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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Public Opinion on Chinese Goods

Britain today, like many other Western nations, is host to a consumer culture. Hundreds of thousands of products ranging from kitchen appliances to clothing are purchased daily. However, we rarely know where and how these products have been manufactured. In addition, the big question concerning our consumer culture is: do we really care how these products have reached our high street shelves?

Ultimately, there is no definite answer to this question. Public opinion will always be divided on some level, whether it regards government legislation or what the best deals are in your local supermarket. The topic of where our goods are manufactured is therefore no different. This may be due to a vast array of arguments for and against China manufacturing shown in our newspapers and on our televisions. As a result, it is therefore no surprise that most individuals are unsure themselves what they think and where their opinions lie within this subject.

I recently asked around in order to achieve a better understanding of what individuals really thought with regards to purchasing goods produced in China. Firstly I asked whether or not the presence of the words ‘made in China’ would deter them from buying, and does this generally determine the quality of the item? The general answer was: no, It does not matter in what country something has been produced. Some went on to say that customers can and should deduce the quality of a product themselves based on their own experience. I believe this argument to be true in some cases. For example, by simply looking closely and physically holding an item of clothing we can give a reasonably accurate assumption as to the level of quality of the product, and can therefore decide whether or not to buy the said item. Consumers should be actively aware what they are spending their money on. Most goods produced in China and sold in the West are well made, however it can be argued that consumers themselves can be blamed for poor quality products continuously reaching our shelves. If people keep buying them, they will surely continue to show up.

In most instances consumers can use their own knowledge and intuition when it comes to buying a product, but what if we do not have the opportunity to sample a product before parting with our money? I asked this question to the same people as before, to which they replied that they generally place their trust in companies to produce good quality items. It was believed it was the companies’ responsibility to be absolutely positive that their products are well made, before putting them on the market. Again, I agree with this statement to an extent. It should be the responsibility of the companies to ensure that they are producing and selling products that are well made. Moreover, it is the responsibility of the companies in the West that employ Chinese factories to check the standards of the goods that have been produced for them.

This relationship between the importer and the manufacturer may seem easily manageable on the surface, however research into the matter tells us differently. The book ‘Poorly Made in China’, written by Paul Midler, explores the functioning of factories in the country. Based on his own first hand experiences within the manufacturing industry in China, he has come to some conclusions which may surprise Western consumers. He believes that when an importer was considered to be putting too much effort into improving the standard of goods produced in the factories then he was seen as being a troublesome client. Although we cannot dictate this as fact for all manufacturers in China, it does not bode well for consumers in Britain and the West. Our reliance on companies to produce quality items is, in some cases, undermined before the goods have even reached the production line.

From those that I questioned, it was the general consensus that China does produce good quality products regularly and this should not be diminished by the minority of companies that do otherwise. This then leads to the question of factory life itself in China and how it compares with its Western counterparts. After asking this question to several individuals, I found that public opinion on this matter was generally diplomatic. It was believed that factories will differ from each other in terms of the standard of working conditions. In addition, some said that the manufacturing industry in China should not be judged on the horror stories that are highly publicised. I wholly agree with these statements, Chinese factories are similar to Western factories with regards to the varying standards of working conditions. An entire nation of factories and factory workers cannot be judged solely on the negative stories we are made witness to in the media.

The Influences Behind the 2008 Beijing Monkey Animation

In preparation for the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing, the BBC Sport team commissioned Jamie Hewlett and Damon Albarn (the men behind Gorrilaz) to create an animated short which would promote the BBC’s coverage of the games. They were challenged with capturing the image of the games, and China itself, in a two minute sequence.

It would be fair to assume that China has never been well known for its own production of animated works, traditionally or otherwise. This accolade would fall to its neighbour Japan, leaving a shroud over China’s contribution to this medium. As a result, Hewlett and Albarn had little to go on in terms of style in accordance with contemporary Chinese animation. They had to resolve to other aspects of Chinoiserie in order to create a piece that looked typically ‘Chinese’.

The animation they produced is closely based on a famous Chinese novel named ‘Journey to the West’. It was written in the 1590’s during the period of the Ming Dynasty and is considered to be ‘one of the four most important works of fiction in China’s history’. The tale follows a Buddhist monk named Xuanzang on his quest to collect sacred texts, on instruction from Buddha. In addition, this particular monk had disciples which aided him in his journey, fighting and defeating demons as they went.

There is no doubt that Hewlett and Albarn have incorporated this folk religion and mythology into their final outcome. However, the original names of the monk’s disciples – Sun Wukong, Zhu Bajie and Sha wujing have been changed drastically to Monkey, Sandy and Pigsy in order to appeal to a more western audience. Through portraying areas of this tale as they have, Hewlett and Albarn have not only managed to create an animation that is influenced by Chinese Folklore in itself, but have aided in bringing the latter to a larger audience.

