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Today's generation of young people

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James Reynolds | 08:24 UK time, Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Still spookily quiet in Beijing. Have just written a quick piece about today's generation of young people...

For a generation that's never gone to war, never been through famine, getting crushed in the front row of a rock concert counts as fun.

Chinese fans at rock concert

On a Saturday night in Beijing, hundreds of teenagers cram up against each other to watch the band Twisted Machine. Many in this audience were born after 1989. To them, the most dramatic year in China's recent history is as distant as a saga from the Middle Ages.

Twenty years ago, young people and students spent their energy and their anger demonstrating in the streets. Their successors get it all out on the dance floor instead.

"I like this band," says a teenager in the audience. "Their songs express their dissatisfaction with society. It's a kind of emotion we all need to let out. For me it's a very good way to let it out."

In 2009, you can make as much noise as you want, so long as you don't attack the government. For the members of Twisted Machine - Liang Liang and Lao Dao - it's a point of great frustration.

Twisted Machine band member"In China, there's a taboo," says Liang Liang. "A taboo on people's minds, they kill it in the bud. You can't tell this to the public, this is wrong. They judge you, and they just tell you that what you think is wrong, you have to reform."

"When we try to express our yearning for freedom, it's not allowed," adds Lao Dao. "They don't allow you to express your desire for freedom, the urge to overthrow.

"'It is what they tell you it is' - that's what they say. And it's not like we can discuss it."

But in the furthest corner of China, one man is starting a discussion. He Weifang is a law professor from Beijing. In December he signed a charter calling for greater freedom in China.

Shortly afterwards, he was packed off to teach at a university in China's remote Xinjiang region.

But getting a transfer to China's version of Siberia hasn't kept him quiet. He lectures to a class of more than a hundred students on the need for an independent judiciary in China.

Professor He Weifang"Fellow scholars," he tells the class, "you all know the phrase 'knowledge changes destiny'. It applies to individuals; it also applies to countries as well. Knowledge can change a country profoundly."

In 2009 in China, you can't call for the entire system to be overthrown. But you can call for it to be improved.

"I think that we're now reforming, reforming means we can discover the shortcomings of this system," says the professor. "We make criticisms in order to make this system better, not to make it worse.

"Though sometimes my comments are very fierce, some officials may not like them, but on the whole, I don't think I've been in too much trouble for what I say."

The professor's words have already had an effect on a generation brought up without hearing any kind of debate. The students follow every word and every joke of his lecture.

"His lecture has taught me that we learn about the law in order to respect human rights," says Liu Qiong. "We have to pay attention to this as law students. If we learn the law, but fail to respect human rights, no matter how good we are, it will be pointless."

Professor He and his students

"His classes have taught me a lot about China's legal system and how it should be reformed," says Li Junhong. "What should be eliminated and what should be perfected. It has opened our eyes."

In a small way, that is a change. The generation born in 1989 has mostly been brought up to keep its eyes shut.

Today's students know that they won't get what they want by massing in Tiananmen Square. If they choose to take on a system that makes them rich and keeps them quiet, they will have to find a different path.

At the end of Professor He's lecture on the need for reform, this group of students in the furthest corner of China does something unexpected. It gives him an ovation.

Comments

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  • 1. At 09:19am on 03 Jun 2009, beijingmo wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 2. At 09:38am on 03 Jun 2009, cn_hk_uk_obs wrote:

    This was a great post! Thank You James! I hope that Chinese youth will be increasingly able to form and to express their opinions freely.

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  • 3. At 11:12am on 03 Jun 2009, beijing_2008 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 4. At 12:07pm on 03 Jun 2009, pandatank wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 5. At 12:32pm on 03 Jun 2009, beijing_2008 wrote:

    Perhaps the two protagonists in this story - Liang Liang and Lao Dao - should consider that were it not for the CCP (and the KMT), the songs they would be listening, and singing along to, would be in Japanese.

