Review of Asian Studies

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Virginia Review of Asian Studies

Volume 16 (2014): 202-216

Donovan: China’s Growing Generation Gap



Recently, China has attracted attention due to its economic growth and steadily increasing political influence. Theories suggest that China will be the next central player in world politics and that it will have the largest economy in the world (Zhao, 2012). Concurrently, there are arguments that dispute those claims and insist that China cannot support that kind of development for long (Zhao, 2012). Regardless of these arguments, the amount and the rate of development in China has already begun to alter the culture of its people and has created a Generation Gap that threatens the stability of the People’s Republic of China.

Born during and after the 1980s under the economic reforms and policies of Deng Xiao Ping, a new generation of Chinese citizens is maturing and moving in the opposite direction of the older generation. The previous generation, born under the influence of Mao Zedong’s Red Communist cosmovision from 1949 to 1976, values community, family, hard work, and modesty. However, the opening of the Chinese economy to Western influence and the growth of its State Capitalist Market1, along with the implementation of the One-Child Policy, have led to the deterioration of those values. The One-Child Policy, which has led to a decreasing population of females (discussed later in this paper), has drastically shifted the views and stature of women in Chinese society, as Kay Johnson and her colleagues discuss in their article “Infant Abandonment and Adoption in China (1998). Internet media sensation and social commentator Zhang Lijia expresses the views of many women in China who refuse to settle for men who do not meet the requirements of the new generation of financially independent and educated females, referencing the music video by Long Si Yu “黄金剩女版《没有车没有房》” [“huangjin shengnü ban <meiyou che meiyou fang>”; “Golden Age Women version of ”] (2011) that responds to the original song “No Car, No House” directed towards women by jilted men. Others, like Jiaming Sun and Xun Wang, authors of “Value Differences between Generations in China: a study in Shanghai” (2010), take a quantitative approach and identify the differences between the old and the young since the opening of the market economy.
The cultural gap between China’s older and younger generations is significant because it is leading to growing resentment, miscommunication, unrest, and controversy within both political and social circles. If the Chinese Communist Party continues to leave the problems caused by the generation gap unaddressed, it is likely that protests and calls for reform by the younger Chinese will increase in number and strength, while the elderly will continue to blame their offspring for the issues plaguing their society. It is necessary that the Chinese Communist Party respond to and begin to resolve the problems created by the Generation Gap in order to ensure the future political stability and continued economic growth of their country.
In order to map out the problems that the Chinese Government needs to address, and to discuss how the State Capitalist economy and One-Child Policy are causing a divide in Chinese ideology, this project will look at a variety of sources. The connections made between sources that address the problems that their society faces today will be traced back to the roots of the issue: the economy and the One-Child Policy. Qualitative sources such as films, novels, blogs, journals, and music will be analyzed in order to explore the values that have changed between the generations. Quantitative data collected by researchers mathematically define the degree and extent of the divide. The focus of the analysis will be to explore the connections and relations between societal problems rather than merely defining the generation gap.
Vanessa L. Fong, Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Harvard University, and Ying Wang MD, discuss the development of the One-Child Policy and the psychological development of single children in China in their article, “Little Emperors and the 4:2:1 Generation: China’s Singletons” (2009). The One-Child Policy, implemented in 1978, helped to curb the population growth that the government anticipated would exceed the carrying capacity of China’s economic progress and natural resources (Wang & Fong, 2009,1137). The State Family Planning Bureau that issues fines and confiscates property, among other methods, enforces the One-Child Policy (Wang & Fong, 2009, 1137). In his blog entry entitled “Social Regression, Government Extortion” (2007), HanHan, one of China’s most famous bloggers, commented on the flaws in the enforcement of the policy. New China Publishing Agency in Hefei, China published an article announcing that the new law regarding fees for the rich who violate the One-Child Policy would be “three to four times the annual income” for those who have a second child illegally, and if another child is born the “upbringing fees will be levied at double the previous rate” (Han, 2013, 19).
The purpose of this new law was to demonstrate to the Chinese citizens that the government was trying to address corruption and rule breaking by the wealthy, who commonly disregard the seriousness of the One-Child Policy (Han, 2013, 19). In response, HanHan questions whether or not taxing is effective since the rich can afford the fees and extra taxes while the poor, who are subject to disproportionate fines compared to their income, cannot afford the taxes, and as a result cannot adequately provide for an ‘extra’ child (2013, 20). HanHan sarcastically, and critically, addresses the government saying, “If the [poor] have no income, or negative income, then logically shouldn’t the authorities be imposing a negative fine on negative income, in which case wouldn’t the government, in effect, be paying the poor for having extra children?” (2013, p. 20). HanHan does not necessarily say he is against the One-Child Policy, only that the enforcement of the law is not fair or effective, since higher taxes on the rich will not deter them from having more children, and the law fails to address the problem of poor people having children for whom they cannot provide (2013, 21).
