Geographies in Depth

What are the pressures facing China's next generation? 3 young voices respond

Students of Shaolin Tagou Martial Arts School are suspended in mid-air as they practise in a dress rehearsal for a stunt performance which is part of the opening ceremony of the 2014 Nanjing Youth Olympic Games, at a stadium in Nanjing, Jiangsu province August 14, 2014. A total of 520 students took part in the performance named "Building the dream", which will be performed during the opening ceremony of the Youth Olympic Games on August 16, local media reported. Picture taken August 14, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer (CHINA - Tags: SPORT SOCIETY OLYMPICS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA - RTR42L3A

We need the participation of young people and China to tackle the world's biggest problems Image: REUTERS/Stringer

Vivian Yang
Lead of Media Operations China , World Economic Forum
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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

In tackling today’s complex global challenges, the world needs the voice of young people and the world needs China’s participation. So, when young people from China come to Davos, we expect them to share.

This year, three young Chinese, known in China as the post-1980s and 1990s group, have been selected from the forum’s Global Shapers hubs to participate in the Annual Meeting 2017. To foster better understanding, using their own stories and observations they will try to identify the unique trends and pressures that their generation faces.

Who are they?
  • Chen Xiaohan from the Beijing Hub: Associate Director of Public Affairs at Schwarzman College, Tsinghua University.
  • Daisy Guo from the Shanghai Hub: cofounder of Tezign.com, an internet platform connecting top-tier creative professionals to enterprises.
  • Zhang Kaidi from the Tianjin Hub: Entrepreneur and founder of two online platforms that help young people to enter entrepreneurship and professional lives by connecting them with investors and consulting mentors.
What unique trends do you observe about the people of your generation?

1. Enjoying openness

Chen: I think young Chinese people have become increasingly internationalized. We are very open to different cultures and keen to gain first-hand experience of diverse cultures. We like to try different foods, learn about what happens in other countries and seize the opportunity to study abroad. Each year, more than 500,000 Chinese students pursue studies overseas. This number continues to grow and the age of these students is getting younger.

More students from other countries are also willing to study in China. Taking Tsinghua University as an example, there are more than 3,400 foreign students on campus. Chinese students, whether studying abroad or staying in China, have abundant opportunity to make friends with foreign students and learn from each other. What is more, I think our generation really enjoys traveling abroad. We frequently take vacations and travel around the globe to explore different cultures, talk with the locals and appreciate the diversity of the world. I feel that when we understand the world better, we can understand China better too.

Students take their examination in an exam hall in Dongguan University of Technology, in south China's Guangdong province, July 9, 2007. Around 1,200 students took their English examination in a large hall so as to prevent exam fraud. Picture taken July 9, 2007. REUTERS/China Daily (CHINA) CHINA OUT - RTR1RPJP
'Each year, more than 500,000 Chinese students pursue studies overseas' Image: REUTERS/China Daily

2. Working for ourselves

Guo: More and more young Chinese people that I know choose to be self-employed. They care about having passion for their work and the freedom to choose their own lifestyle. Born in a digitally connected world, this dream is more possible. Take my start-up as an example, through our website, more than 9,000 young, creative, independent designers are providing on-demand services for enterprises, earning 3 to 10 times more income than their previous average salary.

3. Spirit of innovation

Zhang: Young people are meant to be innovative; we say innovation is the soul of youth. I feel lucky as a young person to live in China at a time when there is a prosperous and stable environment, supportive government policies and technological readiness that enables us to do things differently. Take a walk in Zhongguancun, the so-called Silicon Valley of China, and look at the cafeterias on both sides, full of young and energetic entrepreneurs and innovators talking. A grasp of artificial intelligence, 3D printing, block chain or other advanced technology, plus a cup of coffee, is all the qualification needed to join them. With better educational backgrounds, global horizons and creative motivations, the young Chinese generation has already shown high awareness of innovation and must expedite the transition from “made in China” to “created in China”.

