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Thursday, 14 November, 2002, 15:40 GMT
Internet dreams of China's young
Chinese young men surf the internet at a cyber cafe in Shanghai, 18 June 2002.
China's web users could soon outnumber US users
In a series of special reports made for BBC World Service, Young In China explores the changing lives of China's 20-somethings and discovers that generations are finding new ways of living alongside each other.

There is a consensus in China that the one-child policy and the market economy have between them created a self-centred, "me" generation.


The Earth has become a village

Zany
runs computer lessons
Guangcheng may be one of this generation himself, but he has got no time for self-indulgence.

Living in a poor corner of Shandong province in eastern China, his blindness meant he could not attend school until he was 18-years-old. He has made up for it since by teaching himself law.

He believes the country's law is extremely thorough. But he says the problem is in the execution of the law, especially at the grassroots level, which is poor.

He explains that he does not have enough legal textbooks and he cannot afford computer equipment.

"I live with my parents," he says. "To even own a computer, let alone use the internet on a computer, is a very distant dream."

Internet-savvy

But in Shanghai, the internet is exploding.

According to predictions, China will outstrip the US to become the world's most wired nation by 2005.

Young people at a newspaper stand
Not everyone has access to the web
Although the government does block websites and monitors cyber cafes, it knows that if it wants an internet-savvy generation to catapult China to the forefront of the global economy, it has no choice but to wire up the young as fast as possible.

Zhang Zhi An, or Zany, as he likes to be known, runs computer classes for elderly people at a Shanghai cyber cafe.

He explains how the internet has changed his life.

"I've found, with the internet, my space is expanding. I've found that the Earth has become a village," he says.

But for his family, it is still a world they cannot comprehend.

"My parents cannot understand why I choose this kind of life because my parents are not very well educated," he says.

"They don't know what a computer is and what the internet is. So they don't know what their son is doing."

Vulnerable

Once it was illegal to leave your village. Now the enormous demand for labour in China's market economy has given young farmers choices for the first time.

One hundred million of them work in the factories, restaurants and building sites of China's boom cities. But freedom from one kind of oppression has made them vulnerable to another.

A writer for the official news agency, Xinhua, 28-year-old Lin Gu has reported on the darker side of the Chinese dream.

"Many of them have fallen into being victims," he says. "Some of them even became handicapped, losing their limbs under the broken, antiquated machines."

But, he explains, when he asked people if they would do it differently again, many of them said, "Yes, because I want to say goodbye to my homeland in the countryside, because life is so boring".

Mr Lin adds: "Here, although I've lost my right hand, I've known how city people lead a different life. And I want to be one of them."


You can hear Young In China on BBC World Service on Thursday 14 November at 2030 GMT in Europe.


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09 Nov 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
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