Regardless of its reception among the citizens, the policy has “prevented 250-300 million births,” reducing the fertility rate “from 5.7 births per woman in 1970 to 1.7 births per woman in 2000-2005” (Wang &Fong, 2009, 1137). The children born under this policy, lacking siblings, are often associated with undesirable characteristics and the tendency of parents to indulge their child’s every whim. These children became known as “小皇帝” [xiao huangdi] and “ 小公主” [xiao gongzhu], meaning “Little Emperors” and “Little Princesses” respectively.

These so-called “spoiled children” have nevertheless become the sole hope of their parents to improve their standard of living and to become successful to bring honor to their families. They are now being referred to as the “4:2:1 Generation,” deriving from the “fact that one married couple (both singletons) will ultimately need to simultaneously care for four aging parents and one child” (Wang & Fong, 2009, 1139). In an increasingly competitive environment, students will spend long hours in preparation for the 高考 [gaokao], or the college entrance exams, since “entrance into a top university…[is] deemed the only way to secure a good future” (Wang & Fong, 2009, 1139). HanHan, as a member of the younger generation, expresses his displeasure towards the older generation’s expectations in his blog entry “Youth” (2010): “families may not treat them with much affection, for how much you earn is commonly the sole criterion Chinese families have for determining the value of a child” (2013, 157).

Even if success of the child does occur, it is not guaranteed that the members of the 4:2:1 Generation will do as their parents request and take care of the elderly. In their study of value differences in Chinese youth, Jiaming Sun, from the Department of Sociology at Texas A&M University, and Xun Wang, from the department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, have discovered that the younger generations are more individualistic and “likely to live according to their own lifestyles regardless of what others think, and they are less likely to follow the traditional collective ideology” (Sun &Wang, 2010, 79). In an increasingly modern China where the population has been ranked as the most materialistic in the world, the success of the child does not necessarily equate to the welfare of the parents (Sun &Wang, 2010, p. 79). Buying into consumerism and materialism offered by the market economy, Chinese youth desire to increase their own standard of living in the cities, and may not consider their parents’ desires.
The rebellious nature of Chinese children today is not limited solely to single children. The tendency of children to neglect their parents’ hopes and dreams in favor of following their own ambitions can be seen in Lixin Fan’s documentary, the Last Train Home (2010). In rural China, the One-Child Policy is not as strictly enforced. Knowing her parents prefer and favor her brother over her, Qin decides to go to the city to work in a factory against her parents’ wishes. A year passes, and Qin returns home with her parents, who are also migrant workers, to spend the holidays. Tensions grow as her parents attempt to persuade her to return to school, and counter to traditional obedience, Qin curses at her father. After receiving a beating, Qin returns to the city and finds a new job in a Western style club, serving alcohol in traditionally inappropriate clothing. The documentary ends with her parents expressing disappointment after the 2008 financial crisis, saying that all their hopes rest on their children to be able to provide for them when they are older.
Instead of investing in more government assistance to the elderly to solve this problem, China has implemented a new law that went into effect in July of 2013. This new law requires that adult children go home to visit their elderly parents in an attempt “to protect the lawful rights and interests of parents aged 60 and older, and to carry on the Chinese virtue of filial piety” (Einhorn, 2013). The law fails to mention how often children must visit their parents and the consequences if they do not choose to visit, but it does require businesses to allow children to take off time to travel back home (Einhorn, 2013). In 2011, the population of elderly above the age of 60 in China constituted 185 million people; China’s National Committee on Aging believes that in forty years this number will increase to 487 million (Einhorn, 2013). With an increasing number of elderly and an ever-dwindling workforce due to the One-Child Policy, the Chinese “fear they will grow old before they grow rich” (Einhorn, 2013). When one looks at these statistics, it is no wonder that the older generation expects the younger to provide for them. However, the younger generation expects more freedoms and does not desire to work to provide for the older generation. Instead, they wish to be successful and benefit themselves.
The implementation of the One-Child Policy has also caused another issue: child abandonment and abortion. Traditional Chinese values support and encode the idea of “重男轻女” [zhongnan qingnü], literally “heavy boy, light girl.” This phrase represents the importance of each gender in a child. Males have heavy importance in the family since they carry the family name and are traditionally the ones to support the parents. Females are of light importance since they marry away to join the male’s family and require a dowry.
