The Post 80s Generation—Are the Kids All Right?

At ChinaFile, Sun Yunfan, Orville Schell and Damien Ma discuss the gap between members of China’s post-80s generation and their parents, based on a recent article by James Palmer that was featured on CDT last week.

Sun Yunfan: James Palmer is very insightful in pointing out the “values gap” and “information gap” between the balinghou, or the post-80s generation, and their parents. Aside from being a whole generation of only children—due to the One Child Policy—balinghou kids belong to probably the first generation in Chinese history who collectively enjoyed a good education and relatively unlimited access to information. When they talk to their parents, they often find themselves trapped in a muddled swamp of language filled with fragments of autocratic, superstitious, Confucian, Maoist, and Social Darwinist beliefs—in other words, they don’t share a common ground with their parents on which to have any meaningful discussion.

However, many balinghou believe that this communication crisis that emerged in China in the 21st century is not that different from what the New Youth faced during the May Fourth movement 100 years ago. […]

Orville Schell: I loved reading Palmer’s piece, but as I pondered it, I realized that, as in most complex societies, there are a lot of different currents flowing at the same time. But, what is undeniable in China is that, having first cancelled traditional culture, then made serial efforts to re-invent itself in the guise of a mash-up of Chiang Kai-shekist politics, Confucianism and Christianity; Mao Zedongist proletarian/Marxism; Deng Xiaopingist “to get rich is glorious” market culture, there is now a heightened state of confusion over just what it is that Chinese should make of whatever strange sibuxiang 四不象 (neither fish nor fowl) trend they should take as their True North when it comes to culture and values.

The original article is reposted in condensed form at ChinaFile, but the full version at Aeon Magazine is highly recommended.