Focus: China’s Z generation with pessimism spreads, difficult problem for Xi Jinping administration ‘post-corona’ | Reuters

SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s first weekend after the end of its “zero-corona” policy to contain the spread of the new coronavirus. At a heavy metal band concert held at a small live house in Shanghai, dozens of young people crowded into the dark, smelling of sweat and strong alcohol.

On January 18, it was the first weekend since China lifted its “zero-corona” policy to completely contain the spread of the new coronavirus. At a heavy metal band concert held at a small live house in Shanghai, dozens of young people crowded into the dark, smelling of sweat and strong alcohol. Photo taken in December 2022 at a live house in Shanghai (2023 REUTERS/Casey Hall)

That’s the sort of freedom young people sought in the zero-coronavirus protests that swept across China in late November last year. The protests quickly escalated into the biggest public outrage in a decade since President Xi Jinping took power.

China’s 280 million “Generation Z” people, born between 1995 and 2010, have emerged with new political voices after three years of testing, lockdowns, testing, economic hardship and isolation. They are discovering ways to express themselves, and are siding with the Communist Party and writing patriotic posts online, or denying the traditional label of political indifference.

Meanwhile, Xi, who is just entering an unusual third term as leader, will have a difficult task to reassure Generation Z as they face near-record unemployment and the slowest growth in nearly 50 years. ing.

This is because improving the living standards of young people and maintaining the export-oriented economic model that has developed China so far are inherently contradictory to the Communist Party and government, which prioritize social stability. This is because

According to various surveys, Generation Z is more pessimistic about the future than any other age group in China. And some experts warn that even though the protests have been successful in speeding up the lifting of the coronavirus pandemic, the hurdles for young people to improve their living standards will rise.

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Wu Qian, a former lecturer at Tsinghua University and now an independent critic, said, “The road ahead for young people is becoming narrower and more difficult, and their hopes for the future are fading. pointed out. Young people no longer have “blind trust and admiration” for China’s leaders, he added.

In fact, the voices of dissatisfaction can be heard among the young people interviewed by Reuters. A 26-year-old woman who came to the Shanghai concert earlier said, “If the leadership didn’t change the (zero corona) policy, more people would have protested. So in the end, we will correct the course. I don’t think young people will go back to thinking that nothing bad will ever happen in China.”

It can be said that it is a global trend that young people, especially in urban areas, are at the forefront of protests. In China, students led the biggest democratic movement leading to the 1989 Tiananmen protests.

However, some experts say China’s Generation Z has characteristics that pose a dilemma for Mr. Xi.

In recent years, it has attracted the attention of the international community that young people using social media in China are violently biting opinions critical of the country’s policies, including the zero-coronavirus policy.

They came to be called “little pinks” after the background colors of patriotic websites, and they were the driving force behind the Chinese government’s “wolf-warrior diplomacy” and the Cultural Revolution during the Mao era. It is regarded as an existence comparable to the red guards who became.

However, since the outbreak of the pandemic, the economy has slowed down under various regulations, and the antithesis of such a fierce attitude has emerged. However, it differs from the liberals who oppose the rise of nationalism as in the West. Many young people in China choose to lay down and do nothing, denying the torture of being a “company slave” and contenting themselves with what they can get their hands on.

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The truth is, there are no data to show how many young people are leaning towards this way of life. However, there was only one element that was brewing under the surface before the zero corona protest. unsatisfactory feelings about their projected economic future.

Generation Z is more pessimistic about China’s economic outlook than any other age group, according to a survey of 4,000 Chinese people conducted last October and published in December by consulting firm Oliver Wyman. ing. 62% of them are worried about their jobs and 56% think their lives will not get better.

In contrast, a McKinsey survey released in October found that Generation Z in the United States is more optimistic about future economic opportunities than any other generation except those aged 25-34. I understand.

At the beginning of Xi’s administration in China, young people’s outlook was more optimistic.

A 2015 Pew Research Center survey found that 70% of people born in the late 1980s had a positive view of the economic environment, and 96% said their living standards had improved compared to their parents’ generation. rice field.

Zak Dichtwald, founder of a company that tracks trends in China’s youth, said Gen Z is “learned pessimism. It’s based on the facts and reality they’ve seen.” He said zero-corona protests would not have happened a decade ago, but that today’s young people believe they need to make their voices heard in ways that older generations did not.

Dichtwald said further social unrest was unlikely any time soon, but the Communist Party was forced to offer young people “some hope and direction” at the National People’s Congress in March. claims to be Failure to come up with such a solution could lead to a resurgence of protests in the long term.

In his New Year’s speech, Mr. Xi acknowledged that improving the futures of young people is essential, stating, “Unless young people become prosperous, the nation will not prosper,” but did not mention specific policy responses.

The Communist Party, which cares about social stability above all else, cannot be expected to provide Generation Z with greater political leeway.

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Instead, authorities should create high-paying jobs for young people and ensure they have the same economic prosperity as their parents, experts say.

However, it is becoming more difficult to achieve this in the context of slowing economic growth. Moreover, some policies to raise living standards for young people are another priority: sustaining the engine that has driven China’s economy to expand 15-fold over the past two decades, according to political analysts and economists. incompatible with

For example, making Generation Z expect higher wages will make China’s exports less competitive. Lowering house prices to more affordable levels could collapse the housing sector, which in recent years accounted for 25% of economic activity.

Xi’s crackdown on tech and other private sectors in his second term has also led to a decline in youth unemployment and job opportunities.

Huang Shu, an urban sociologist at the University of California, Berkeley, asserts that no matter how much the Chinese government advocates “co-prosperity,” it is virtually impossible to close the gap for Generation Z.

Xu said their parents were able to amass great wealth through the housing market and entrepreneurship, but emphasized that wealth building in those areas is unlikely to be replicated. Closing inequality means pushing down real estate prices to allow young people to buy homes, which will hit older generations hard, he said.

<Preferred overseas>

Under these circumstances, some young people are pursuing their dreams and hopes outside of China.

Deng, a 19-year-old university student, told Reuters there was little room for affluence in the country anymore. I will do what I am told, go back to my hometown, take the civil service exam, and spend my time doing nothing without any desire to improve.” She hates both ways and plans to emigrate.

Searches for study abroad last year were five times the 2021 average, as Shanghai’s 25 million citizens were forced into a two-month lockdown, according to data from Baidu. A similar surge in searches occurred during the zero-corona protests in November.

Alex is philosophical, saying, “We have no choice but to accept the Chinese regime or leave if we don’t like it. The power of the authorities is too strong to change the regime.”

(Reporters Casey Hal, Josh Horwitz, Yew Lun Tian)

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