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Home  /  Inside China  /  70hou, 80hou, 90hou - The growing generation gap in China
70hou, 80hou, 90hou - The growing generation gap in China print version

Great attention is given in China to the sharp differences between the 70hou (Chinese born in the 1970's), 80hou (Chinese born in the 1980's) and 90hou (Chinese born in the 1990's), as these stereotypes serve as a radar that reflects shifting values. The hard-working 70hou, the capitalist 80hou and the selfish 90hou are not only contrasting each other, but also evolving as we speak.

70后:All the workaholics are 70hou 工作狂基本上都是70后的。
80后:We refuse to work overtime 而我们,拒绝加班!
90后 :We refuse to work! 拒绝上班!

Generation gaps isn't a phenomenon unique to China, but with the crucial changes in Chinese society over the last four decades, values are significantly shifting. Popular idioms in China assist in depicting, generalizing, and exaggerating these phenomena.

The 70hou reached puberty when the Reform Era (initiated in 1979) was underway. Still, they were emotionally shaped (early childhood) in the midst of the Cultural Revolution, an age of instability and uncertainties regarding the future. Education wasn't widespread, and the unconditional devotion to the communist leadership was nationally enforced. Today, while they overall cherish the economic development and the growth of the powerful Chinese nation, the 70hou also see how values are changing in a blink of an eye. They lament that today's youngsters, instead of valuing the opportunity to attend school, are complaining about study pressure. Similarly, contemporary youth spend money on superficial merchandise instead of acknowledging the importance of money-saving. Not to mention values of solidarity, friendship, and marriage, which are treated more and more lightly these days and are coupled with materialistic interests.

70后:If we have a notebook we will like to use it in a public occasion他们如果有笔记本,会喜欢到公众场合用。 80后:We certainly won't carry such a heavy object on our back!我们才不会背那么重的东西在身上。
90后 :If it is an Apple Notebook then we could use it只要苹果笔记本会用

The 80hou are only one decade away from the 70hou. The social turbulence of the Mao regime is ancient past for them. Sometimes parents want their kids to cherish every opportunity given by the new era, shaping their kids into a more '70hou' formation, while sometimes parents appreciate the fact their kids only know Reform Era China (though the opening up process did take place in several gradual steps). Such parents sometimes promote the formation of nouveau riche (fuerdai) and spoiled children. The initiation of the single-child policies has made such phenomenon even more widespread, as parents show greater attention to the happiness of their single offspring while neglecting discipline.

70后:No matter when, if we see a leader standing, we will give him their seat 他们无论任何时候,看到有站着的领导,都会马上给领导让座。
80后:We advocate equality between high and low positions 我们崇尚上下级平等。
90后:In this universe I respect only myself! 天上地下,唯我独尊!

In what aspects are the 90hou different from the 80hou? While the 80hou represent the emergence of selfish groups that direct a process a value deterioration according to many, they also carry some burden on their shoulders. Being a single child can mean more study and work pressures as the family's sole successor. As they graduate, the 80hou experience the competition of the market economy and the challenge of buying an apartment while exercising modern era consumerism. Yueguangzu (youngsters who spend their entire monthly income) and woju (carrying the economic burden of purchasing an apartment throughout many years) are some of the terms the express less casual sides of the 80hou experience.

70后:We hope that China will use a nuclear bomb the exterminate US, Japan and Taiwan 他们希望中国用核弹把上面三个国家(地区)都灭了。
80后:We want peace 我们希望和平。
90后:What does this have to do with me?! Will war bring the prices of clothes down? 和我无关!打仗衣服会降价吗?那就打呗~~

The 90hou suffer from similar prospects, but are less of guinea pigs in a new socioeconomic experience. The problems of student pressure and high prices are already becoming socially acknowledged facts and the emotional needs of the individual are taken into greater consideration. This doesn't mean that the 90hou don't 'eat bitterness' (chiku 吃苦), but at least the system is providing more means to overcome stress and, intentionally or not, opening the door for individualistic values.

In terms of consumerism, the 90hou take it to the next level, being very selective and aware, as well as utilizing the sphere of internet shopping. Needless to say, the internet is also a major social hangout and realm of self-expression for 90hou adolescents.

70后:When we marry a wife they wish to marry a virgin 他们娶老婆的时候想娶处女。
80后:We think it doesn't matter, as long as we have mutual love feeling it is fine 我们觉得无所谓,只要相互感情好就可以了。
90后:Does marriage requires feelings? Do we really need to marry? 结婚需要感情吗?..需要结婚吗?..

A survey conducted by Guangzhou Committee of the Communist Youth League of China tried to provide some statistics to support popular stereotypes. Without expounding on the exact figures, the survey found big differences between members of the three generations in attitudes towards marriage (70hou wanting to keep the family 'secure' in any cause, 80hou seeing divorce as something that can be even celebrated at times), shopping (90hou strongly favor online shopping), money-saving (70hou constantly consider how to save their incomes) and work time (over-time hours tolerated only by the 70hou). This survey is indeed interesting, though such comparison is problematic because it reflects age differences and doesn't necessarily illustrate meaningful value differences unique to China.

70后:We have bank saving 他们有存款。
80后:We have debts 我们负债。
90后:We have papa! 我们有老爸!

Except for the different childhood conditions, the three groups are still evolving and shaped by their age and social trends. The 70hou are entering their 40s and are mostly already enjoying (or suffering from) a stable job, marriage and children. The 80hou try to adjust to adult reality and stand on their feet (sanshi erli 三十而立), while the 90hou... what do we want from them so early?! They are just finishing school and beginning to think of adulthood, still lacking deep insights.

As the 80hou are building their families and the 90hou are starting to become responsible citizens, numerous follow-up studies are expected to deepen the understanding of these unique generations, while the Chinese popular discourse will continue to regard these groups as agents of changing values: Sometimes as 'good modern individuals' that lead China forward, and sometimes as warning signs for an over-permissive and superficial culture.

1.) The above discussion is mainly relevant to China's urban sphere.
2.) The 'dialogues' within the article were taken from a Renren Wang blog.

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