John Solomon (@johnwrede) is founder and director of enoVate a youth-focused insights and design agency based in Shanghai. enoVate works with clients and agencies to better understand and develop creative solutions targeted at the Chinese Youth market. Joey Dembs (@j_forest) is a researcher and insights guru at enoVate.
As the founder and researcher of the youth focused agency enoVate, we must stay abreast of Chinese youth related topics and the array of related articles and “reports” that rely on the same clichés and tried and true information about Chinese youth. Thus, we present to you five Chinese youth clichés we would like to retire in 2010.
1. The Fenqing Chinese Youth have it out for all foreigners!
Supposedly sometime before or after the Olympics, global media deemed that everyone under the age of 25 in China was pissed off about something. In 2009, we witnessed quite the opposite. National pride is still strong amongst Chinese youth, however it’s a calm and peaceful accepting attitude, not an angry, “the world is our enemy” type nationalism. China’s 60 years celebration and Movies such as “Founding of a Republic” made many Chinese youth proud of their country and their government. And, global media’s proclamation of China’s ascension to superpower-dom makes Chinese youth extremely proud, not angry. (Fore more information read: Analysis: The State of the Chinese Youth 60 Years Later)
2. Chinese youth are individuals and self-expressive.
Yes, they are. They’re also humans, have lives, have hair, eat food and go online. These characteristics suggest that Chinese youth used to live in caves and paint on walls with finger paint. It’s a barbaric suggestion and one that the global media likes to point to as reference of China’s emerging global status. But the Chinese individual has always been strong and self-expression has existed in China for thousands of years. What IS happening though is the crossover of Chinese youth communities that blend social spheres, making it harder and harder to place Chinese youth into categories (post-80s vs. post 90s, tier 1 vs. tier 2, etc). Chinese youth are becoming exposed to more and more people and ideas, allowing for an expansion in identity and social communities. Whether it’s sharing thoughts and dreams on Yoho.cn’s “Sky” platform, uploading personal fashion shots to voguemate.com, quizzing friends on Kaixin001’s micro-poll feature, or heading offline and going to social events such as “hash-running”, board game bars, flash mobs, and music festivals, Chinese youth are discovering new friends and new interests that break down traditional categorization.
3. Chinese youth only listen to Canto-pop and cheesy love ballads.
Well this statement is partially true, but it ignores the burgeoning independent music scene that reached an apex in 2009. Diverse and eclectic music is being played in both large and small cities throughout China. If 2008 was the year of the Chinese Olympics, then 2009 might have been the year of the Chinese Music Festival. Festivals such as the JZ Music Festival, West Lake Xihu Music Festival, Strawberry Music Festival and the MIDI Music Festival, just to name a few. Pepsi’s Battle of the Bands brought mass attention to Chinese indie rock and PK14 and Carsick Cars are placing Chinese rock music into the global music literati with their USA tour. Canto-pop be damned!
4. The Communist Chinese government hates young entrepreneurs, creativity, and innovation.
The Chinese government does not approve of a lot of things, such as porn, uncensored media, and government disssent. However, the Chinese current political system (call it what you want) does not equate to a lack of entrepreneurial spirit and innovation, particularly amongst Chinese youth. Many young Chinese are realizing that money is to be had on the open market. This had led to an increase in DIY culture amongst creative Chinese youth and also the opening of online Taobao shops where young people can earn enough money to live (http://enovatechina.com/blog/?p=730). It’s our bet that the Chinese government continues providing funding for entrepreneurial and innovative youth education and job creation in the future.
5. Chinese youth are spending more money than their parents.
We have probably read that statement over a zillion times in the past year. We understand that young Chinese people have more money than their parents and are sometimes more willing to spend it. We get it. What this statement does is imply that Chinese youth ONLY care about money and spending it. However, our conversations with Chinese youth indicate that they place higher importance on personal health, wellness, family and friends than having more money to spend. Leading Shanghai environmental consultancy Greennovate is also seeing unprecedented amounts of youth Chinese sign up to volunteer and make an environmental difference in their towns and communities. Yes, Chinese youth have more money and the ability to buy more things than ever before, but this also means they would like to give some back to make a difference locally and globally.