Political Interest through the Generations

“There’s nothing we can do about politics,” Silence Chen, an account executive in Beijing says, “So there’s no point in talking about it or getting involved.”

Stephen Elegant of Time Magazine portrayed the apathetic attitudes towards politics of the so called ‘ME Generation’ (covering the ages of 20 to 30 year olds). Describing the materialistic and almost greedy attitudes of the younger generations in modern day China, he explained that ‘one subject that doesn’t come up [in conversation with this generation] – and almost never does…-is politics.’ This lack of interest can be seen to create a wedge between the modern day ‘ME generation’ and previous generations before them whom the author describes as ‘Chinese elites, whose lives were defined by the epic events that shaped China’s past. The writer appears to feel as though the younger generations are ‘tuning out’ the past. However, I feel that this lack of political interest can be more put down to the naivety and contentment of the current generation and their lifestyle.

Born in 1906, Zhou Youguang, unlike some of the younger Chinese generation feels that democracy is ‘the natural form of a modern society’. He doesn’t understand how ‘free thinkers’ can gain respect until they challenge and question the Communist government. However, Zhou too has admitted that his passion for politics has hit him very late in his life. Only once he had retired at the age of 85, did he start to take an interest in the subject.  Let’s be honest, no matter where on the globe you find yourself, many people are just not interested in politics full stop. In particular, younger citizens may be too young to understand politics, never mind pay any attention to it. Perhaps without seeing or appreciating the effects a government and how it is run can have on themselves and on the people around them, causes them to be ignorant to politics as opposed to being apathetic to it.

It is said that there are 300 million under 30 year olds in China and that an investigation carried out by Credit Suisse showed that the incomes of 20-29 year olds increased by 34% roughly between 2004-2007 making this the largest wage increase of any age group. The have been described to possibly become ‘the salvation of the ruling Communist party’ as a result of their ‘self-interested, apolitical pragmatism’. However journalist Stephen Elegant explained that this ‘salvation’ will last only as long as the Communist Party ‘keeps delivering the economic goods.’ The idea is that this ‘ME generation’ is consumed by a world of by material products, self-gain and westernised tastes. They are described as citizens interested only in designer brands, sipping Starbucks coffees and using the latest mobile technology. They are seen to have no or little concern in regards to how the country is run and who should run it, almost as if they have become tools of the Communist government to ensure their continuing power.  Magazine publisher, Hong Huang claimed that ‘On their wish list…a Nintendo Wii comes way ahead of a democracy’. This being said, this generation’s Chinese youths have surpassed previous ones in areas of education and international affairs. Comparing the ‘ME Generation’ to the apparently named ‘Lost Generation’ of the Cultural Revolution, roughly 25% of Chinese citizens around the age of 20 have gone to college at some point in their lives, whereas, in regards to those of the ‘Lost generation’, many didn’t even finish high school. Chinese native and American Citizen, Author and expert of China’s middle class Helen H Wang explained that ‘Twenty years ago, China was a very different place. We had very little information about the outside world’, whereas it is said that in 2007 alone, around 37 million Chinese citizens travelled internationally and that in the coming decade Chinese tourists will outnumber that of Europe and the U.S combined.

Another apparent reason for the apathy of the young generation is that any previous attempts they will have heard from their elders, to stand up against the government have had negative outcomes with those such as The Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. This, and the fact these issues were so long ago, the ‘ME Generation’ have accepted that they are growing up in times better than their parents and their grandparents before them. They are probably reminded of this on a daily basis, so they have little motivation to care for politics. All they see is an ever growing strength in China and a flourishing economy and in the words 27 year old of Maria Zhang ‘We have so much bigger a desire for everything…and the more we eat, the more we taste and see, the more we want.’ This being said, there is one political event the younger generation has encountered and this is the incident of Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Zhou Youguang, 106 years old, explained in regards to the massacre of 1989, he feels that ‘one day justice will be done’. This shows that he disapproves of the Governments actions on that day. Nonetheless, to some younger citizens the student protests, if allowed to continue, would have upset the progress the country has made. Vicky Yang, who is 27 and an actuary at a consulting firm, explained her belief that ‘the students meant well’ but felt that the forced end to the demonstrations ‘was needed’. It may simply be that Vicky was only 11 when she witnessed the demonstrations, and perhaps didn’t fully understand the situation. It can also be the fact that perhaps, she is just content with the government as it is and feels change is not necessary. With they’re current economic success; can one really fault this belief? It is difficult to see however, who supports a Communist Government and who is just content with their lifestyle as it is now. Mr Zhou says we cannot say how favourable support for a Communist government really is, as ‘The people have no freedom to express themselves, so we cannot know’.

