Are China’s Millennials Already Over the Hill?

2017-12-18 09:15:40

Millennials around the world get a bad rap: Baby boomers bemoan that today’s young people are immature and distractible, while Gen Xers sneer at their tastes in music. China is no exception, and the latest popular characterization of the generation born in the ’90s is that they’re monkish, divorce-prone, and already past their prime.

The labels come in part from articles published on Xinshixiang, a popular public account on social media app WeChat founded by a former editor at men’s style magazine GQ. The tongue-in-cheek stories shine a somewhat unflattering spotlight on China’s “post-’90s generation” — those born in the 1990s, now aged 18 to 27 — who are attracting some disapproval from their cantankerous elders as more of them enter the workforce.

One article, which gently roasts ’90s kids for “becoming Buddhists” with their Zen-like approach to work and life, garnered 5 million views. Many young Chinese have taken serene acceptance to the point of apathy, the author writes, claiming they “never compete for anything and don’t care about results.”

Other articles have focused on different “symptoms” of the post-’90s generation, but all take a pitying tone. Some millennial readers told Sixth Tone they felt amused by the characterizations. “Why so sad? Who painted the target on us?” asked Iris Liu, a TV producer born in 1994.

Every generation has been the brunt of social media shade at some point. The post-’80s generation, for example, has been stereotyped as spoiled brats because they were used to being the center of attention as children born under the one-child policy. But until now, ’90s kids have mostly escaped the full scorn of keyboard warriors because they more or less run the internet.

A student holds a hot water bottle while studying outdoors on a brisk day in Zhengzhou, Henan province, Nov. 27, 2017. Zuo Dongchen/VCG

A student holds a hot water bottle while studying outdoors on a brisk day in Zhengzhou, Henan province, Nov. 27, 2017. Zuo Dongchen/VCG

“The post-’90s and post-’00s are the most powerful voices on the internet because they are natives living in the digital age,” Zeng Yuli, a freelance writer on youth culture, told Sixth Tone. “Their taste is the internet’s taste, and their whims shape trends.”

Now snarky seniors are trying to get their revenge. Sixth Tone highlights some of the key stereotypes peddled about the post-’90s generation as its members supposedly approach their quarter-life crises.

1. Getting divorced

The marriages of Chinese millennials are “fragile,” argues an article by business and financial news outlet titled “The first group of post-’90s are already getting divorced,” because young people these days want more from their relationships than in the past.

The author explains how women are more likely to end unsatisfying relationships as they gain social status. “My goal initially was to get married and live happily ever after, but we were immature” said one interviewee in the article. “When I eventually proposed we untie the knot, we both felt an overwhelming sense of release.”

But the article sparked snippy remarks, even from people born in the ’80s, who lamented that they were still struggling to find their first spouse when far younger people had already moved on to their second or third.

2. Growing “greasy”

Even while millennials make fun of greasy old men and uncool aunties, some are realizing they’re not so far away from the unenviable yet inevitable state of middle age themselves, if reader responses to one Xinshixiang article are any indication. With little exercise and lots of time spent in front of computer screens, their paunches have started to show. And now that they’re no longer the most junior employees in their offices, they’re losing what wide-eyed wonder they may have once had, becoming cranky and cynical beyond their years.

The post-’90s and post-’00s are the most powerful voices on the internet because they are natives living in the digital age.

3. Losing ambition

According to the article on how the post-’90s generation is becoming quasi-Buddhist, what resonates with young people is the idea that “to have or have not, either is OK.” Compared with older generations, the author argues, millennials are more easygoing, less picky and demanding, less ambitious and driven. It’s the Buddhist tenet of freedom from desire distilled into a shrug emoji.

The trend of young people opting out of the rat race and celebrating apathy is known in China as sang. Zeng explains that the cultural phenomena of sang, quasi-Buddhism, and premature stodginess are a response to the tremendous pressures millennial Chinese face: skyrocketing housing prices, unstable employment in an increasingly competitive job market, and the considerable weight of their parents’ expectations.

“For them, it’s not so easy to break barriers and move up socially,” Zeng explains. But he adds that the post-’90s generation doesn’t necessarily reject success, either: “It’s not that they’re actively avoiding accolades and accomplishments, because they would accept anything if it fell into their lap.”

4. Acting like old people

China’s post-’90s kids might tease an aging rock star for carrying a tea thermos, but they’re not averse to sipping on some hot water with goji berries themselves. Millennials are increasingly adopting the health-conscious tastes and habits of the elderly: They’re eating lighter meals, drinking less alcohol, wearing warmer clothes, and going to bed earlier, suggests Xinshixiang. Some are even turning to Buddhist songs and texts to find inner peace.

Though the eldest members of the post-’90s generation are just 27, they are already bemoaning their flagging memory, failing eyesight, and weak stomachs — but they may not get to hog the spotlight for much longer: Soon, the first crop of those born in 2000 will be turning 18.

In contrast to their jaded and wizened peers, some ’90s kids say they actually identify more with this post-millennium generation. “I’m physically healthy,” 26-year-old Zhu Jia told Sixth Tone. “I’m also looking forward to being in love — so I feel more like a post-’00s kid.”

Editors: David Paulk and Qian Jinghua.

(Header image: Two young men play cards at their shared apartment in Beijing, July 25, 2016. Liu Junwei/VCG)