Chinese rockabilly bands and ‘Jazzplosions’ in the Beijing hutongs. Art districts the size of a third tier European city and young, vigorous artists arguing creativity over steaming cups of coffee in newly opened coffee shops. Contrary to Western views of this ancient far-eastern culture, contemporary Chinese youth are certainly not afraid to express themselves. Art and music are flourishing, and the capital is where it all happens. Westerners fresh off the boat are often amazed by the amount of culture on offer.
When it comes to the political arena however, freedoms are lacking. It is a common misconception in Western media that Chinese youth are becoming more and more rebellious, and more interested in political change and democratic values as their relative prosperity grows. While it may be a valid statement that the “masses” of Maoist China are gone and individualism is on the rise, few would argue that the same is true for widespread political aspirations in the Western sense. Avoiding the question of defining democracy, one should instead ask the question “do contemporary Chinese youth really demand widespread political reform?”
The short answer is that they do not. Dissident views do exist, and there is plenty of societal critique to be found on online discussion forums and Chinese versions of twitter. Youth culture as westerners know it, however, isconcentrated in the bigger cities where the more affluent youths reside. These youths are more vocal, and also more likely to be interviewed by Western journalists who do not speak Chinese, a fact which may explain the misconceptions of the Western media.
The fact is, the majority of the Chinese population is busy climbing the social ladder. There seems to be a general feeling that Party membership is acquired not for the sake of political aspirations, but as a way to get ahead in life. In China, Party membership and the connections which come with it has a powerful impact on one’s career opportunities. Central rule is generally regarded as being for the good of the Chinese people. Since the 1989 protests, widespread demands for political reform have failed to materialize and the middle class is sceptical of moving beyond the current status quo.
And how about the granting of freedoms? Among Western media, there is great hope that the Chinese Communist Party (party and state are synonymous in China) will institute political reforms as the demands of the middle class grow. In the short to mid-term though, this seems to be another fallacy.
To understand the future we must first look to the past. In Communist Party China, the election for the highest offices of government is based on the principle of seniority. It is therefore possible to predict future generations of government. According to Western observers, the future duo of Chinese leaders coming to power in 2012 will be the so called Xi-Li administration. They are members of a generation of post-Cultural Revolution cadres who first got a chance at higher education, but due to the thorough corruption of Chinese society during the Cultural Revolution, admission at the time required political connections.
This meant that alumni with parents in the higher echelons of society were more likely to be admitted. In today’s vocabulary of Chinese politics, this faction of cadres is called “The Crown Prince Party”. As the name implies, they are the children of established party officials, accustomed to their place in society and dead set on not losing it. They are technocrats and businessmen. Like the generations before them, they have two principal aims: to make China strong and to keep the monopoly of power they currently enjoy. We can therefore count on any future political reforms as being instituted with the aim of keeping power firmly in Party hands
What seems to be the consensus in the Western academic community, is that China’s future governance will display continuity with the principles and ideas of the current Hu-Wen administration, in regards to social stability and economic development. This means continued pragmatism in regards to reforms and further promotion of economic prosperity. At the same time, freedom of expression may actually be curtailed for the sake of promoting a “harmonious” society. An example of this is China’s recent efforts to exercise stricter control of social media.
The implications of these facts for the future of Chinese youth culture are hard to understate: personal freedoms might still warily be allowed, whilst non-CCP political asipration will continue to be prohibited. Party membership is still, and will for the foreseeable future, continue to be the main avenue for political opinion and career propulsion for the youth of Communist China.
FREDRIK JANDRÉUS & DANIEL JANDRÉUS