According to Kay Johnson, professor of Asian Studies and Politics at Hampshire College who focuses on women, development, and population policy in China, 90% of abandoned children are females (1998, 475). Of those girls, 87% have no brothers, meaning they are left so that the parents may have a chance of birthing a son (Johnson, 1998, 475-476). Boys are also abandoned; however, the majority of males left behind have some form of a disability, whether it is mental or physical (Johnson, 1998, 476). The study also showed that 79% of children are left under the age of two months (Johnson, 1998, p. 477). It is unclear what happens to the abandoned children. Most parents place children in high population density areas so that others may find and adopt the infants, but it is clear that some do die (Johnson, 1998, 502).
Nevertheless, this study focuses mainly on a rural population and does not consider urban pregnancies. The One-Child Policy in the suburbs and rural areas is not as strict as in urban areas. Rural families are sometimes allowed to have two children if the first-born is a female and the second a male. In the case that a male is born first, that is the only child permitted. Rural families are limited to two children maximum, even if both are females; they may not continue to have children until a male is born. One must question how many families know the gender before giving birth. Does the knowledge of the gender lead to the abortion of female babies? If the first child is a girl and the gender of the second child is known before birth, would the second child be aborted if female? According to Wei Xing Zhu, professor at Zhejiang Normal University, and his colleagues who conducted research on the matter, it is likely that the availability of ultrasounds, even to the rural poor, and the legality of abortion may play a role in the gender inequality (Zhu, 2009, p. 5). Wei Xing Zhu does state that abortion based on gender is illegal, but determining whether an abortion was performed due to gender is hard to prove (Zhu, 2009, p. 5).
Whether or not the girls that are abandoned survive, or whether or not females are being aborted before birth, one thing is certain: there are overwhelmingly more males than females in the younger generations of China. Official estimates say that there are 120 males for every 100 females, and that by 2030 more than 25% of Chinese men born in the younger generation will never marry due to lack of eligible females (Eberstadt, 2010).
Professor of Evolution at the University of New South Wales, Rob Brooks, whose research focuses on the evolution of sexual behaviors, worries that the millions of single men in China by 2030 will have devastating effects socially. One of the reasons for choosing a male over a female is based on the tradition that men will ensure the future of the family name through reproduction, while the female will leave the family through marriage. Brooks fears that the future of China could contain uprisings of millions of angry, unmarried, young men; with every 1% increase in the sex ratio, there will be a 6% increase in violence (2013). Brook’s concerns have historical precedence. The last time men in China were unable to fulfill the societal pressure to reproduce, the Nian Rebellion occurred (Brooks, 2013). The Nian Rebellion (1853-1868) started during the larger Taiping Rebellion, in response to the widespread famine and flooding in the Yellow River region that caused female infanticide (Brooks, 2013). During this time, there was a sex ratio of 129 men to every 100 women due to the abandonment of female children whose parents wanted more food for themselves and their male children (Hudson & den Boer, 2005). Additional problems within Chinese society can be linked to the growing gap between male and female populations, such as the higher levels of alcohol and drug abuse, as well as kidnapping and trafficking of women (Brooks, 2013).
Mo Yan, the 2012 Nobel Laureate of Literature from China, addresses the issue of child abandonment in relation to the trafficking of women in his short story, “Abandoned Child” (2001). The story focuses on unnamed male narrator who finds an abandoned girl in a sunflower field (Mo, 2001, 158). The narrator is a father of one girl and faces tremendous pressure from his family to produce a male; “… everyone in the family, was hoping against hope that my wife and I would produce a son so I could fulfill my responsibilities as a son and a husband” (Mo, 2001, p. 164). Throughout the story, the narrator relates how much of a burden the girl is to him after he saves her, and how his life could have been easier if he had left her there to die (Mo, 2001, 168-169). He also categorizes the type of children abandoned into four categories: the first as those abandoned by the poor, the second group as those with disabilities, third as those with mental handicaps, and the last type of abandoned children as those who are illegitimate (Mo, 2001, p. 170-172). In his attempt to figure out what to do with the child, the narrator visits the Township Head who informs him that if he abandons the girl again he will be charged with infanticide, but if he keeps her he will be fined for having two daughters (Mo, 2001, 177-178).
The story reaches its climax when the narrator tries to find the girl an adoptive family and runs into his old friend. This man “couldn't have been more than twenty-two or twenty-three,” but he still had not found a wife because “there just aren’t enough women to go around” (Mo, 2001, 182). This friend, in desperation, asks the narrator to give him the girl to raise until she turns eighteen when he plans to marry her (Mo, 2001, p. 182). While the narrator refuses to hand over the girl, Mo Yan makes it clear that some men do choose this option. Mo Yan’s short story is a commentary on the futile search for morality under the constraints of the One-Child Policy. The main character constantly searches for a way to keep the girl without undermining his values, but the law and society prevent him from doing what he feels is just.