In spite of the previous comments of the so called ‘ME Generation’, there is still proof that change does lie on the tongues of some of Chinas youths today.  As society modernises in China, many citizens take to the internet to communicate with each other. Apparently a new blogging language is starting to emerge in which the bloggers are said to ‘ridicule the government, poke fun at Communist Party leaders, and circumvent the heavily censored internet in China’. They have also been named by China Digital Times as part of the ‘resistance discourse’. For example the government’s claims of trying to maintain ‘harmony’ within China, is mocked by internet users who use words and mild insults which are almost homonyms of the Chinese word for harmony, and these represent suppression. This is proof that many feel dominated by the Communist government and this could be the beginning of an age directed more towards free thinking. In the words of Marc Macdonald of IHT, ‘To be harmonised, these days, is to be censored’, however to disallow these mild insinuated criticisms online would inevitably contradict the ‘harmonious society’ that the government is claiming to sustain. So it is as if, in the belief of Chinese writer Yu Ha, that ‘harmony has been hijacked by the public’.

Zhou Jiaying, a young school girl describes her opinion of China as she sees it saying, ‘On the surface China looks luxurious, but underneath it is chaos…Everything is so corrupt’. This is proof younger citizens do show interest in politics, beginning even at a young age. Her teacher on the other hand feels that ‘Just because they’re [the younger generations are] curious to see something doesn’t mean they want it for themselves…Maybe they will try something—dye their hair, or pierce an ear—but in their bones, they are very traditional’. This creates the thought that on some level, it may be that a general misunderstanding between the young and their predecessors. The idea that China’s younger generation does not share an interest in who runs the government is not really true. No matter where you are in the world there are always those who are not interested in politics; however it is unreasonable to mark a whole generation with this label. Perhaps this misunderstanding between generations is a result of the rate of such drastic change, forcing a wider gap between them. For it can be seen, despite all the condemnation of the youth of China, this ‘we want more’ generation is communicating political views in new and innovative ways from very young ages. It has been reported that working class riots and protests in the more rural areas are already increasing as the government continues to cater mainly for the middle and upper classes and although these sorts of political statements may be lacking in the satisfied middle class it is certainly not true that this so called ‘ME generation’ lacks concern in political matters. Naturally as the country flourishes economically, a political revolution is not logical. As it is, China as a country is doing very well for itself, and the public see this. To call this social contentment politically apathetic is ridiculous. Political interest is within the youth of China and it’s always been there and grows with them. One just has to look for it.

The China Wide Web

Designing for the Chinese when it comes to websites is not as easy as converting the information into the Chinese language, there are many barriers to be considered. Here some light will be shed onto the Chinese web design world, the focus and reasoning behind website creation along with understanding parts that westerners would see as bad practice, or horrible design.

Chinese web design will not work for the western world, why? Culture, the Chinese web could be seen as a reflection of Chinese culture. The way people interact with each other and information to honour that is held in high regard to the local people, this along with other barriers creates more personalized web interactions.

