Post-1970s, Post-1980s, Post-1990s – The enhanced Chinese generation gap
March 25, 2012gil4 Commentscollege students, consumerism, Cultural Revolution, food scare, generation gap, home prices, Internet shopping, Marriage, marriageable age, materialism, nouveau riche, One-child policy, post 1990s, post 90s, post-1980, romantic relationship, same-sex marriage, Social Issues, stock market, unemployment
Note: Gil Hizi is Ministry of Tofu’s contributor. He is also the chief editor of website Thinking Chinese.
China is giving great attention to the sharp differences between the 70hou (Post-1970s, Chinese born between 1970 and 1979), 80hou (Post-1980s, Chinese born between 1980 and 1989) and 90hou (Post-1990s, Chinese born between 1990 and 1999), as stereotypes ‘defining’ each group reflect value transformation. The popular generalizations of the hard-working Post-70s, the capitalist Post-80s and the selfish Post-90s are not only contrasting each other, but also evolving as we speak.
The Post-70s reached puberty when the reform era (initiated in 1979) was already on its way. Still, they were emotionally shaped (early childhood) in the midst of the Cultural Revolution, an age of instability and uncertainties regarding the future. Education wasn’t widespread and the unconditional devotion to the communist leadership was nationally enforced. Today, while they overall cherish the economical development and the growth of the powerful Chinese nation, the Post-80s also see how values are changing in a blink of an eye. They lament that today’s youngsters, instead of valuing the opportunity to attend school are complaining about study pressure. Similarly, modern youth spends money on superficial merchandise instead of acknowledging the importance of money-saving. Not to mention values of solidarity, friendship and marriage, which are treated more and more casually these days, often coupled with materialistic interests.
The Post-80s are only one decade away from the Post-70s and are mostly sons and daughters of parents born in the 1950s or 1960s. The social turbulence of the Mao regime is past tense for them and it is up to their parents to decide whether or not to share the past experiences with them. Some parents want their kids to cherish every opportunity given by the new era, shaping their offspring into a more ‘Post-70s’ formation. In many other cases parents enjoy the fact their kids only know reform-era China and wish them to enjoy the new comfortable lifestyle. In such cases parents might promote the formation of spoiled children and in extreme cases raise selfish nouveau riche youngsters (fuerdai). The initiation of the single-child policies has made such phenomenon even more widespread, as parents show greater attention to the happiness of their single offspring while neglecting discipline.
In what aspects are the Post-90s so different from the Post-80s? While the negative stereotypes of the Post-80s are associated with the emergence of a selfish group that directs a course of value deterioration, this generation also carries some burden on its shoulders. Being a single child can mean more study and work pressures as the family’s sole successor. As they graduate, the Post-80s experience the competition of the market economy and the challenge of buying an apartment. ‘Yueguangzu‘ (youngsters who spend their entire monthly income) and ‘woju‘ (Living in humble abode, carrying the economic burden of purchasing an apartment throughout many years) are some of the terms the express less casual sides of the Post-80s experience.
The Post-90s suffer from similar prospects, but are they do not seem to be guinea pigs in a new socioeconomic experience. The problems of student pressure and high prices are already socially acknowledged facts and the emotional needs of the individual are taken into greater consideration. This doesn’t mean that the Post-90s don’t eat bitterness (chiku 吃苦), but at least the system is providing more means to overcome stress and, intentionally or not, opening the door for neo-liberal individualistic values.
In terms of consumerism, the Post-90s take it to the next level, being very selective and aware. Internet shopping is a past time hobby and needless to say, the internet is also becoming a major social hangout and realm of self-expression for the Post-90s adolescents.
From left to right: Couple born in the 70s, 80s, 90s.
A survey conducted by Guangzhou Committee of the Communist Youth League of China tried to provide some data to support popular stereotypes. The survey found big differences between members of the three generations in attitudes towards marriage (the Post-70s wanting to keep the family ‘secure’ in any cause, Post-80s seeing divorce as something that can be celebrated at times), shopping (the Post-90s strongly favor online shopping), money-saving (The Post-70s constantly consider how to save their incomes) and work time (overtime hours tolerated only by the Post-70s). This survey is indeed interesting, though such comparison is problematic because it reflects differences between age groups and doesn’t indicate, for example, how the Post-70s behaved a decade ago (when being at an age equivalent to the Post-80s.