It can be seen that the storyline has been impacted upon significantly by Chinese tradition. Another such area affected by this is the music, which has been used in order to help convey the intentions of the creators. Jonathan Bramley, the BBC Sport Executive Producer, stated ‘we needed something with a good classical Chinese element to it…’ In contrast with its animation background, China has a vast musical history which is steeped in the nation’s rich cultural past. Therefore, a wealth of material was instantly accessible to Hewlett and Albarn. Moreover, Bramley states that the music should also have a ‘…modern feel and be quite energetic.’ There is a large gap between traditional and contemporary Chinese music and this benefitted the pair greatly. Vast arrays of different and typically Chinese musical styles were available to provide inspiration. It is for this reason; Aided by their successful careers in the music business, that Hewlett and Albarn had no trouble in creating a musical score that achieved this goal. Ultimately, the music not only compliments the animation beautifully, but has traditional Chinese elements and a modern edge.

The final aspect of the film to be influenced by chinoiserie is the environment in which the action takes place. Traditional Chinese pieces of art have long been sought after since they first arrived in Europe, courtesy of the Silk Road. Complex and simple artworks depicted everything from landscapes to daily life in China. Although now commercially produced, these examples of ‘traditional’ Chinese art have played an influential part in the creation of the landscapes for the animation. When used in conjunction with photographs of rural china today, Hewlett and Albarn have successfully captured the beauty of the country. This can be plainly seen within the animation.

 

A scene from the animation showing the environment in which the action takes place.

 

 

 

 

 

A photograph of a similar Chinese landscape as we would see it today.

 

 

 

 

Through looking at both contemporary and traditional pieces of Chinese art and music a style has been produced which represents the Far East spectacularly. I believe this piece of animation is a valuable insight into how the western nations perceive their eastern counterparts through chinoiserie. The animation itself is an example of which.

Chinese Manufacturing and International Trade

“First time visitors to the world of China manufacturing were often surprised by what they found” – Paul Midler, Poorly Made in China

As a child I remember being baffled after reading the words ‘made in China’ around the base of my pencil stopper. Where was this place? And why would an entire nation want to produce rubber pencil stoppers? Obviously, I was mistaken.

I knew little of China and its booming manufacturing industry. After all, it was not a topic at the forefront of everyone’s mind. However, recent years have shown a surge in the publishing of books concerning this topic followed by a growth in interest by Westerners.

Many companies in the West rely on China to produce their products. This is believed to be because it is a far cheaper alternative, though the rate of production provided is also a major asset. For many, the promise of cheap labour and a fast return was enough information to do business with factories in China.

Paul Midler, author of ‘Poorly Made in China’ comments on China’s abundance of factories and of just how little we still know about them. He states that “With most of these factories…it was often a mystery what went on behind their walls”. This may be true; however after asking a few friends and family what they knew about China’s manufacturing industry it was seen this topic was not common knowledge. We knew little of factory life in the Far East.

Leslie T. Chang, author of ‘Factory Girls’ offers a compelling insight into the lives of modern day factory workers in China. In addition, this creates some interesting questions regarding the country’s business relationships with the West. Through working thirteen hour shifts with two breaks in some factories, along with talking on the job being ‘forbidden’, it is no secret as to why products are manufactured so quickly in this nation. This may be good news for potential business partners; however Chang states that factory workers “talked constantly of leaving”.  In some ways this shows just how similar Chinese workers are with their European and American counterparts. Many leave jobs in order to find better wages and working conditions elsewhere.

In China, this migrant attitude towards job hopping not only concerns these basic attributes of working life. Chang states that the ordinary workers are constantly trying to improve themselves as individuals. Learning a new skill set, or learning English (it was believed to make a person more employable) are just some of the ways this was achieved. A constant desire to better oneself pushes these workers to new heights, and often to better wages.

I believe that this desire to improve as an individual is a crucial driving force behind China’s manufacturing power. As more and more workers gain better skills the quality and efficiency of manufacturing in the country will inevitably continue to flourish. This in turn will ensure that foreign business partners will be in ample supply for years to come.

It can be seen that the Western nations are benefitting greatly from their business relationships with China, but who really is gaining the most out of this partnership? In recent years the answer falls more closely towards the side of China. The Economist newspaper declared that the Chinese economy grew by 9.2% in 2011 and set a prediction of 8.2% for 2012. It seems that this rise in the economy is destined to continue as Economy Watch states, “Forecasts for 2015 predict China’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to reach US$ 9,982.08 billion…” These figures are impressive and are testament to a nation on the rise. As the West continues to fuel China’s export industry the nation will begin to wield more of an influence financially over the rest of the world.

As China’s manufacturing industry becomes more dominant the country itself will follow suit. The nation is fast becoming more modern, leading it to catch up with Europe and America. If the financial figures stay true, this may happen sooner than we think.