Xi Jinping’s Chinese Youth Dilemma
Image Credit: Robert Moposang

Xi Jinping’s Chinese Youth Dilemma


Many people in the West remember the Tiananmen Square incident of June 4, 1989. Far fewer are aware that nearly 100 years ago another generation of young Chinese demonstrated in the same place.

On May 4, 1919, students unhappy at China’s opaque politics and its corrupt officials paraded through the streets of Beijing. The movement eventually forced the government into making concessions. Ultimately, it was seen as a turning point in Chinese history, and May 4 has become a national holiday: Chinese Youth Day. May retains a special significance with Chinese youth even today; this year two films about the nation’s young, So Young and American Dreams in China, were released in May.

Of course, these movies are not political; sensitive street politics are taboo for the Chinese film industry. The two movies have no relationship with the May 4th Movement. So Young is about young love, while American Dreams in China features young entrepreneurs. But while the bustling crowds at the cinema might not have politics on their minds, young Chinese sitting in front of their computers are trying to influence the national debate with their ideas and their own definition of the Chinese Dream.

Thirty-year-old Song Yangbiao recently "disappeared". He had become known for his rather bold political statements on Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter. Song is a weekly newspaper reporter in South China, and a "leftist" representative who supports Mao Zedong thought.

There are many young leftists in China like Song. Most are idealists from the post-1980s generation, and they abhor official corruption. Leftists were inspired by the emergence of Bo Xilai and calls to “support integrity and eliminate evil” in Chongqing. With Bo’s downfall, young people like Song began to lose confidence in the Chinese government, and the criticism became increasingly strident. Then the election of Xi Jinping as Chinese president brought a flicker of hope.

Xi and Bo share something in common: their fathers were Communist Party veterans. And both Xi and Bo have a maverick streak and a strong respect for Mao. That was cause enough for young leftists to believe in Xi. Unlike Bo, however, Xi Jinping is not prepared to challenge CPC ground rules and would never allow writers like Song Yangbiao to label him "Bo II". As a consequence, leftists have begun to feel more disenchanted with the Chinese government.

Another group from the post-1980s generation shares the same pessimistic outlook on China's future. Unlike Song Yangbiao, though, they are of the right and they are public intellectuals. Perhaps the best known is the writer Han Han. They do not like the Maoists, advocate constitutionalism, abhor Bo Xilai, and have placed their hopes in Xi Jinping. However, their vision of the Chinese Dream is the one expressed in the movie American Dreams in China. Given that Xi has the same "second red generation" status as Bo Xilai, this group also worries about China’s future.

One example of what concerns them is a recent directive published by the Communist Party on ideological issues, which requires that teachers refrain from teaching their students values such as Western thought in college and cracks down on journalists expressing Western ideals. Xi Jinping is seen as behind the crackdown, to the chagrin of the many young Chinese who find Western values appealing.

Dan Pendleton
June 12, 2013 at 02:42

So, in fact, there is no "life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness" – since the individual Chinese is just another cog in the collective wheel. How terrible! This is the embodiment of "1984". And yet the Diplomat is quick to point out that China has "soft power" or foreign appeal. Who would want to immigrate to China if you're just going to be another cog in the wheel, where individualism is not treasured, not respected? Oh, I get it. Individualism is indeed allowed if you are a high communist party functionary. What is that saying? We are all equal but some are more equal than others?

Tom F
June 11, 2013 at 18:07

@Sergey – "and it does a lot"

IMO, it's more like standing from the rooftop throwing trinkets at the masses to keep them temporarily satisfied, and anyone showing dissatisfaction is thrown in jail. 

June 11, 2013 at 13:52

The success of Party is about what it gives. And it does a lot.

June 11, 2013 at 13:49

Good comment, but you conclude the Chinese society consists of individuals, while it’s not totally true. China is still traditional society, not modern or post-modern. So, individual and his interests is ignored not only on state level, but even on family level. And important is many people agree to it. Individual is used to be ignored. So, it’s more about keeping dream more acceptable by most parts of society. And they are good at it right now.

Tom F
June 11, 2013 at 13:28

@Mu Chunshan – "So the dreams haven’t changed in 100 years. But it seems young idealists may have to wait a little longer, because the current Chinese government appears unlikely to fulfil them"

'Dream' is a CCP propaganda slogan, the reality is Chinese people need to wake up and reclaim what's been stolen from them by CCP elites. 

