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Thursday, 28 November, 2002, 08:26 GMT
China's young straddle two worlds
Young Chinese couple
Young Chinese embrace new ideas
In a series of special reports made for BBC World Service, Young In China explores the changing lives of the country's 20-somethings and discovers that generations are finding new ways of living alongside each other.

In the last of the programmes, Young in China looks at concepts of globalisation and discovers what the "me" generation feels about the outside world.

Until recently the space in Chinese culture for self-expression was very narrow.

Obligations to family and society always came first.

But in a quarter-century that has seen the one child policy and the introduction of the market economy, much has changed.

Chinese twentysomethings
Young Chinese are proud of their country's progress

Some contributors to the programme described the political idealism that drove their parents' generation to roam the countryside as Red Guards chanting Maoist slogans as "irresponsible".

"The traditional culture almost tried to format you," one young girl said.

"But the good thing about Chinese culture is that it asks you to be patient and somehow things will happen."

National identity

However passionately China has embraced Western culture in the past 20 years, there is a 5,000-year-old love affair with their own country behind it.

National identity remains a binding force and this is embraced by a youth who are proud to be Chinese.

Chinese soldier and Mao portrait
The young are changing but are still very Chinese

"We want to build the highest building in the world, we want to be number one in this and that - it is really in your blood," explained one youth.

China reaching the World Cup finals for the first time, entering the World Trade Organisation and winning the campaign to host the Olympics in 2008, were seen by many as symbols of their country's arrival as an equal on the world stage.

"The Olympic Games will put China centre stage and the whole world will look at China again," enthused 29-year-old novelist Wei Hui.

"I love my country so of course I would like the world to pay more attention and help China."


But as Shanghai streets become filled with more and more Western chain stores, so China's urban youth embrace the outside world.

Starbucks opened its first Shanghai café in 2000.

Internet deliveries in China
The youth are seeing rapid progress

A bold move in a country of tea drinkers, but one that has paid off as there are now a further 24 branches in Shanghai, with more planned.

Speaking of the familiarity that brand names afford, one young girl told the programme: "Every time I see Starbucks or McDonalds it makes me feel safe as I at least know how to handle those two stores."

"Wherever I go I know that I will not starve and I can order food that I am familiar with."


Whilst on the surface Chinese identity may appear to be changing, it is not disappearing.

Many of those interviewed described themselves as Buddhist.

They talked of "quietism", learning to accept tumultuous changes in the world around them, of contributing to the sum of human happiness by smiling at their neighbours.

"I think that understanding and respect for each other is most important," one girl said when asked for her view on the US-led war on terror.

"I just try to be a good human being and that is the most important thing for me now.

"Some people talk about politics and they talk big about human rights, but I am concerned with how to be a good person with a good heart."

You can hear Young In China on BBC World Service on Thursday 28 November at 20:30 GMT in Europe.

Listen to this week's Young in China report
"This self-confidence owes a lot to China's growing economic might."

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See also:

14 Nov 02 | Asia-Pacific
09 Nov 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
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