Except for the different childhood conditions, the three groups are still evolving and being shaped by their life development and social trends. The Post-70s are entering their 40s and already enjoy (or suffering from) a stable job, marriage and children. The Post-80s try to adjust to adult reality and stand on their feet, while the Post-90s… what do we want from them so early?! They are just finishing school and beginning to think of adulthood, still lacking deep insights.
As the Post-80s are building their families and the Post-90s are starting to become responsible citizens, numerous follow-up studies are expected to deepen the understanding of these unique generations, while the Chinese popular discourse will continue to regards these groups as agents of changing values: Sometimes as ‘good modern individuals’ that lead China forward, and sometimes as warning signs for an over-permissive and superficial culture.
For all the differences among the three generations, they do have one thing in common: frustration. Below is a translation of a very popular post on the web about frustrations that characterize each generation born after the founding of the People’s Republic of China struggling with rapid changes in state policies, values and zeitgeist.
Frustrations of the Post-90s:
By the time we were born, milk powder had already been poisonous;As we grow up, there are only junk food;By the time we entered kindergarten, they had started charging exorbitant tuition fees;By the time we graduate from college, graduation spells unemployment;When I want to work hard and make money, the stock market has busted;When I strive to start a romantic relationship, all handsome guys have turned gay;When I wish to follow every trend, being anti-fashion is all the vogue!
Frustrations of the Post-80s:
When we were in primary school, college education was free;By the time we entered college, primary education had become free;Before we entered the job market, jobs were assigned and guaranteed by the government;By the time we entered the job market, we had to bang our heads against a brick wall in order to secure a job that can narrowly tide us over;Before we started to make money, housing was assigned and guaranteed by the government;By the time we started to make money, we found that home prices are far beyond us;Before we entered the stock market, even idiots made a profit;；By the time we entered the stock market brashly, we found in the end that we are actually idiots;Before we reach marriageable age, one riding a bicycle could get a wife;By the time we want to get married, it is improbable to get a wife without a decent house and a car;Before we start dating, girls were concerned with feelings and emotions;By the time we start dating, girls are concerned with money;Before we start job hunting, one with primary education could be a leader;By the time we start job hunting, one with college degree can only clean restrooms;Before we consider having a baby, others could procreate a bunch;By the time we consider having a baby, none can have an extra one.
Frustrations of the Post-70s:
When we were born, milk powder could not be bought;When we were growing up, meat could only be obtained with a ration coupon;When we needed a faith, the faith collapsed;When we needed an ideal, the ideal vanished;When we needed spiritual comfort, we started to be enveloped in a materialistic world;By the time we wanted to buy a house, there had been no more assigned housing;By the time we went to college, college degrees had became less valuable;By the time we graduated from college, we had started to depend on our own when hunting for a job;By the time we started dating, a romantic relationship had morphed into a monetary relationship;By the time we wanted kids, we could only have one kid;By the time we need to support the elderly, there are six seniors above each of us to provide for. (Parents, paternal grandparents, maternal grandparents)
Frustrations of the Post-60s:
When we were born, we were caught up in the Three Bitter Years; (The Great Famine)When we needed education, we were caught up in the Cultural Revolution;When we needed work, we were caught up in the mass layoffs;When we needed to support our families, the state-owned enterprises were sold (privatized);When we needed to procreate, the state only let us have one kid;When we are now educating children, we are stuck with the Post-90s who speak alien;When we need to be supported, we are met with the Post-90s who only know how to be supported.
Frustrations of the Post-50s:
When we were born, the New China was barely in good shape;When we were growing up, we were starved beanpoles; (The Great Famine)When we should enter kindergarten, instead we followed our parents to the fields,When we were in primary school, even a pupil was more cultured than the rest of the population;When we were in high school, we were caught up in the Red Guards’ Movement;When we were still receiving education, we were met with the Cultural Revolution;When we should start working, we were sent down to the countryside;When we were dating, only an arranged relationship was encouraged;When we got married, a double bed was not possible without piecing two single beds together;When we were in the prime of our professional life, we were laid off;When we finally want to take a rest and enjoy ourselves, we are stuck with the parasitic Post-80s!
1.) The above discussion is mainly relevant to China’s urban sphere.
2.) The humorous intervals were taken from a Renren blog.
Jing Gao contributed to this story.