Youth Discontentment on the Rise in China

Chinese youth, China, Chinese students

Demands for freedom and democracy, notwithstanding economic deprivation, are fueling discontent among the youths in China. In defiance of state censorship and repression, discontent among Chinese youth is rising online and on University campuses. Most of the protests are against the regime’s stifling of free speech and its heavy-handed political control.

Universities are the hot spots for this discontentment. Increasing anticapitalism memes and online dissent against the present regime point to rage and resentment among Chinese youth. According to the disgruntled youth, only the capitalist class is becoming enriched due to the hard work of the working class, even in China.

In China, rural youth are at a disadvantage relative to city youth. The quality of schools and access to computers are inferior to the cities. Many of these young Chinese from humble backgrounds began to gather in online groups with self-mocking memes as ‘small-town test machines’ to sympathise with one another.

These groups attracted tens of thousands of members before censors shut them down. Memes indicating hopelessness about the future are now common on social media. Memes like the ‘Chives’ indicate the Chinese youth’s frustration over being exploited by the capitalists in the country.

Others like ‘Lie Flat’ expose the youth’s disgust with the present society and have decided to forgo jobs which yield little returns and worsen quality of life. The record increase in unemployment rate to over 20% among the youth due to economic slowdown has added to disillusionment among the youth.

The disillusionment is being expressed through a viral meme of a famous short story of a failed scholar, Kong Yiji, who lived in poverty, indicating a bleak future for graduates. The video of a young Chinese graduate in tears who reveals having sent 800 resumes in vain went viral on Chinese social networks.

In addition to the memes, there have been also increase in youth directly confronting the authorities, openly or online, which is seen in China as extraordinary. Students have openly carried blank pieces of white paper to protest against the Chinese Communist Party’s strict censorship regime.

Students across multiple Universities around Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces had last year launched protests against the government’s plan to relegate the status of Universities to that of ‘vocational schools’, thus devaluing the degrees earned by them. They had also spontaneously launched protests against attempts by their schools to profit off of them during lockdown measures.

A collective event called China Deviants have been formed by overseas Chinese student activists which is demanding democracy, freedom of speech, the rule of law and government accountability to the people of China. China Deviants aims to be an offline platform for Chinese activists, repressed and not allowed to speak out domestically, to come together and sustain a collective campaign of resistance against the Chinese Communist Party.

Social media posts and open protests by the youth in China indicate that young people are losing confidence in Xi Jinping’s nationalistic ‘China Dream’.

According to a survey, about 25% of University students are depressed due to study, employment and economic pressure. The current generation of youth in China is the most pessimistic of all age groups as they experience an economy where their earning power has shrunk.

The government will have to do more to maintain social stability and peace as youth is usually the source of social movements. With rising despair and disillusionment, the youth are taking to disruptive ways to voice their despair.

As China's economic growth is set to remain on the lower side in the coming years, frustrated youth may well test China's social stability.

Xi Lao is a freelance journalist based in Taiwan.

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This piece was written for Greek City Times by a Guest Contributor

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