While the pervious issues of female abandonment, decreasing female population, and increased aggression in men are all problems caused by the traditional values of the older generation, there is a countermovement within urban areas. Younger and more modern families within cities are proud to have daughters, not sons. A single child, as mentioned before, is responsible for the welfare of their aging parents. In many cases, it is a female child’s job to become successful. Parental support of a single female child, as well as government encouragement, has led to “unprecedented opportunities for women’s work, education, property ownership, and legal equality, whereas fertility limitation has eased childbearing and child rearing duties and enabled more freedom to pursue opportunities outside the home” (Wang & Fong, 2009, p. 1139). The newfound support given to female children is a massive shift in the traditional values.
Regardless of the fact that the older generation still values men over women, and that the younger generation tends (at least in an urban setting) not to have any gender preferences for their future children, the young females of China are now facing negative criticism from the older generation. In an attempt to become the successful women that their parents desire, many women are postponing marriage to get an education and pursue their careers. Women are, in fact, becoming so successful that a new idiom in China is being used to describe the gender reversal, “阴盛阳衰” [yinsheng yangshuai] or “Yin rises, Yang sinks” (Keenlyside, 2011). The idiom uses the term Yin, which represents female, and the term Yang, which represents male (from the YinYang symbol), to say that women have risen, sheng, and men have sunk, shuai. This idiom is the modern response to the ancient idiom “重男轻女” [zhongnan qingnü] which stresses the importance of having male children over female children, translating as “heavy males, light females.” Linguistic developments such as these two idioms, used by the younger generations, represent the growing acceptance of females as breadwinners for their families.
Unfortunately, the growing economic success of women means little to the older Chinese generations. Even though parents want their daughters to be successful, they also want them to get married. Another new term, 剩女 [shengnü] (literally meaning “left over woman”) “refers to women who are smart, successful and moneyed but still not married by the age of 28” (Keenlyside, 2011).
While some parents are understanding, grandparents still view the security of the family as ensured only when the female is married since females are traditionally an economic burden and require men to take care of them (Keenlyside, 2011). The contradictory expectation, to provide for their parents as single children and being valued only when married, angers many women. Parents expect their children to put dating aside while attending university and then, after years of discouragement, to find a partner. Upon graduating they are “suddenly expected to know how to find a rich boyfriend who has a car and a house,” says Wu Manling, a magazine editor in China (Keenlyside, 2011). Another problem arises with the fact males in China still desire submissive caretakers for their children, which does not match up with the women that the new generation is producing under the One-Child Policy (Keenlyside, 2011).
Because of the One-Child policy there is an increasing percentage of men and a decreasing percentage of women in the Chinese population. Of these women, those living in the cities have the opportunity to become better-educated and more self-sufficient than previous generations. More now than ever, it is up to these women to decide whom they marry. Of the 25% of men who will be left over, it is more likely that they will be from the countryside “since the poor, uneducated, and rural population will be more likely to lose out in the competition for brides” (Eberstadt, 2010). The older generation, ever preoccupied about the marriage status of their daughters and granddaughters, calls the young women too picky and shallow since there are so many men from whom to choose a husband (Keenlyside, 2011).
Recently, in retaliation to this criticism, Long Si Yu and fifteen of her friends created a music video explaining why it is actually the fault of the men for not keeping up with the women (2011). They explain that they are not gold-digging or looking for money; they are looking for their equals (Long, 2011). The lyrics of the song that are most revealing state: “If you have a car and a house, my mother also asks how much savings do you have? If you do not have a car or a house, get out of my way. I have a car, I have a house, and I have money in the bank. If you are not as capable as me, do not plan to mooch off me, I am not your girl” (Long, 2011)2. Naturally, this was a very polemical music video, and millions of people have now viewed the song on China’s version of Youtube, “Youku.” In spite of the pressures that women face to find a mate, some do eventually find their equals. This, however, still brings criticism of lifestyle choice from the older generations.
There is a modern lifestyle choice that receives considerable criticism from the traditional Chinese frame of mind. The lifestyle is what is now known as “丁克家庭” [dingke jiating] which literally translates as “Dual Income, No Kids Family” and is referred to simply as DINK. According to the Shanghai Star, an English language newspaper distributed in Shanghai, in 2002 over twelve percent of the married population in Shanghai chose to be DINK families (“Childless couples,” 2002). Findings from a survey, run by the Shanghai Women's Federation and the Sociology Department of Fudan University, show that the approval rating for the DINK lifestyle was split at 34% in favor of DINK families and 35% in opposition (“Childless couples,” 2002). In modern day China, DINK families offer women and men an opportunity to fulfill the desires of their parents to get married, while not sacrificing their own ambitions to continue working. The four main reasons young Chinese couples are choosing DINK lifestyles are as follows: babies require “too much energy”; having children will “affect working quality”; raising a child will “reduce economic power”; and having parental responsibilities “will upset the romantic world of the couple” (“Childless couples,” 2002). This modern mindset is at odds with traditional Chinese culture and often upsets the older generation who vehemently disapprove of this choice. During the Mao Zedong era, women were encouraged to have many children, since population was viewed as a resource (“Childless couples,” 2002).
