Three young people. Three stories of living differently in China. This generation is richer than their parents but they face strong pressure to achieve and conform. Now many are forging their own path. Working with a local crew, reporter Lydia Feng takes us into the lives of a student, a farmer and a shopkeeper.
Tutu – student ‘Tutu’ loves Voguing – the dance subculture born out of the queer scene in 80s New York City. A student in Shanghai, Tutu has embraced his Voguing ‘House’ as his new family. “We all feel like we don’t belong in this society. Growing up, I felt the oppression of traditional values trying to take hold of me…so a ‘Voguing House’ is something very important to me. It’s a family I choose.” But outside this new family, Tutu feels like a misfit. “All institutions…They say you have to do something to fit their standard of ‘good’. Society is the same. It judges you with its rules. But what if I don’t think this is good? Why can’t I be my own ‘good’ as long as I don’t disturb others?”
Zhao Jia – farmer 31-year-old Zhao Jia had a Cadillac, an apartment in the city, and a career with China’s largest private education company. She gave it all up – to be a farmer. Jia is part of a group in China called fanxiang qingian or ‘returning youth’ – young Chinese turning their backs on the big city to re-embrace their hometowns. She ‘live-streams’ her farming life and advertises her produce to more than half a million followers on Tik Tok and other platforms. “When young people come back to do agriculture, we must distinguish ourselves from the older generation of farmers. Otherwise, there will be no point.” Jia’s parents are farmers but she wants to manage the land differently, using fewer pesticides and herbicides and free-ranging her livestock. Her mother isn’t thrilled with her daughter’s tree-change. “My goal was to raise my children to be college students…I felt sad when she told me she wanted to do agriculture…I still think an office job is better.”
Li Chuang – shopkeeper At the age of 32, Li Chuang was feeling lost and suffering from anxiety. He left his job as an editor with a renowned publishing house and volunteered with Taoist monks on Wudang Mountain. Returning to Beijing, he took over a small corner shop in the hutongs – the narrow alleyways of the old city where Chuang grew up. He’s resisting the relentless pressure to achieve. “There are people online telling me, “You should feel sorry for letting your parents down and wasting the resources of our country. You got a master’s degree with their support, but you end up running a corner store?!” It’s like I should say sorry to the whole country.” Practising tai chi at his local park and playing music, Li Chuang is striving to find his own equilibrium. Life was tougher for his parents, he thinks, but also simpler. “Their generation’s way of thinking, formed in the context of collectivism…Our generation is more pluralistic because we face more choices and we live in a more fragmented time. Both the opportunities and the challenges we face are probably greater than before.”
*The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), formerly the Australian Broadcasting Commission, is Australia’s national broadcaster.
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