Censorship, a driving force in the China wide web, could be seen as a hindrance and a blessing to the web design world, where websites are banned a new website can be created purely for the Chinese people, centred on their own preferences. “It limits your freedom, but meanwhile, it has a positive effect on UI design and content presentation. There is less room for gimmicks. It forces you to concentrate on useful content and how to present your content.” – Whitecrow Zhu

Before getting deeper into the cultural aspects of China it would be good to see an example of a popular Chinese website:

Sina could be seen as a copy of Yahoo as we know it, providing news, mail, blog platform, instant messaging, communities etc. At first glance of this site, most western users would leave; the website is cluttered and full of images and text, general ‘bad design’.

Many websites in china follow this style, and are popular and well used, why you may ask yourself, well this could be because of cultural influences and web design practice that is used in china.

The above website example is based on a design principle called “Designing for clicks” this form of creating websites is placing as much recent information on the front page as possible allowing the user to interact with what they find interesting, also allowing people to see an over view of everything at once.

The concept of ‘Face’ plays a role here, this could be likened to what we know as honour, and you can gain it or lose it. This cultural aspect affects the design of websites, having a website trenched in text and links is showing people what your site has to offer, nothing is hidden from the user, this leads to trust of the site, unlike western counter parts where the user is lead down a path to where the designer wants them to go, this could be seen as dis-honest to the average Chinese user.

Other cultural influences on designing for clicks can also be understood when seeing how the Chinese interact with information, at school there is more focus on memorizing facts, rather than understanding the information they are being given. The idea that later in life this information can be understood and put to use when it is needed this is reflected in how websites are read. Upon logging onto a site information can be digested then the user can go deeper into the site at their leisure.

In the same way the western world would shun Chinese web design the same could be said the other way around,  upon logging onto a minimalist website Chinese people are more likely to leave thinking there is nothing of interest, so would  Chinese web design ever be seen in the western world?

An opinion here would be no, simply because Chinese web design focus’s a lot on the Chinese people, traditions, celebrations and festive past times. Colour use holds different meanings to them as it would to us. Acceptance of cultural differences is as positive as it has been in the past, diversity is the spice of life as we like to say, Chinese culture has a lot to offer us, including new ways to create the web, but understanding the way Chinese people use the internet can help us branch out into their culture and vice versa.

The Fox is Black, Theme Week.

I have been following The Fox is Black for about a year now and every week they post amazing articles on all kinds of art and design. They also hold freelance competitions from time to time, ‘Recover-ed’, with a huge amount of people participating. This week they have decided to look into CHINA and all they creative goodness it offers. It should be a good one… www.thefoxisblack.com/Chinaweek

Rice Bowl Family Values

(**People of a emotional disposition may want to look away.**)

“Chinese New Year is always a time for reunion. Whatever differences we may have as a family, there’s always a way to overcome them. So let’s come together as one family during reunion dinner. After all, family is forever.”

From Malaysian rice provider Bernas via Ogilvy & Mather, This Chinese New Year-themed spot, which fits bowls of rice into its story line, packs more punch than most of the bikini- and effects-driven Super Bowl commercials that have been teased so far.

What do you think of the ad’s message?

‘Geilivable’ brands: engaging Chinese audiences online

Social Media agency Fresh Networks has some advice for anyone wanting to engage audiences in China using online tools (Facebook and Twitter aren’t freely available over there, and the equivalent of eBay is very different).

Social media competition in China is beginning to heat up. Facebook and Groupon are looking at engaging the Chinese market as soon as possible and it looks like 2011 will be the pivotal year for Chinese social media.

As Chinese networks emerge and develop, it’s crucial to protect your brand and develop your presence among Chinese ‘netizens’

Their advice boils down to six points:

  1. Develop your brand strategy
  2. Start monitoring Chinese internet trends (that means getting to grips with Chinese search engines and social networking tools)
  3. Protect your brand’s trademarks
  4. Create a brand persona to engage on Chinese forums and blogs
  5. Assess the content you use to engage
  6. Use the offline world to help engage online

Visit the Fresh Networks page for the detail behind each of these steps – the advice applies anywhere in the world, of course, but never assume that what works in the west will translate to China without some localisation…

(My poor Chinese translates the image above literally as “not give strength” (bu gei li) becoming “give strength”)