The millennials of China might well be the most unique group of people. Typically, the world’s millennial population is characterized by a consumerist lifestyle and excessively liberal beliefs that scoff at the idea of nationalism, choosing to profess their “world without borders and divisions” ideologies. Even though the Chinese millennials are as consumerist as their Western counterparts, they tend to remain hyper-nationalist.
Rise of millennial consumers
The millennial population in China is estimated to make up about 30 percent of the country’s overall population. Unlike previous generations that grew up in tough times, millennials have been raised in a society that has been constantly growing, giving them new employment opportunities. This has also led to the birth of the consumerist culture. As per a report by Goldman Sachs, the annual income for millennials will almost double within the next 10 years.
“They are more worldly, entrepreneurial, individualistic, open-minded and willing to spend… Already important consumers, they have the potential to become even more influential through career advancement and wealth accumulation,” David Lung, a managing partner with Deloitte China, said in a statement (East West Bank).
Just like Western counterparts, Chinese millennials are tech savvy, spending quite a lot of time on the Internet. This obsession with the Internet has driven the growth of e-commerce giants like Alibaba and other Chinese tech companies like Tencent. As millennials opt to stay at home and shop online, it has spurred the creation of an entire business ecosystem aimed at online sales and delivery, from basic groceries to meals and digital products.
Chinese millennials also show a greater propensity to travel abroad and are fast becoming the number one source of tourists for many countries. As the number of Chinese tourists increases, these nations will implement business practices and processes to please them, thereby ushering in a massive spread of Chinese language and culture.
This is a phenomenon that some have a hard time understanding, since existing behavioral models suggest that millennials tend to develop a distaste for nationalism and ethnic identities and often choose to present themselves as being “free from such divisions.” To understand the excessive nationalism of Chinese millennials, one needs to realize that they have grown up in a far different environment than Westerners.
Just three decades ago in 1989, Chinese youth participated in the now famous Tiananmen Square protests, asking for democracy, freedom of expression, and more accountability from the government. Sensing that protests were snowballing into a big threat to the state’s authority, the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) ordered a violent crackdown on the protestors. This event went on to have a massive impact on domestic policies over the last 30 years, leading to tighter censorship in the country.
Millennials, most of whom grew up after this event, were raised in an environment in which the CCP decided what knowledge they must be exposed to. As a consequence, the millennial population has little to no knowledge of the horrors of the Tiananmen Square incident. Neither have they been exposed to Western ideals of democracy and free speech.
Instead, the CCP brainwashes them into believing that its authoritarian rule is benign in nature and that the West’s liberal values are somehow inferior and socially destructive. Rapid economic growth and consumerism in the past decade have kind of reinforced such beliefs among the millennials. Many young Chinese truly believe the fact that they can’t vote for their rulers, cannot freely access the Internet, or voice honest opinions is actually good for society.
Misunderstanding nationalism: separating China from the CCP
Nationalism in China means an adherence and respect to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rather than a deep fondness for the country, unlike in the United States where nationalists adhere to the American constitution and ideals. This has happened because the CCP has mixed up rulers of the regime with the idea of the country, and criticism of the CCP is understood as being criticism of the glory of China.
This is clearly evident when you criticize the rule of the communists in front of millenials, who immediately take offense that you have belittled China. China has a 5,000-year glorious history and the CCP has perverted it for the last 70 years.
This is why millennials in China are “nationalistic.” However, this does not mean that every single young Chinese person reveres the CCP. On the contrary, there are those who secretly work to promote the ideals of free speech and democracy in China even when faced with threats from the government. But their numbers tend to be on the lower side.
When true nationalism arises and people realize the difference between the CCP and China, that is when they realize that they don’t need to live in fear of the government. They will come to understand that the people of a country can replace the government with one that suits their history and morality.