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.

Advertisements

China’s Representation in British Media/Politics

China’s long running affair with the British media has been very mixed, full of stories of grand events and vibrant culture. However, it suffers a very negative perception, and one that is in a way hypocritical.

The reason this perception is so, is that China is just doing what the other super powers (Britain, USA and Russia) have previously done. China is expanding at a huge rate, and its ever-growing economy is leaving Britain and others feeling very intimidated. This constant negativity regarding their growth, consumption and with it, environmental damage is ruining the brand of China. Her rapid development has left politicians and leaders worldwide, very anxious, and when watching news reports on events such as the G20 summits, they hound China into the corner and accuse her of harming the world. We have gone through the same process and this makes it very hypocritical to attempt to hinder China’s progress. The country is on the rise, and it is time the media accepted this.

China’s Human rights record is a monumental issue currently, and the British press are slaughtering China. Although the vast majority outside of China agree, as does our group, that there is much work to be done to solve this issue and truly allow China to progress, stories of British and American troops denying Iraqi and Afghan prisoners their human rights again cry hypocrisy, or as they say, the pot calling the kettle black. China is darkened by its troubles with freedom of speech and rights, but as a developing country, it still has time to correct this, and it should not be used as a standing point to degrade China. Only time will tell if it can correct its wrongs and finally be presented in the media in its cultural glory.

However, the media, especially televised news, can shine light on China, and a stand out example of this is Chinese New Year. The media go into frenzy, showing the festivals in their glory, and highlighting the morals of being with family, and the messages of hope that these New Year celebrations rest on. The cultural in China is vast and vibrant, and is a great tool to emphasise to the world what it can offer. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/gallery/2012/jan/22/chinese-new-year-celebrations-pictures#/?picture=384838244&index=9)

The Beijing Olympic Games of 2008, although surrounded in criticism regarding their human rights issues, and its pressing environmental issues, allowed China to sell itself to the whole world – and it succeeded. An opening ceremony, which broadcast too over 5.5 million UK viewers, showed the colours, and dances and music, tradition and culture that it lived and breathed in. Costing £3000 a second, China made a huge statement to world, and the media’s endless coverage still has a lasting impact on the selling of China.

The recent appearance of two Pandas, Tian Tian and Ying Guang, at Edinburgh zoo has also created mass media attention. This has also created a huge tourist boost, and can only do well in China’s attempts to sell itself to the world. Is has also improved the relations between Britain and China, and has been taken favourably by the majority of the media, with the story making front page of newspapers for a considerable period.

Tian Tian - whose name means Sweetie, enjoying a well earned rest.

Mr Liu Xiaoming, ambassador of China to the UK, said: “This historical agreement is a gift to the people of the UK from China. It will represent an important symbol of our friendship and will bring our two people closer together”

On the other hand, many have unfairly criticised this as a move to turn attention away from China’s human rights record.

In summary, China is a country that does have its problems, and these are frequently depicted to the British public by the media. However, although they must be considered we all must bear in mind that China is still and up and coming super power, and still has time to develop and correct its issues.  The media has the power to sell China to us, and when it broadcasts huge events like the Olympic games, or the arrival of the pandas, it allows us to see the good side of China, one full of culture and tradition beyond imagination. China is already changing its ways, and, as long as it continues, it will continue to sell itself to the world.