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  • 6. At 12:53pm on 03 Jun 2009, Wil wrote:

    Actually I found the youth with eyes shut are more prelavent in the western world. They did not bother to research and believe their media truely without any doubt. They expect the government to look after them but not activity involved is asking for more transparency of their government. Instead of researching on the policies of individual political candidate, they vote along party line. They allow lobby groups to take over the steering of their government.

    At least the chinese youth know that their government has lots of space to improve. At least they are pushing their govenment to be more transparent and accountable. They may not be able to choose the candidate, but they try to ensure the govenment trys to follow the wish of general public. Which is food and living condition improvement.

    Unlike the Western world, where they vote for their government but fail to make their government work for their benefits.

    There is a saying, when you point at others with your hand. There are three fingers pointing back at you. The forefathers of the western world fought for freedom, to be only exploit by the rich and wasted by the people.

    There must be improvement in china and same for the western world. China must improve on human rights and freedom. Western world must learn responsibility to safeguard their freedom and improve on human rights too.

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  • 7. At 1:31pm on 03 Jun 2009, RL wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 8. At 1:32pm on 03 Jun 2009, kerrymunroe wrote:

    First I want to qualify my remarks by saying that I have lived in China and studied Chinese for six years. I find it quite amusing to read the naive comments of Chinese nationals who feel the western media picks on them. They must come to realize that the world media picks on the whole world. If there is a western politician that make a mistake he is sure to be hounded (e.g. recent Italian president and his fondness of young women). On a national scale, unpopular parties aren't just voted out but verbally torn to pieces in the media. The Chinese people must realize that the propaganda, denial and lies of the Chinese government is not to the benefit the people but to protect and benefit corrupt government officials. All government of this world are bad. But they get even worse when a free media is not present to keep the politicians and bureaucrats in control. When the worlds media witnesses a "Great" nation (China) murdering its people and then China denies it, what do you think the media is going to do? Close their eyes? Smell the coffee (tea) comrads!! What the rest of the world wants China to do is start to look inward at itself and see its faults so that it can correct itself. They don't want China to be a big child that sits in the world playground and cries "Why is everyone picking on me??" Grow up.

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  • 9. At 1:33pm on 03 Jun 2009, KrSund70 wrote:

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  • 10. At 1:35pm on 03 Jun 2009, endyjai wrote:

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  • 11. At 1:42pm on 03 Jun 2009, pattang wrote:

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  • 12. At 2:05pm on 03 Jun 2009, Ilavabeer wrote:

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  • 13. At 2:34pm on 03 Jun 2009, ghostofsichuan wrote:

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  • 14. At 3:32pm on 03 Jun 2009, pattang wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 15. At 3:47pm on 03 Jun 2009, davidwhite44 wrote:

    Leaving politics aside, the youth of China generally have less freedom of choice than their counterparts in the West. No sooner are they free from a rigid and demanding education system then they enter a society which expects them to find a good job and buy a house (with cash), get married and have a baby by 30 before entering a lifetime of saving for the childs education and family health bills. These high expectations unfortunately lead to high suicide rates where anything less is unfairly judged as failure.

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  • 16. At 4:06pm on 03 Jun 2009, englishbounder wrote:

    Very interesting report.
    It seems if you look hard enough on the internet you can find much information. Censored or not.

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  • 17. At 4:13pm on 03 Jun 2009, laowai1979 wrote:

    #5

    "Perhaps the two protagonists in this story - Liang Liang and Lao Dao - should consider that were it not for the CCP (and the KMT), the songs they would be listening, and singing along to, would be in Japanese."

    What exactly did the CCP do to defeat the Japanese? I don't recall the CCP ships at Midway or CCP planes dropping nuclear weapons on Japan
    or any any other battle at all. Still I could be wrong

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  • 18. At 5:32pm on 03 Jun 2009, potandkettle wrote:

    Kerrymunroe, I find it amazing how six years in China and learning the language still renders you so ignorant.