Having a baby is traditionally one of China’s most important values (“Childless couples,” 2002). Wendy Chen, one woman who chose a DINK family, says she is still disappointing her parents by not providing a grandchild, and they do not understand why she does not want the burden (“Childless couples,” 2002). Wendy believes that in an extremely competitive work environment, going on maternity leave could ruin her chances of future promotion. Her mother sees this as irrelevant since Wendy can already financially support a child: “How can they think they can't afford to bring up a child? Their total income has reached over 10,000 yuan (US$1,210) per month, how can they fail to support a baby?” (“Childless couples,” 2002). Other reasons for not adhering to the DINK family concept focuses on the concern of future stability if there are no children to support the couple. Many DINK families are addressing this issue by continuing to work and saving money as a resource for their future pension (“Childless couples,” 2002). The DINK lifestyle seems to be a compromise between the pressures to get married while simultaneously making enough money to support their parents and themselves in old age. It should be noted that this lifestyle choice may further contribute to the diminishing work force and is potentially an unstable model if its popularity continues to increase. It will also cause further criticism from the older generation.
While the older generation focuses on money as a means to future security and stability, the younger generation views money in a much different light. As mentioned previously, the Chinese youth have been ranked the most materialistic population in the world (Sun &Wang, 2010, 79). Gil Hizi, a blogger whose goal is to help Americans to better understand Chinese culture, discusses in a recent blog post the differences in thought among the 70后 [70hou, post-70s],80后[80hou, post-80s], and 90后 [90hou, post-90s] generations (2012). After conducting various interviews, Hizi found that the 70后’s, 80后’s, and 90后’s opinions towards work are: “all the workaholics are Post-70s”, “[the Post-80s] refuse to work overtime”, and “[the Post-90s] refuse to work” (2012). He surmises that the older generations value working, while the younger generations want money to come to them from other sources. This is reaffirmed in their economic positions. The 70后 are proud that they have savings accounts, the 80后 are upset that they have heavy economic debt, and the 90后feel that their parents should pay for everything (Hizi, 2012).
The Chinese government is concerned that the growing levels of consumerism and materialism will have a negative influence on the society (Yoon, 2013). The government has been cracking down on TV shows and movies that display too much consumerist or materialistic influence (Yoon, 2013). A prime example of this is the popular dating show If you are the one, based in Nanjing, China. In this show, the women are allowed to vote on potential suitors, but apparently the women voted off too many men who did not have enough money (Yoon, 2013). It is ironic that the Chinese government pushes for, and often promotes, a market-style economy while still trying to stay loyal to the “Maoist” ideal. Unfortunately for the Chinese government, public opinion already assumes that the younger generations are focused on wealth and materialist gains (Yoon, 2013).
This representation of the Chinese youth as selfish shopaholics is not limited to reality shows, but it is also represented in huge blockbuster productions. Guo Jingming directed 小时代 [xiaoshi dai; literally Hour Generation] or Tiny Times (2013), which was based on his best-selling, eponymous novel. This film has been compared to Western hits such as Sex in the City and The Devil Wears Prada, and it focuses on seemingly independent and modern Chinese women who go shopping and desire rich husbands (“The generation gap,” 2013). According to the press, “the reaction to this movie is laying bare the gaping chasm between a socially conscious older generation and its individualistic, ‘aspirational’ youth” (“The generation gap,” 2013). The movie broke the record for a Chinese 2D film with US$11.9 million being earned on the first day and earning up to US$77 million by the third week (“The generation gap,” 2013). The older generation in China views the film as “celebrating China’s contemporary ills: a society with increasing inequality, moral corruption, and a dearth of social responsibility” (“The generation gap,” 2013). One film critic, Raymond Zhou, who belongs to the older generation, went so far as to say that the film “paraded beauty and wealth” and represented the Chinese people as having “pathological greed” (“The generation gap,” 2013).
Since his criticism of the movie on China’s version of Twitter, “Sina Weibo,” Zhou has been verbally attacked by the younger generation (“The generation gap,” 2013). Zhou’s comments have been “retweeted” over 60,000 times, most with negative retorts such as: “You are insulting our young people…we have enthusiasm and dreams. We can fight for what we want” (“The generation gap,” 2013). The Chinese youth’s concept of dreams is not what most Westerns may think. They associate wealth and possessions with success and believe that they have earned the right to raise their standard of living. The older generation believes that the mark of true success is reaching their full potential. Comments, such as the retorts towards Zhou’s review, further demonstrate that the Chinese youth aspire to have wealth and the ability to spend money on items like those featured in Tiny Times (2013), such as Christian Louboutin stilettos and other high-priced, Western, luxury items.
