China’s Generation Z

By Li Ying Source:Global Times Published: 2015-8-31 18:58:01

How today’s youth are setting themselves apart from their predecessors

Most of the urban post 00s children are versatile, investing afterschool time in developing their interests. Photo: IC

In trying to understand the complexities of society and its cultural norms - the so-called zeitgeist - it's become commonplace for people to categorize the populace according to their generation.

The millennials - those born in the 1980s and 1990s - have become a frequent focus in the media in recent years, but a new generation is emerging behind the scenes - the post 2000s, or post 00s. In the US, they are categorized as "Generation Z."

Wang Yuan, born in 2000, a member of the teen pop trio the TFBoys, sparked attention on Sina Weibo last week, when he became the first person born in the new millennium to accumulate 10 million followers. He has been described as the most influential person of China's post 00s generation, with more than 450,000 Weibo users joining the online discussion about his increasing popularity. Most of the TFBoys fans are young people born in the 1990s and 2000s.

In China's media and on social networking sites, the urban post 00s generation, who are now at primary and middle schools, are often dubbed "bear children."

This is a reference to them often being self-centered, bold and over-mature - sometimes behaving like adults, and not waiting for their parents to teach them things. They grow up in the world of the Internet, and it's their digital savvy that's expected to empower them in future.

"Many people are stereotyping the post 00s. But what you see is just [who we are] in a particular period in time. After 10 or 20 years, you will see the post 00s generation shine," Wang said of his generation.

Generation study researchers suggest that the post 00s generation may be more rational than the post 90s. Photo: IC

Ahead of their time

Lisa Li, 13, is about to start junior middle school this September. She was born into a well-off middle-class family in Beijing. Due to the nature of her parents' careers, Li has already traveled to about 20 countries and lived abroad for a couple of years.

She was one of the participants of the "Montessori Model United Nations" youth conference in Rome, Italy this year. Paired with another teenager, Li acted as a representative of Turkey, delivering her speech on the country's cultural and political issues. At the conference, she also entertained the audience by performing Chinese martial arts, nunchaku.

According to a survey targeting primary school students and carried out by the Communist Youth League Beijing Committee in May, about 27 percent of pupils said they would like to study abroad, deeming international travel and migration as commonplace.

"One of my dreams is to work for the United Nations, and I am also interested in fashion design, arts and architecture," said Li.

From a young age, Li has understood the value of investing time in getting experience for a global business environment in future.

She is also the winner of a national English talent competition and has already been preparing for TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) examinations.

"A lot of my friends are studying hard to pass their English exams such as TOEFL," said Li. "We sometimes compete against each other."

Li also shows early independence, not waiting for her parents to tell her what to do. She just spent her summer vacation with her family in Mauritius. "I booked the flight tickets and accommodation for the trip as my parents were too busy."

"One of the key characteristics of the post 00s generation is behaving like a 'little adult,' believing that they will be rewarded by working hard," said Zhang Yuan, a research fellow at HorizonKey, a consultancy company focusing on social and cultural public polls.

In July, the company released a report on the lifestyle and consumption habits of the post 00s generation, based on an online survey of 3,000 parents and interviews with and observations of 20 post 00s families.

"Affected by movies, magazines and media, young people are familiar with the principles and phenomena of the adult world, such as divorce and homosexuality," said Zhang, adding that the post 00s generation might be more rational and sensible in later life, than the post 90s generation.

Duan Xinxing, a psychology professor focusing on youth development at China University of Mining and Technology, agrees.

"The post 00 generation are young people who are being encouraged by their parents to grow up faster, and their parents have high expectations for them," Duan said. "Many of the post 00 generation believe that they should be preparing for life as early as possible."

Parental pressure

Kexin, 11, will enter grade six at a Beijing primary school this month. Although academic study takes priority in her life, she has time to develop her interests by attending afterschool activities. She goes to swim training every Saturday and has a piano lesson every Sunday. She also likes reading fantasy novels such as the Harry Potter series.

Yu Zun, Kexin's mother, restricts her daughter's access to the Internet due to concerns about its safety.

"She is too young to be self-disciplined," said Yu. "After all, she is facing the challenge of passing exams to enter a decent middle school next year."

Like Kexin, most young people of the post 00s generation are versatile. Zhang's survey discovered that almost 100 percent of children attend extra-curricular classes based on their interests.

"Academic performance plays a less critical role in the life of a post 00s child and all-round development is emphasized by their parents compared to parents of older generations," said Zhang.

Duan went on to point out that the situation reflects that these parents, most of whom are the post 1970s generation, are very realistic in their education philosophy.

"Parents are passionate about developing a child's comprehensive competence, because how well their children do in their hobbies will add up to their overall competence in the future," said Duan.

In Duan's opinion, the post 70s generation parents have a stronger mindset about social competition than the older generations do.

"The 1970s generation played a special role in the past 30 years when China experienced rapid economic growth, and the country was being transformed from a planning economy to a market economy that is driven by competition."

"They not only want their children to win in the early stages, but all races throughout their life," said Duan.

'Bear children?'

A recent incident that sparked heated debate among the post 00s generation was the verbal spat between fans of TFBoys and Korean Pop Band, EXO. In a controversial video clip, a primary school girl, a fan of TFBoys curses the fans of EXO. An EXO fan lashes back. Internet users were shocked by their passion for celebrities and the indecent words they used, labeling them "bear children."

But Zhang argues that the incident is not the full reflection of that generation.

"Our survey shows that for most of the post 00s generation, celebrity worship is just an aspect of their lives. They are normal students who have to cope with their studies and relationships with other children at school," said Zhang. "The verbal war was just a case exaggerated by the Internet."

Kexin agrees. She is a young fan of EXO, but won't spend a lot of time following them.

"Most of my friends don't have a Weibo account," said Kexin, who only uses social networking app, WeChat.

Characterizing a generation

China's post 80s generation were once described as the "little emperors," while discourse related to the post 90s generation is related to ACG (Animation, Comics, Games) culture and their dislike for outdoor activity (zhai). It is, however, still too early to characterize the post 00s generation, said Duan.

"Currently, most of the post 00s generation are under immense pressure to study and have no strong desire to express themselves in public," Zhang noted.

"They will become more involved in mainstream social activities and make their voices heard through the media as they grow older."

In September, some universities will accept its first group of post 00s students. Beijing teen Xiao Yuhe, 14, will be a freshman at Fudan University in Shanghai this semester.

Both Li and Kexin are preparing themselves to play an active role in their communities in the future. For example, Kexin loves outdoors activities and camping, which has taught her to be a more environmentally conscious traveler who won't litter. 

"I want to be a more socially responsible person in my society and protect the environment," said Kexin.

"We post 00s generation will play an equally important role as we step into mainstream society. We will be capable of competing with the post 80s and post 90s generations," said Li.

Posted in: Metro Beijing

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