China's economy grows, culture suffers

Xie Jing is 15 years old and belongs to the generation that in 2020, according to predictions, will see China transformed into the major world economic power. But Xie has no political or cultural interest. His generation is very different from previous ones. She lives in her own world, completely globalised, where the North American life style is the main reference point. She dresses herself as a North American teenager, listens to the same music, has the same idols and the same relation with the internet and virtual world.

The governmental newspaper, ‘China Daily’ published two striking articles. On the October 28 it revealed that electronic matrimony became very popular amongst youngsters. A game called cybermarriage registered one million participants in the first month. It is calculated that electronic matrimonies have reached 30 million subscribers, and that 70 per cent of “married couples” are under 18.

This matrimony has no value. It’s just a game. Although, Qian Yu, a 15-year-old boy declared to the newspaper: “I feel very isolated, even when I am amongst my classmates. I cannot tell them what I’m thinking. In online games we talk more than in school, my closest friends are there”. Huang Zhao, an educator in Guanzhou that provides online help to adolescents, declared that: “The one child generation demonstrates a lower capacity of personal communication, and virtual life seems to satisfy this inner loneliness. They don’t care about their colleagues feelings, everything they do is according to their own emotions”. 

Not ‘illegal’

The other article, of November 8, reveals the discovery of a group of 20 teenage prostitutes (two of them aged 14), organised by two of the students among the group. What impressed the police is that they didn’t think they were doing something illegal. One of the organisers declared: “I didn’t want to cause any problems to my friends. We all like to do it because our parents don’t give us enough money for our tastes”.

Until 1949, with Mao’s victory, women in China were subjected to men. In the first Qin dynasty in 221 B C Confucius implemented the rule that in a harmonious society one should respect their superior: the elderly over the young, the authority over the citizen, the man over the women.

The Maoist revolutionary generation that I met in the World Conference of Students in 1957 was of an impressive austerity. The generation after that was the protagonist of the Cultural Revolution in 1966. During the revolution, the students were the most fanatical destroyers of the old monuments and everything related with the culture of the past. Only with political reform after Mao’s death in 1976 was the celebration of the market and wealth consecrated. And in 1979, in order to control the demographic explosion, the rule of one child per couple was established.

There is a consensus that the differences between the generations of the 80s and the 90s were few. However, with the birth of the consumer society, that gap is increasing rapidly. After the Cultural Revolution, past and history have not yet recovered the lost prestige. It is extremely rare to see people younger than 30 in a Chinese classical music concert.

During my five-week stay in China, I didn’t once hear Chinese music, only western music, basically North American. I asked some of the young Chinese I encountered if they believed in the philosophical principles, medical and spiritual culture: the Chi, the internal energy; the Ying and Yang, the two poles that coexist in a human being. For them, that was only ancient superstition.

The government and the party (which is the same) recently established culture as a priority. But the ruler’s generation does not understand the new generation and instead of updating the classical values, is imposing the memorisation of Confuciun principles in schools.

It is unavoidable to ask the authorities if they think that by taking this path China will not be able to shape its own identity. They all realise this, but don’t know what to do.
It must be clarified that this is predominantly an urban phenomenon. The gap between cities (where 50.32 per cent of the population lives) and the rural areas continues to grow in an exponential way. Each year, China takes 15 million people out of poverty and thus legitimises the domination of the communist party. But the rural immigrants, who residence permits in cities, grew to 242 million last year.

The majority of them left their children with their grandparents, since without a residence permit, the children cannot go to school in urban areas. It is calculated that the children who were “left behind” are about 50 million, lacking education and food compared with children of urban areas. This leaves them with major mental and physical disadvantages. For these children, there is no internet or access to consumerism. But the cultural identity of this underdeveloped sector cannot be assimilated to western globalisation. It is molded by poverty and by old generations and, therefore, western globalisation does not provide a valid response.

Will a westernised China make the world richer or poorer?

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