The generational shift emerging in Chinese society
Thursday, July 12, 2012 at 11:45AM
Thomas P.M. Barnett in China, Citation Post, demographics, development

Nifty FT piece on the emerging post-Tiananmen generation - or anyone too young to remember that. Here they're talking only up to 24 years old, but in truth, you could easily go as high as 30-32, because people don't come of age on political matters til around 13 at the earliest.

As it is (rough eye-balling here), you think the under-25 crowd in China is close to 1/3rd of the population.

Piece argues that recent enviro demonstration "exposed a new vein of activism" among this crowd.

You know the old bit (repeated by me) where Chinese activists said, "Before Tiananmen, we thought freedom was 90% political and 10% economic.  After Tiananmen, we decided that freedom was 90% economic and 10% political."

When I first heard that bit, I loved it immediately as a basic expression of the lesson that virtually all revolutionary generations learn throughout history:  it's easier to revolutionize the environment through technology and commerce than through politics (which, in Marxian fashion, reflect those deep underlying realities).  So what I'm saying here is that most revolutionary generations learn that it's smarter to inexorably reshape the base than attempt to smash - one afternoon - the superstructure.

Why environmentalism is such a signpost of change: it's the political issue that translates so clearly to economic progress, because it defines the point where people look up from their economic successes and start asking the tradeoff questions. Yes, labor wages tend to precede as an issue, but that's such an intra-business issue (especially in a place like China where you're talking foreign owners). Environmentalism, in contrast, is undeniably local - even intimate (your bodies and what you put in them).

Overall, a great piece worth reading.  The "post-90" generation is starting to graduate from college and displaying a keen interest in politics.  With a tougher economy awaiting them, the instinct to seek better answers will be strong - along with the communication capacity for self-organization (see the unsurprising youth skew on "netizens").

No, I don't see some fast wave a'coming.  I see about a two-decade struggle where the government and Party consistently yield ground because it's the best choice for continued growth accompanied by political stability.

Article originally appeared on Thomas P.M. Barnett (
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