had changed directions during their adolescent years and early adulthood, which are critical times for the development of one’s political and social values. Although the liberalization had long been initiated by the likes of Deng Xiao Ping and Hu Yaobang and activists (especially students and intellectuals), the sudden turn of tide nonetheless took away the societal platform on which the young Chinese’ lives stood. With the dramatic transformation, those of the younger generation had felt increasingly alien to their parents’ generation; and, because the new system was (and largely still is) still undergoing further development and modifications, the young democratic China was fragile. In short, Hong’s generation lacked a reference point from which to envision their future. Disconnected from their parents’ societal values, unsure of the current situation of the society and still seeking to validate one’s own moral values, all the while trying to get by in a changing world, it is no wonder that Hong’s generation is “confused.”

Miranda Hong (marketing executive), Ben Wu (entrepreneur), Lu Dong (entrepreneur).

Miranda Hong (marketing executive), Ben Wu (entrepreneur), Lu Dong (entrepreneur).


2. Why do you think the Chinese government has nicknamed the young people coming home from abroad “returning turtles”?


Hai Gui, or sea turtles, hatch on the shore, grow up out in the sea, but eventually return to the shore. The young people coming home from abroad are thus likened to the Hai Gui; they are (usually) born in China but receive much of their secondary and postsecondary education elsewhere, and in time generally return to China to settle. Because most move to the States or Canada to study, these young people are heavily influenced by the Western cultures and values; they value hard work and personal merits, rights, and liberties. With such a Western mindset, the returning Chinese sometimes—or often—face difficulties in realizing their ambition in China. For example, the still less liberal societal structure could act as a barrier. But even more so, the obligations to one’s family, as deemed only natural in China, hinders one from carrying out his/her own life. Nonetheless, the education from abroad provides a wider perspective and often enables one to look for and find new opportunities (that may not be new elsewhere, but still is in China). For example, one of the young Chinese in “Young and Restless in China” opens up an internet café, probably inspired by businesses began overseas, and gains American sponsors—a tie most likely made possible by the fact that he received a Western education. Although these young Chinese grown up learning from a different educational system than that in their home country and thus develop certain different ideas, they nonetheless often return because, in short, China is their mother nation. It is where their roots lie. In addition, because China is growing so fast, lots of opportunities are opening up for the ambitious and capable to take advantage of.


Wang Xiaolei (rapper), Yang Haiyan (housewife), Wei Zhanyan (migrant worker).

Wang Xiaolei (rapper), Yang Haiyan (housewife), Wei Zhanyan (migrant worker).


4. What do you think are important historical, social or economic factors that have shaped the outlook of the Chinese generation profiled in the film?


Under the Maoist, communist government, the earlier generations had lived under a repressive, controlled society where little freedom was a fact of life. Education was severely censored, political views and activities were strictly monitored, and the economy was almost entirely government-owned. Even after Deng Xiao Ping initiated the introduction of a capitalist economy (while still maintaining the socialistic societal structure), China was still far and different from its democratic Western counterparts that facilitated market economy. Living in such a society, the older Chinese lived their entire lives cautiously, being careful of everything they say and do, and hardly ever tried to deviate from the duties outlined by the society that seemed to control every aspect of their lives. In other words innovations, or new ideas, had little value, and most people simply complied with what was expected. However, the new generations are more Westernized; they are aware that they are living in a globalizing, changing world, and that they need to change together in order to survive. Hence, they deviate from their parents’ generations’ societal values, and seek for their own, while trying to live lives of the their own in the most meaningful way possible, and in the best way possible. For example, one of the chief differences between the newer and earlier generations lies in their view of the family. Whereas the earlier generations centered their lives on the family and the obligations that follow (for instance, arranged marriage), the younger generation tends to attempt to break away from such burdens, so as to have greater control over their own lives.

Xu Weimin (businessman), Zhang Jingjing (lawyer), Zhang Yao (medical resident).

Xu Weimin (businessman), Zhang Jingjing (lawyer), Zhang Yao (medical resident).


Here are previews to the documentary:


~ by stephanieec on November 23, 2008.

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