The Economist headline: China’s intergenerational divide
Older intellectuals find young Chinese childish, nationalist and scary
As the Communist Party moved to reassert its authority after the traumas of 1989, it set out to redefine youth as a time for obedience, diligence and hard work for the Motherland, rather than rebellion. To that end, propaganda chiefs are not above using childish language themselves. In official media aimed at young people, the decades-long armed stand-off between China and the democratic island of Taiwan is sometimes presented as a family saga, with “A-Zhong Gege” (elder brother China) offering lessons to the little island “Wan Wan” (a diminutive for Taiwan). In President Xi Jinping’s first years in office, officially endorsed songs and media posts talked of “Xi Dada”, or Uncle Xi, though such informality is rarer today, replaced by deferential praise for the “people’s leader”. A mascot culture popular across East Asia has been co-opted by China’s rulers, with umpteen outfits, from the Communist Youth League to the police force, creating wide-eyed, childlike cartoon characters to deliver the party line.
Especially online, many young Chinese may sound more conformist, nationalist and even childish than liberal intellectuals would like. Cut-throat commercial competition has combined with oppressive censorship to make much of the Chinese internet an increasingly shallow and cynical place. Still, it is unfair and unwise to dismiss all young Chinese as giant babies. These are grim times to be young in China, with the economy faltering and graduate jobs in especially short supply. If those without hope find a voice, their anger will not be safely ignored.