The Chinese Dream of better lives for themselves and for their families
”In 10 years, my annual salary will be more than (several) millions (of) RMB”
This quote is taken from a blog post that was published last week on a Chinese blog; Michael, the young Chinese man who was quoted in the post, decided to leave his hometown of Nanjing and to hop on a train to Shanghai, hoping to achieve a better life in one of the most vibrant cities in China. Michael repeatedly emphasizes his desire to have millions of RMB’s, a big house and a car and to save money for the education and the future of his yet to be born children. Throughout the story, Michael often finds himself stressed. Although he has a job and a girlfriend, he is influenced by his friends who make more money than him and by his girlfriend who constantly demands more from him materialistically.
This is not an extraordinary story for many of the younger generation in China. As I have recently written in my previous post, The Road to Individualism, young adults demand more from their surroundings: more from the company for which they work, more from friends, more from a spouse and more from the country.
This attitude, however, carries a cost: Today, people are often measured by their peers in a different way than in the past. Before the opening reforms of 1978, one might have been measured by the way they behaved towards other people. Today, one is measured in materialistic terms: having a new house, a car and a good job and providing financially for one’s family are taking an important role in modern society in China and are becoming the new Chinese Dream; Success has been redefined in materialistic terms.
This process is happening for several reasons:
First, Beijing is anxious to raise the quality of life of citizens, and it has set economic growth as its major ruling agenda. Economic growth shakes values and can demand people to change their behavior in order to support it. (for example, the eviction of old areas in major cities in favor of building new apartment complexes) Economic growth also forces people to adjust and to adapt to new situations that are often not under their control: the rising cost of living makes it a struggle to survive, and many people find themselves working harder to cope with once ordinary tasks; This reason alone provides a clear explanation as to why people are more obsessed with the accumulation of wealth.
Second, foreign cultures ruled in China for decades and impacted the way people behave today; This situation has caused for a deep and strong desire to show the world that China is an economic superpower. Beijing feels that now is the time to compensate for lack of growth throughout history, and growth has consequently become the most important factor in the eyes of policy makers.
Third, the opening reforms have caused foreign influence to flow into China. Nevertheless, because of its culture, China has not been able to accept every foreign influence, and it has been exposed to certain foreign cultures more than to others. It is my opinion that the American culture has penetrated far deeper than any other foreign culture in China; Its influence has caused for a change in priorities and created confusion in individual values.
The Chinese Dream
The influx of American influence has been so fast that many young adults are confused about their future and want to be “millionaires”, because they are told (by advertisers, by peers and often by their own families) that money is more important than other, non materialistic, values. Parents often push their children towards economic success, because the older generation never had a chance to succeed financially. And so, a new Chinese Dream is created.
Such conditions result in a general confusion by the younger population as China attempts to get accepted and acknowledged by the world as the next economic superpower.
In the end of the post, Michael admits to have never being able to become a millionaire. Nevertheless, he wants to enjoy what is left from his life: to walk with his wife and to broaden his horizons: “(In) the next 10 years, I hope to live more for myself.”