Plugged-in millennials 'reshaping Chinese culture'

Chinese youth's openness to global culture may be key to the nation's future.
Chinese youth's openness to global culture may be key to the nation's future. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Unlike previous generations, China's millennials want to have their voices heard and play an increasingly dominant role on social media, observers told a global forum in Singapore.

With no experience of China's past economic hardship but more exposed to the world through the Internet, these young people born in the last 20 years of the 20th century could be the generation that helps China better integrate with the world, they said at the 7th FutureChina Global Forum.

"Now you have people who were brought up online and exposed to all kinds of different information and viewpoints. And becoming more individualistic and bold," Mr Eric Fish, an American journalist who lived in China for seven years, said in a panel discussion.

The millennials, especially those born in the 1990s, account for half of the more than 200 million users on Sina Weibo, a popular Twitter- like platform in China, said another panellist, Ms Jiang Fangzhou, 26.

"Even those in their 40s and 50s have been forced to pick up youth slang," said Ms Jiang, an editor of Neweekly magazine. She noted that advertisements at subway stations and shopping malls and on media websites are going all out to woo the young.

But millennials are not as materialistic as the media may describe them, for they are pursuing their passions while creating a "modern Chinese culture" by mixing it with foreign elements, said Mr Bryant Chou, founder and chief executive of media company Vice China.

"They have the opportunity to do so because their parents have given them the opportunity. But it's also because of the opening-up of China," Mr Chou said, noting that many young people who studied in the West have returned to China to contribute what they have learned to the society.

Mr Addison Kang, chief executive of software development firm AP Origin, said these young people are decisive, inquisitive and willing to challenge their superiors. And they are motivated by the belief that what they are doing is meaningful.

The panellists also said the millennials, contrary to popular belief, are as keen on social affairs as some of their peers in the West.

While nationalism occasionally flares up among the young, the majority are still " hungry for global culture", the panellists said.

Admitting that some nationalist statements could be found online, especially after an international tribunal's ruling last week against China's claims in the South China sea, Mr Fish said most of the young people he had met are open to foreign culture.

"I hope the millennials will be the generation that truly helps China integrate with the world by accepting universal values," said Ms Jiang, who has published 11 books since she was nine.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 19, 2016, with the headline Plugged-in millennials 'reshaping Chinese culture'. Subscribe