The shifting of (actual and potential) national wealth into private CCP hands started in the 80s under the guise of economic liberalisation, and will continue to do so until all the spoils have been divvied up to CCP elites. The degree of progress on economic liberalisation (supposedly to meet the wishes of the people) is merely a measure of how much the CCP has stolen from the people. On current trajectory, freedom will be granted when there's no wealth left to transfer.

Chinese youths should revive their memories. It wasn't that long ago, that the CCP condemn Chinese culture as bourgeois and elitist decadence, it wasn't that long ago that personal work ethics was considered as against the common good, and it wasn't that long ago that all Chinese were must be considered equal. But today, the CCP is using culture and history to justify initiating conflict, today they are criticising Chinese behaviour overseas as a product of 'poor breeding', and today, it's OK for workers to obey masters, for just made homeless to be ignored by CCP developers, or for dislocated farmers to field trespass complaints from energy and construction executives.

However, given the silence on June 4th Tiananmen Square Massacre by main stream media, and even a supposedly a niche outlet specialising in foreign relation like 'The Diplomat', the foreseeable 'Dream' for Chinese people is actually a nightmare.

Oro Invictus
June 11, 2013 at 10:20

While it is still too early to say with absolute certainty, it appears the “Chinese Dream” was a large mistake on the part of the CPC. The CPC has long survived on creating an atmosphere which stifled aspiration in favour of ambition, shuttered dreams in favour of “wants”. By suppressing such haughty aspirations and fostering single-minded focus towards gains within the structure of their system, the CPC created the illusion of homogeneity, of singular purpose; a tacit Pax Romana for Beijing, for which the only value individuals had was in their utility to the state. The idea was to wield singularity of desire to propel them the same way the US utilized plurality, the PRC’s rocket to the US’ balloon.

And, for a while, the strategy worked to an extent; unlike the balloon of the US and others, the PRC rocket streamed on in spite of shifting winds, the high point coming in 2008-2010 when it seemed the PRC rocket would rush far above all the others while the headwinds of the global recession would crash the others into the ground. Yet, as time progressed, the PRC hit more and more stumbling blocks, the interconnections afforded by modern technology spread increasing awareness of civil liberties and the widening chasms and imperfections of PRC society. The rate of progress was falling and the CPC’s position was becoming ever more precarious; the rocket was rapidly running out of fuel, while the balloons of others, fuel undepleted, began righting themselves and continued a steady ascent.

The CPC saw this, and sought to reinvigorate their ascent, but were and are unwilling to become a balloon. Instead, they needed a new means of invigorating the people, of increasing the quality of their fuel, to push forth into the sky. And, what better way than giving the people of the PRC an official mandate to seek more than just what in front of them, but to stretch for a dream? A dream, of course, that would be imposed by the CPC; if they could control the direction of ambition, why not aspiration? And so they brought a more “personable” standing committee into play, and Xi finally spoke of the CPC’s Pax Romana, of the “Chinese Dream”. The "Dream" would be a natural extension of the desires the CPC had been instilling into the populace, to strive for the things both the people and (more importantly) the CPC wanted.

But they miscalculated; the people of the PRC did and do not want (all) the same things as the CPC, nor is there a united vision (as seen here http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2013/04/netizen-voices-a-vote-no-for-the-chinese-dream/). Unlike bestial needs like hunger or greed, dreams are too complex to be mandated. Rather than create a common aspiration for the people, the PRC simply helped bring forth their individual aspirations; the people now pull in their own directions, rather than the one the government wants. Unlike the US balloon, for which the individual aspirations of people moving their own way are what keep it inflated and rising, the PRC rocket relied on such things being funneled in one direction. The PRC, in its current form, simply cannot handle the seething mass of individuals seeking their own desires, and so cracks now begin to form.

Yet the CPC refuses to change the vehicle; they will not give up their idea of one PRC, one party, one goal. They refuse to follow the path of the KMT, who switched a rocket for a balloon, and instead hope they can still see the same gains Taiwan did with the awakening of its civil society. But an authoritarian government is not a representative government, a rocket is not a balloon; their means of utilizing their fuel are fundamentally different. The balloon expands with its fuel, flying higher, faster. The rocket, however, can do only one thing when it can no longer compel the forces within it to flow in its one set direction, one thing when it can no longer contain the energies within it: It explodes. And, from the flames, the fragments of the vehicle fall back to Earth, and the fuel is consumed in the destruction or scattered to the wind.

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