Unrelated Note: I want to start out this post by saying a gigantic thank you to all of my readers. despite the incredible decrease in frequency of my posting, I seem to back amassing no less than a dozen views per day. The idea that so many of you check out my blog even when I haven’t posted anything new is heart-warming and humbling. Now, for a giant non sequitur.
When I was younger I heard one of my parents’ friends remark that, “When you’re young you’d be crazy not to be liberal. When you’re older you’d be crazy not to be conservative,” and while I can’t lay claim to that quote being one hundred percent, word-by-word accurate, it for some reason stuck with me. I can’t say I believe this casually-expressed sentiment wholeheartedly; Even my more right-leaning family would be hard pressed to describe my folks as anything closer than moderate. However, despite the glaring exceptions to the rule that are my parents, there seems to be at least a little truth to the person’s claim. If nothing else, it’s prominent in the stereotypes we Americans seem to carry about our two political parties. No matter what your mental image of the stereotypical liberal person may contain, it is unlikely that your first three adjectives would be “old, white, male.”
This ideal seems particularly relevant as so many of my peers, those of us who have been begrudgingly dubbed “Millenials,” are coming into our own. There seems to be an ideological gap between us and our parents, who are largely part of the Baby-Boomer population. Unsurprisingly there are a number of issues on which the two generations seem to be split, the most common being the economy and workforce. We know this is true because not one of you readers was surprised to read the last sentence. The foundation for this divide is simple: Of course there is difference between growing up in a period of economic growth, and coming of age during a recession. This leads many crotchety columnists to whinge about the unmotivated layabouts that comprise today’s youth, to which said youth replies scathingly using one of their greatest weapons: The Internet. Obviously these arguments have been reduced to unless simplicity, but here’s one of my more recent favorites all the same.
Again these arguments are pedantic and unhelpful, especially since they tend to primarily circulate in each generations’ preferred media. In short, there’s no conversation taking place here, and instead it seems both sides are just letting off steam. More to the point, these frustrated barbs are just a symptom of an age-old struggle between generations. After all, despite their complaints, I’m sure many Baby-Boomers remember being called lazy and useless back in the 60’s and 70’s.
From the outsider’s perspective, afforded to me by virtue of sheer distance, these squabbles are almost amusing. Not to say that I don’t share in my peers’ preoccupations and frustrated desire for recognition. While sitting half a world away, though, it’s easy to see how history is simply repeating itself. More thought provoking is the dynamic a little closer to home (well, my current home.)
I’ve heard many American ex-pats liken to China’s current state of affairs to the United States during the 50’s, and it doesn’t take much imagination to see what they mean. While some areas (my current city included) are not exactly hubs of civilization with full of booming trade, the rapid acquisition of wealth isn’t difficult to spot. Like several parts of South-East Asia, the last 40 years or so have drastically altered their people’s culture and state of affairs.
Incredibly, I am not using large cities like Shanghai, Beijing, or Hong Kong as reference for this claim. These cities are certainly epicenters of wealth, and in all honesty a visitor to Shanghai would only know they were not in a city like Chicago by the prevalence of Mandarin. More striking, however, are the places like Nanchang, which is where I live and work: The disparity between the very westernized and modern down town areas and the shambles on the edge of town is remarkable.
It was only back in 1987, the year my older brother was born, that foreigners came to Nanchang and coincided with the reformation and expansion of the universities here. Previously there was only one main facility, Jiangxi University (named for the province.) This campus was renamed Nanchang University and quickly overhauled. Those first few years every student, male and female, came sporting their green jackets and hats: the costume of the Chinese working class. Since that time the down town area has tripled in size, and the students today wear a wide variety of name-brand clothing and own smartphones. What was once dirt roads and wandering cattle has become shopping centers and apartment complexes.
What’s truly unique about the situation here and the changes being made is that there are new university-level students, born a decade after this city began to modernize and expand, who now have little-to-no memory of how very rural this town used to be. The town has developed so quickly that a 18 year old and a 24 year old could have had a very different quality of childhood simply due to how fervently the people of Nanchang have tried to modernize their city. At this point, there is not only a very large gap between generations due to the availability of Western culture, but also because of a difference in available opportunity. These kids are being raised in a much more modernized environment and brought up with a likely-outdated ideology. They are seeing the differences between their parents’ lives and their own, and change may very well come both swiftly and loudly.
It may seem like the Millenial generation is trying to make extremely large changes, and that Baby-Boomers have witnessed so many other changes, but this divide cannot compare to the disparity between generations in the China. Imagine, if you will, today’s Millenials with parents who have values from the turn of the 20th century. Compared to that, the disagreements in the US seem more like a gentle shift than a complete transformation.