Eric Fish on his latest book China's Millenials

The author on how China's millennial generation changes their stereotypes

In his new book Chinese Millenials: The Want Generation, author Eric Fish draws on eight years of experience teaching and writing in Mainland China. He tells Time Out how the country’s oft misunderstood millennial generation are challenging the status quo.

China is keen on labelling its youth by the decade in which they were born, post-’80s, post-’90s generation etc. Is there really that much difference between them?

I’d say so. The generation labels have actually become even narrower in some media circles (i.e. post- ’85s, post-’90s, post- ’95s). Just compare the circumstances they grew up in. Per capita GDP nearly tripled between 1990 and 2000. Internet penetration went from less than 2 percent of the population in 2000 to 34 percent in 2010 to almost 50 percent today. Just within these ten-year spans, people’s lifestyles and access to information changed pretty radically.

How do Chinese millennials differ from those in the West?

The big difference I’d say is in the depth and breadth of the challenges they’re facing. Millennials in the West are facing big problems like wealth inequality, devaluing college degrees, unemployment, highhousing costs, lack of direction, etc. Chinese millennials have the same issues, only they’re much more serious and widespread. At the same time, China’s millennials have very unique social issues to confront, like the gender imbalance, hukou residency system, and gaokao college entrance exam. Politically, China’s millennials overall still seem to be much more disengaged than their Western counterparts, but that appears to be changing rather quickly.

You’ve said that China’s political situation has regressed during the time you’ve been here. Why do you think that is?

I think part of it is precisely because young people appear to be taking a greater interest in social, environmental, and political issues. During the last few years of Hu Jintao’s presidency, you had all these environmental street protests, online campaigns, social activism, and, most notably I thought, the Southern Weekend protests in January 2013. This certainly highlighted the trend toward a more vocal and demanding population, largely led by less-andless inhibited youth.

How big a following do activist icons like Li Maizi have in China?

Li Maizi and the ‘Feminist Five’ seemed to have had a significant and growing following, albeit still relatively small. But by arresting them, authorities pretty efficiently highlighted the need for such activists and prompted scores to rally around their cause. So I think in this regard, activists are shifting from being seen as weirdos to being admired.

If readers should take away one thought from the book, what should that be?

Contrary to the stereotypes of a spoiled ‘little emperor’ generation, there are a lot of things young Chinese are really struggling with today, and many of these things are poised to become worse in the years ahead. Young Chinese have very diverse and high expectations, and are becoming much more willing to speak up, assert their interests, and challenge the status quo. In the coming years, this combination could become very interesting.

China's Millenials is available now from from 173RMB.