They get to choose

12 Jul 2006|Cynthia Chan

Ask any young Chinese what they want to be and you’re likely to hear them explain that they are not sure yet, but they want lives that express their personalities and their individual uniqueness. This might not be surprising coming from a New Yorker or young person living in London, but until very recently, the idea that life should reflect individual tastes was unthinkable in China. Life there was dictated by the community, the family, and tradition. The desires of an individual were irrelevant and potentially disruptive. But capitalism thrives on individualism, so Chinese society is adjusting to accommodate it. In searching for their personal identity, China’s young adults are happy to be the country’s guinea pigs for this.

That’s not to say they do this easily. In addition to the Maoist legacy, China has a long history of collectivism that prioritizes the needs of the group over the individual. To value self-expression is to confront deeply entrenched behaviors and beliefs, and it would be naïve to suggest this doesn’t cause tension and conflict. Nevertheless, the trend is gaining steam and spreading well beyond the relatively sophisticated coastal cities. Right now, expressing personality is about the hottest thing a young Chinese can do.

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