A slideshow published on Reuters’s online, “China’s rising consumerism,” shows just how Western the consumerism in China is becoming. The slideshow features twenty-one different pictures of local Chinese people shopping in cities around China and shows how the “rising disposable incomes coincide with a change in psychology among young consumers” (Reuters). One of the pictures shows the first ever McDonald’s in Shenzhen, China that is surrounded by traditional architecture highlighting the contrast between the old and the new high-rises and Western companies (Reuters, 2013). Another photo shows the reselling of an Apple iPhone 5 a few minutes after the release in China for at least US$150 more than the original price at which it was sold (Reuters, 2012). The Reuters’ slideshow also features shoppers that can be seen buying Gucci purses (2012), Mont Blanc watches (2012), Louis Vuitton shoes (2011), Dell laptops (2010), and Scottish Whisky (2010).
Perhaps one of the largest differences among the generations is the access to, and the effects of, technology. Today’s youth in China are “connected to their gadgets 24/7” (Yoon, 2013). Much as in America, youth are being criticized for taking more interest in texting and surfing the web than in their human-to-human interactions. In 2003, the film 手机 [shouji] Cell phone by Feng Xiaogang was released causing quite a stir in Chinese society. The film features a main character named Fei Mo who, with the aid of his cell phone, has two extramarital affairs. Fei Mo’s seemingly high ground moral friend Yeng Shou-Yi makes a wise statement to his friend saying: “Cell phones are like hand grenades: if you don’t handle them properly, they can destroy you” (Feng, 2003). Fei Mo’s wife and Yeng Shou-Yi’s wife eventually make a trip to retrieve their husbands’ cell phone records and discover that both men are cheating (Feng, 2003). Since the film’s release, many women in China have demanded to see their partner’s text messages and phone records (“Feng Xiaogang,” 2004). The problem became increasingly serious to the point that China Mobile (whose slogan is ironically “Communication comes from the heart”) had to issue a statement ensuring that the men’s privacy would not be breached (“Feng Xiaogang,” 2004).
The response from Chinese women to this film is part of a new trend in China. People began to realize that technology could be used against others. Technology is not only a means to receive information and communicate, but it is now a way to spill secrets and reveal corruption. The older generation, born under the restrictive Mao regime, grew up with the understanding that if they spoke out against the government, either directly or indirectly, they would be labeled as “capitalists” and either killed or sent to the infamous reeducation camps.
The younger generation seems to be scared less of confronting their government. In a show of defiance, mistresses of corrupt government officials have started to use the Internet to their advantage (Carlson, 2013). The phenomenon of government officials with mistresses is common enough that there are specific terms that exist to describe these women. The first is “小三” [xiao san] meaning “little third” and the second is “二奶” [ernai] meaning “second woman”. Using popular blogging sites, these mistresses have revealed the corruption of mid-level and top-level government officials. What more direct way to get back at an ex-lover, while simultaneously speaking out against corruption, could possibly exist? There are several examples that have led to government officials losing their positions. Fan Yue was the deputy director of the State Archives Administration until his mistress, Ji Yingnan, posted pictures of them on the Internet (Carlson, 2013). The deputy chairman for the Economic Planning Department, Liu Tie’nan, was fired after his ex-mistress revealed his embezzlement and fraud (worth over US$200 million) from banks and his deception about his academic qualifications (Carlson, 2013).
Mistresses are not the only ones who are speaking out against corruption and problems within the government. Many citizens and journalists in China are reporting on the corruption of their leaders. Hanhan, who never seems pleased by any sort of progress and always demands more of his country, speaks about his views on corruption in his blog entry, “In praise of Feng Shunqiao” (2008). The Hangzhou People’s Intermediate Court found Feng Shunqiao, the secretary general of Zhejiang Province, guilty of accepting bribes and sentenced him to prison (Han, 2012, 77). According to the government, Feng had stolen close to 800,000 yuan (about US$116,827) during a time spanning approximately 13 years (Han, 2012, 78). HanHan does not believe that the arrest of this government official deserves much merit, saying: “compared to many corrupt officials who have amassed tens of millions of yuan through graft (hardly any of it ever recorded) and are sentenced to life imprisonment (which probably means release after 20 years), it looks like unlucky old Feng got a bad deal” (Han, 2012, 78). The blogger believes that while it is good that one official was caught, the larger problem of the government protecting and ignoring worse embezzlers still exists and needs to be addressed. HanHan continues to say ironically that “if all of [the Chinese] officials were as honorable as [Feng]…. this would be a heaven-sent blessing for working common folk” (Han, 2012, 78).
