The controversial and popular writer has become the leading voice of his people. This Generation gathers his work dating from 2006, on topics from racing, prostitution, to the Beijing Olympics. Here, in the title essay, he sets out to define his generation.
A couple of days ago, at an event commemorating the 10th anniversary of the founding of the magazine Buds, I talked about the clichéd issue of the younger generation. My feeling is, it’s a mistake to talk about this generation and that generation, but if you insist that such divisions exist, then, yes, there are things I can say.
From what I can see, this generation is really quite traditional. If their divorce rate is on the high side, that’s because so many people simply marry someone in the target age group or marry an apartment—they don’t marry someone they love. When they reach the age of 25, everyone feels under pressure to tie the knot. But this point simply suggests there’s no essential difference between this generation and those who came before.
Society at large, however, gives this generation plenty of negative labels. They’re “self-oriented,” we’re told, or they “don’t care about politics.” This is unfair. To be self-oriented is actually not a bad thing, and many expressions of this focus on the self are a direct consequence of the one- child policy. I don’t think that problems resulting from the births of so many only children can be blamed on the youngsters who just happened to be born under that program.
As for charging them with not caring about politics, that’s a ridiculous argument. In the current environment, politics isn’t something one can afford to care about. Those people in the past, they simply found themselves cared about by politics whether they liked it or not, and the roles they played were just that of small fry, hapless victims swept around in the political currents of the day. Being a victim is no decent topic of conversation, any more than being raped has a place in a proper range of sexual experiences. The era where one can care about politics has yet to arrive.
Meanwhile, so many dissatisfactions and discords of the age we live in—as well as so many of its successes and advances—really have nothing at all to do with this generation, but stem from actions taken by their seniors. China Central Television’s loss of credibility, and with it the government’s loss of credibility, has nothing to do with them, either. This generation can find some scope for their talents only in the fields of sport and entertainment, and that’s not going to make much impact on society at large. People born in the 1980s are now, at most, 28 years old, and they exercise no real power to speak of, so the damage caused by abuses of power cannot be their fault. If you haven’t wiped your ass properly, don’t try to use the younger generation’s baby hair as toilet paper.
As for the other labels—dissolute, promiscuous, confused, substance-abusing, vacuous, depressed, and so on and so forth—I agree that these are tendencies that began with the generation of people born in the 1970s. But I don’t think these are so awful. Faith is a fine thing, no doubt, but what matters most is where faith leads us. If faith simply drives us into the ditch, then we’d do better to stay put on solid ground and watch the clouds go by.
On the other hand, we can happily note that this generation has initiated improvements in general standards of conduct: basic things like not littering, spitting, or cutting in line have been habits gradually established by those born after the Cultural Revolution. It’s our elders’ glorious tradition that we have to thank for those vices and anti-social behaviors.
This generation certainly has its shortcomings, but I believe that’s mainly a matter of individual limitations. Even if this generation has a multitude of faults, to talk about them at this point is wholly premature. That’s because the mistakes that we can see at present are the work of other people entirely: this generation’s mistakes have not yet begun, and this generation’s crooks and jerks have yet to show their faces. I don’t doubt there are plenty of fools among them, but that is true of all the generations that have ever lived.
—February 5, 2008
From This Generation by Han Han. Copyright © 2012 by Han Han. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.