The Economist has a new special report out on China’s youth. It is fully of anecdotes and analysis on: “the jiulinghou, or “post-90s”, a shorthand term for those born between 1990 and 1999. They number 188m—more than the combined populations of Australia, Britain and Germany.”
The question lurking beneath the special report is why the jiulinghou show little interest in the liberal ideas that boiled over into Tian’anmen Square only a generation ago. The answer is a combination of renewed national pride, economic growth, repression, and diversion into socially progressive (but politically inoffensive) causes like the environment or LGBTIQ rights.
Its a compelling explanation of the status quo, but one The Economist thinks is unlikely to persist:
The Communist Party has shown a remarkable ability to adapt. Yet its tacit deal appears to be morphing into one that leans more heavily on brute repression and nationalism. If that is the bargain, self-assured young Chinese will at some point balk. Participants in every pro-democracy outburst in China have raised high the banner of patriotism, from 1919 to 1989. This tendency is not lost on Mr Xi, as much a manipulator of nationalism as he is afraid of it. But the party sees a useful distraction in teeth-baring patriotism. One day this may come back to bite it
Two deep assumptions power this familiar call and response. First, that political liberalisation follows economic liberalisation – perhaps we possess an innate urge to freedom. Second, regimes which resist that dynamic are fundamentally unstable.
I’m not so sure. History is surprise, and the more time that passes, the less comfortable I feel with analogies from the past. What would even constitute a falsification of those hypotheses?
I am reminded of a line from Adam Tooze’s chartbook on Chinese state capitalism:
A few other snippets I enjoyed:
Close to one in two red-tourism trips [trips related to China’s communist past] are made by Chinese under 30, says Ctrip, China’s biggest travel firm.
Women in Shanghai marry on average at 29, later than Americans and a jump of six years in a decade. Even in rural areas the age is 25 and rising.
A survey in 2019 by China Youth Daily, a state organ, found that three in four of those born after 1995 think China is “not perfect, but always improving”
Finally there is a Chinese show which look like “who wants to be a millionaire,” where all the questions are about Xi Jinping.
Its well worth reading.