Understanding China’s “Angry Youth”

The China Beat asked Teresa Wright for her thoughts on a Brookings Institute event concerning China’s “angry youth,” or fenqing.

As emphasized by Kai-Fu Lee, president of Google Greater China, the apparent “anger” of Chinese youth can just as accurately be viewed as “energy” or “confidence.” Further, as noted by panelists Stan Rosen, Xu Wu, Evan Osnos, and myself, along with displaying great love of country (aiguo, or patriotism) and sometimes nationalism (minzuzhuyi), young people in China are vocal advocates of “liberal” values such as freedom of expression and outspoken critics of corruption within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). They are not knee-jerk apologists for the CCP.

Yet at the same time, they feel unjustly slighted by the international community. As Xu Wu put it, Chinese youths are like a “double-edged sword with no handle”—a force that can cut in a number of directions, and that is not controlled by any single individual, organization, or interest. In addition, panelists emphasized that many of the most vocal fenqing in China today—such as Tang Jie, producer of the widely-viewed video, “2008 China Stand Up”—are extremely well-educated and intelligent. Their anger and indignation cannot be dismissed as the product of ignorance or brain-washing.

In terms of how foreigners should respond to China’s youth, the lesson is something that some Americans (and other Westerners) may not want to hear: rather than treating China’s young people as misguided individuals in need of enlightenment, we need to accept them on their own terms, and with respect. Many Chinese today—both young and old—have a sense of pride, a feeling that China is finally “getting it right.”

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