HanHan is one of the lucky bloggers who has reached fame through his criticisms of the government and has not yet faced repercussions. Other young generation bloggers who are upset with the way the older generation is running the country are not as lucky. Yang Hengjun is a political blogger who used to work for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the People’s Government of Hainan Province. He now lives in Australia and is known online as the “democracy hawker” (“China media”). Yang Hengjun disappeared from Guangzhou’s Baiyun airport on March 30, 2011 after calling a friend and informing him that he was being followed by three men (Garnaut, 2011). Yang’s writings attempt to convince his readers to protest and fight for democratic rights (Garnaut, 2011). He thinks that the youth have a responsibility, a patriotic duty, to demand more of their government (Garnaut, 2011). Although Yang Hengjun eventually was released from custody, his kidnapping shows that the Chinese government will not tolerate high profile, direct criticism of its policies. HanHan has managed to find a balance between ironic criticism of Chinese society that allude to problems within the government while simultaneously expressing support and optimism towards future progress.
In Yang’s case, retroactive action was taken against him as he was arrested after his postings were made popular on the Internet. However, China does have preventive measures to help control the messages that reach Internet users. George Yeo, the former foreign minister of Singapore, and Eric X. Li, a venture capitalist in Shanghai, attempt to explain the balance between the popularity of China’s “Sina Weibo” and “Great Fire Wall” in their article “Yin and Yang: Sina Weibo and the Chinese State” (2012). The Great Fire Wall is a term that is used to describe the firewalls and censoring that takes place on the Chinese Internet. It restricts access to certain webpages or even general topics and searches. Used in conjunction with the Great Fire Wall, human “commenters,” who are paid by the government, post on webpages and comment on anti-government “Weibos” (tweets) in order to promote positive images and discourse (Han, 2012, 116). George Yeo and Eric Li believe that “many are decrying [these measures] as China’s further violation of freedom of expression, [but] the reality is far more complicated” (Yeo & Li, 2012, 7). They feel that the Chinese Internet is “one of the most vibrant economic and social cyberspaces in the world” with QQ and Sina alone reaching over 200 million active users “expressing their views on anything and everything from sex to official corruption” (Yeo &Li, 2012, 7). Simultaneously, however, everything is monitored: “when social crises occur, keyword barriers are erected to prevent amplifications that threaten stability” (Yeo & Li, 2012, 7).
While the Chinese government is not going to lift restrictions anytime in the near future, the outspoken nature of the young Internet users is making progress. According to Yeo and Li, “social media has enabled the Chinese government to overcome an age-old problem of poor feedback of ground problems to the center because of too many layers in between, risking explosions due to over-suppression” (2012, 8). The Chinese government is using the Internet to “help maintain social stability despite rapid change” where “old values have been undermined before new values develop, leading to crass materialism” (Yeo & Li, 2012, 8-9). However, many of the younger generation still believe that the key to solving China’s problems lies in freer self-expression and less restricted Internet (Yoon, 2013).

On the other hand, the government and older generations are blaming the youth for the problems in society because they do not share the same value system. HanHan asks us to consider the following: “people born in the 1980s … exercise no real power to speak of, so the damage caused by abuses of power cannot be their fault” (Han, 2012, 13). HanHan also concedes that the negatives associated with his and younger generations may be true, but points out their virtues: “… we can happily note that this generation has initiated improvements in general standards of conduct: basic things like not littering, spitting, or cutting in line have been habits gradually established by those born after the Cultural Revolution” (Han, 2012, p. 12). While he does mention that Chinese society is changing with respect to certain habits, HanHan fails to address how changes in the younger generation’s values could result in the loss of traditional Chinese culture and have the potential to cause negative repercussions on Chinese society. Continuance of selfish and wasteful spending without regard for the future stability of their families could overwhelm the existing social welfare programs in place.

The key word that HanHan uses to describe the change in China, which seems to contrast with popular opinion, is “gradual.” The younger generation has “gradually” changed standards in a time of rapid change. Liu Xiaobo, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 for his campaign for human rights in China, agreed during an interview that social and political change will occur slowly, even if economic change has occurred quickly (Liu, 2008). Liu Xiaobo believes that the continuation of the market-based economy will further the democratic movement taking place in China, and he stresses that the change in the younger generation will lead to positive progress for China (Liu, 2008). Liu Xiaobo does not believe that drastic change will be made during his lifetime, but continues to express optimism for the future (Liu, 2008). Since being interviewed, Liu Xiaobo has been placed under house arrest by the Chinese government. Liu Xiaobo’s arrest and lack of recognition as being the first Nobel Laureate from China( this distinction has been granted to Mo Yan for his 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature) by the government demonstrates that those who speak out against them threaten the security of the Chinese Communist Party. In an effort to control the image and reputation of the party, the government will violate human rights and repress those who receive recognition by other powerful entities.
