Have thirty years of peace and prosperity have imbued children with different values than their parents? Part of an ongoing series of discussions with ChinaFile.
In 2004, fresh off the plane in Beijing, I was asked to judge an English competition for high school seniors. My two co-judges were pleasantly cynical middle-aged sociologists, both professors at Tsinghua University. After listening to the umpteenth speech about how China used to be poor, but was now rich and powerful, I remarked to one of them that the students seemed a little sheltered.
"They don't know anything!" she spat. "They don't have any idea about how people live. None of this generation do. They're all so spoiled."
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It's a view I've heard time and again over the past eight years, and one of which the Chinese media never tire. The young get it from left and right. This January alone, the jingoistic Major General and media commentator Luo Yuan condemned the young for being physically and mentally unfit, ranting: "Femininity is on the rise, and masculinity is on the decline. With such a lack of character and determination and such physical weakness, how can they shoulder the heavy responsibility?" Meanwhile the writer and social critic Murong Xuecun blasted them in the U.S. magazine Foreign Policy because "fattened to the point of obesity with Coca-Cola and hamburgers [...] the young generation only believes official pronouncements; some even think contradicting the official line is heretical. They do not bother to check the details."