4. The world at our fingertips

Chen: Internationalization can also be interpreted as a way for millions of individuals to share their own personal experiences using a new means of communication — social media. Social media has made a huge difference to our lives since its emergence. From presidential elections to celebrity trivia, social media has always been more responsive and informative than print or broadcast media. More and more youths have switched from traditional media channels to social media feeds and RSS, which push personalized content to the user on a timely basis.

Social media helps us learn about world news more easily and at a lower cost, no matter where we are. Moreover, with the help of social media, everyone can make his or her voice heard. Social media also enables cross-border communication. A Chinese university student can have the latest breaking news at his fingertips from Weibo and initiate a conference call on WeChat to discuss a West African social innovation project with his partner, whom he met in a LinkedIn group. Social media lowers the barrier to obtain news and ideas globally.

5. Consumption upgrade

Guo: We like shopping and, instead of buying more goods, we are seeking more qualified stuff, more professional services, more value-added brands and more customized experiences. Chinese consumption habits are changing, with service (or tertiary) industries now accounting for 50.5% of purchases, indicating that consumption is experiencing a shift from product to service. Despite a slowdown of the economy as a whole, continued consumer confidence supports a strong willingness to shop.

6. Strong sense of social responsibility

Zhang: Our parents’ generation always thinks we are self-centred, frail and lack responsibility, as most of us grew up as the spoiled, only child, “little emperor” in our family. But this is not true. To the contrary, according to a report from China Young Volunteers, more than 40 million young people have become volunteers, scattering both domestically and the abroad. This is not a small number, and there are many such individuals around me. Last month, my school, Tsinghua University, registered its 20,000th blood donor. For many of us, the best gift for our adult ceremony and graduation is not a big party, but making a blood donation.

What are the unique pressures on your generation?

1. Rebuilding craftsmanship

Chen: From colossal architecture to elegant ceramics, ancient Chinese craftsmen never failed to amaze the world with their life-long dedication and ingenuity in making masterpieces. In modern times, products that are “made in China” do not always meet such expectations.

As China’s economy develops, the spirit of craftsmanship is being revived and the renewed brand of “made in China” is emerging on the international stage. More and more technology companies, such as Huawei and Tencent, have created excellent brand images. Hundred-year-old stores like “Quanjude” (a restaurant brand famous for Beijing roast duck) and “Tongrentang” (a traditional Chinese medicine brand) are also rebuilding their image.

Last year, there was a heated discussion on Chinese media about a craze among Chinese consumers for shopping overseas for rice cookers and milk powder. This was embarrassing, but did show consumers’ strong desire for quality goods. When it comes to our own work, we have become calmer and more patient, and have faith that hard work and continuous effort will bring excellence, instead of blindly pursuing overnight success. I think this is an essential attitude for us, especially young Chinese people, if we want to achieve long-term career success and take pride in the products we create.

2. “Leftover women”

Guo: In China, women who are ambitious in their careers and haven’t married are sometimes labeled “leftover women”. They are usually older than 28, and, according to this definition, I am one of them. I don't recommend people use this phrase. Traditionally, in Chinese culture, the success of a woman is always and solely determined by whether or not she raises her children and family well. This is no longer true for most women in China.

If career success brings a woman happiness, she shouldn't be judged only by her marriage. Indeed, 70% of Chinese women find the main obstacles actually come from their families. My family worries a little about my being single, rather than appreciating my career achievements. Obtaining more family support to help these “leftover women” in China is crucial.

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Have you read?

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3. Ageing society

Zhang: In 10 years, young netizens won’t laugh at the awkward moves of Chinese square dancing grannies and outdated music. It’s estimated that one quarter of the population will be over 60 by 2030, which is to say, young Chinese people like me will have to simultaneously support two kids and four parents.

Some of my friends are seeking opportunities connected to the ageing population, since increases in certain markets, related to areas such as nursing, medicine and hospitals, are expected. However, many of us feel the burden of the ageing population. On the one hand, young people have to earn more so that China’s pay-as-you go pension system can support the elderly; on the other, parents will need company and care, and filial piety is a good virtue among young people. To live or to love? Our generation will face the most serious work-life balance problem of any.

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