While both HanHan and Liu Xiaobo hope for progress towards more Western style politics and morality, there are those who see no change being made within Chinese society. Tom Doctoroff, author of What Chinese Want (2012), warns against assuming too much too soon. He lists ten myths about Chinese society, two of which deserve consideration here. In regards to the first myth, that “populist anger means the party’s power is weakening,” Doctoroff explains that while social unrest may be increasing, so is the government’s ability to deter such displays (2012, 233). The second myth is that “American-style individualism is taking root” in China (Doctoroff, 2012, p. 233). Doctoroff describes the Chinese people as “instinctively anti-individualistic” and for this reason “human rights will never be the driving force of China’s evolution” (2012, 233). The Chinese people reacted with “sadness but not righteous indignation” towards the arrests of Liu Xiaobo and Ai Weiwei (Doctoroff, 2012, 235-236). He suggests that while differences exist between the old and the new, their outlooks are still distinctively Chinese and should not be confused with a radical shift from a society shaped by communism and Eastern mentality into the beginnings a progressive, democratic, and Western-style society.
Meanwhile, as this research paper has progressed, new laws have been made that could alter the future of China. During the Third Plenary Session of the 18th CPC Central Committee in Beijing held on November 9-12, 2013, the Chinese Government ratified laws that modify the One-Child Policy (Weisenthal, 2013). The law has already been once modified since its implementation in the 1978. Until recently, if both parents are single children, having no other siblings, they are allowed to have two children. Now, it seems, if one parent is a single child then the couple will be allowed to have two children (Weisenthal, 2013). There is no telling how this will affect the current problems dealing with the lack of a workforce, a growing gray population, and gender equality issues in the workplace and at home. If the current trend continues, more policy modifications in regards to the One-Child Policy and the economy will be made after the Chinese government reassesses the newest changes.

Chinese society is undergoing swift economic and political changes. In the last forty years alone, this evolution of Chinese culture has led to the remodeling of the traditional family structure. Due to technological advances, the younger generations have more opportunities to express their opinions and speak out against the government. The Chinese Communist Party, in an attempt to promote economic growth, has encouraged the youth to embrace capitalistic and materialistic values that are drastically different from their elders’ conventional communist standards. The Generation Gap in China is the foreshadowing of the potential loss of traditional Chinese culture. A similar shift occurred in the course of the Cultural Revolution during which children were encouraged to betray their parents and report them to the authorities if they witnessed or suspected a betrayal of Maoist ideology (Branigan, 2013). The Chinese government needs to be aware that they are on the cusp of change that could lead to continued uprisings and calls for reform. Addressing the materialistic fascination and obsession within their country is vital for continued progress. While the Chinese people may be instinctively anti-individualistic, ironically they are focusing an enormous amount of energy promoting individual material gains. The Chinese seem to be overlooking their need for social stability and safety in an attempt to obtain some form of comfort in wealth and possessions. A country whose population focuses on individual advancement does not contain the social consciousness to make headway in the fight for basic Human Rights and against political and moral corruption. Currently, Chinese society is in a state of crisis. The solution requires the citizenry to find a balance between obtaining their natural Human Rights from the repressive government while reducing the gradual progression towards the loss of core values that make them distinctly Chinese. Otherwise, one-fifth of the world’s population will succumb to their newly acquired, materialistic ideals and fail to progress as a nation.

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1 Often referred to in China as “Market Leninism.”

2 This translation is my own, the original Chinese is as follows:“问你有没有车问你有没有房,我妈妈她也问你存折有几长。假如你没有车 假如你也没有房,赶紧靠边别把路来挡。我也有车 我也有房,还有人民币在银行。你们要是还没有我强,别吃软饭我不是你的娘” [Wèn nǐ yǒu méiyǒu chē wèn nǐ yǒu méiyǒu fáng, wǒ māmā tā yě wèn nǐ cúnzhé yǒu jǐ zhǎng. Jiǎrú nǐ méiyǒu chē jiǎrú nǐ yě méiyǒu fáng, gǎnjǐn kàobiān bié bǎ lù lái dǎng. Wǒ yěyǒu chē wǒ yěyǒu fáng, hái yǒu rénmínbì zài yínháng. Nǐmen yàoshi hái méiyǒu wǒ qiáng, bié chī ruǎn fàn wǒ bùshì nǐ de niang] (Long, 2011).

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