Increasing the Gap Between Generations

Aspirations, views and opinions on all aspects of life differ greatly between many individuals. This difference of opinion is further emphasised in many instances between the generations. This contrast is due to a myriad of different factors: changes in an individual’s upbringing; alterations within a society and varying moral values all play a major role in defining a person. In the past thirty years, China has undergone significant changes with regards to the ‘young generation’. Pop culture, fashion, music and the internet have lead to more individualism within this generation which is believed to be widening the gap between their predecessors. In turn, this has lead to a host of new aspirations, views and opinions which are driving modern day China forward.

This growth of individualism is impacting upon millions of modern day Chinese families. A recent Channel 4 documentary followed Gok Wan, a famous British fashion designer, on his first trip to China in order to discover his ancestral roots. This documentary raised some interesting points regarding the relationship between the generations in China. In a conversation with his father, who grew up in a rural village outside Hong Kong, we are shown a similarity which still exists between the generations. He believed that the typical Chinese work ethic was that more money equalled a better life. With the majority of Chinese families still earning very little pay this statement can be seen as true, after all Deng Xiaoping – the late leader of the Communist Party in China – said “To get rich is glorious”.

It can be seen that public opinion on the acquiring of wealth has not changed a great deal in China’s history. Nonetheless, there are many aspects of life that this ‘young generation’ are coming to their own conclusions on. Duncan Hewitt, author of Getting Rich First: Life in a Changing China, talks in detail about the opening of the first IKEA store in China and of its influence over young couples in the area. A young woman who worked there claimed that the older generations have been through tough times and have therefore never had the pleasure of being engaged in the style or design of home appliances and furniture. This is evidence of an increase of individualism within the young families of China. In addition, she goes on to say ‘…many people have simply thrown out their traditional Chinese furniture- sometimes including antique family heirlooms – in their desire to embrace a modern way of life.’ This, it could be argued, is a drastic change in opinions towards family ancestry in China. Family heirlooms which have been passed down from generation to generation are sometimes cast aside in order to encourage modernity into their lifestyles. This ‘young generation’ no longer want to be tied down to the past; they want to embrace their future.

Hewitt goes on to describe another such divide between the generations, this time concerning dating. He explains that a man named Mr Chen had a son (around 12 years of age) who was in his second year at senior high school and had a girlfriend. Hewitt describes the father’s distress by saying ‘For Mr Chen the idea of teen romance was completely unimaginable’. This is no doubt a very young age to be dating, even in the West. However this was completely unheard of in China only twenty years ago. This is further evidence that the young generation has much more freedom and the rules and regulations pressed onto them by their parents and society alike are not as strict as they have been previously. Moreover, this widens the gap between the generations in the country.

It is not only the easing of the rules and regulations placed on young children and teenagers in China which is causing this increase in individuality and freedom. Hewitt states that some parents in China believe that youngsters are being more disobedient. One parent he interviewed states, ‘young people these days have less respect for authority figures…now we’re the ones who have to learn from the kids…’ Parents’ authority in China was something to be feared by the children, however now better education coupled with more outlets to express ones individuality has lead this dynamic to shift. This can be tied to government reforms and protests within the country: individuals within China are becoming more independent and are more willing to take steps to positively affect their future. Although many aspects of life in China have remained the same with regards to views and opinions towards them, the ‘young generation’ have started to make some changes.

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