    If there was anything you could have learnt in the past year or so, it is that people don't care if you criticise the CCP (with informed, logical arguments). But when you start patronising all Chinese people, you will get slated. The generalisations you're making are disturbing.

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  • 19. At 5:39pm on 03 Jun 2009, beijing_ren wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 20. At 6:31pm on 03 Jun 2009, aeroarchie wrote:

    When the Chinese youths were not "quiet" and criticised the western media for the way they reported the Tibetan riots in Lhasa in March 2008 and the violent disruption of Beijing Olympic torch relay in some western cities in April 2008, they were "brainwashed" by the CCP.

    The Chinese government should thank the western media for making the Chinese youths today very much more patriotic.

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  • 21. At 6:34pm on 03 Jun 2009, aeroarchie wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 22. At 7:30pm on 03 Jun 2009, ghostofsichuan wrote:

    The Chinese legal system is based on the argicultural model of the past whereby tradition and elders resolved disputes. In other times, lawyers were not allowed to make presentations. The modernization and urbanization with a superimposed Party structure is for control and punishment and less about resolution of disputes. As we see today with censorship and blocking of access to internet sites China is unwilling to trust its own people with information that does not conform to what the government wants people to know. Things are improving but individual expression that conflicts with the governments is still a dangerous act. For all that China has become it still has no judical system that can be viewed as upholding a set of laws or individual rights. Economic opportunities will never be enough as there is a sense of fairness that people expect from their government and when not provided becomes the call for change. There is an old Chinese expression: Win your case, lose your money.

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  • 23. At 9:53pm on 03 Jun 2009, Bloofs wrote:

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  • 24. At 00:27am on 04 Jun 2009, nonothing wrote:

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  • 25. At 01:48am on 04 Jun 2009, Shanghai2010 wrote:

    I find it interesting... my fellow citizens here always harp on about how Japan never truly apologised for their atrocities during the invasion (and they truly were horrifying crimes against humanity) but when it comes to admitting our own crimes and mistakes, they are blind.

    And yes, the rest of the world has committed crimes and massacres: but that does not make it right. Criticising the West for its mistakes does not absolve us from our own, deflecting blame is simply childish pettiness in a game of one-upmanship.

    To be fair, things have improved in China since those events so long ago. Economically and socially, China has grown. It's not perfect, but Rome was not built in a day.

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  • 26. At 03:39am on 04 Jun 2009, bluejeansbj wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 27. At 04:07am on 04 Jun 2009, nanjingdave wrote:

    "When you point at others with your hand, there are three fingers pointing back at you"

    Unfortunately when you point the finger at China, a billion fingers point back at you to take the emphasis off the point you were trying to make in the first place.

    Why cant those posters talk of the issues these blogs are relating to, instead of saying "well in the west this happens, and in the west that happens". We get it, we get it, the west is the big bad wolf. Can we talk about China now?

    By all means stick up for your country, but if you want to do some west bashing instead of discussing china based issues, then im sure there are a thousand-and-one other blogs more suited to your needs.

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  • 28. At 04:16am on 04 Jun 2009, rymnd2008 wrote:

    kerry said : "all governments are bad"

    kerry must be very fond of voting and its processes to select government. If governments are bad, then you should change government as often as you can.

    Why not have referendum every single day, without office, without school, without economic, to choose the ever-bad government.

    kerry your time in China has been wasted so far as you never understand how Chinese people think. If I were you, I quit China and go back to your freedom-of-speech world and carry on voting every single day.

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  • 29. At 04:32am on 04 Jun 2009, rymnd2008 wrote:

    western media can only fool people in the west.

    Look, how many people suffered in 6-4, hundreds perhaps according James Miles late realization, including civians, policemen, soilders and of course the rioters.

    How many people in China
    -work to support their families
    -buy decent homes worth over RMB1,000,000
    -have investments in Chinese stock markets
    -buy decent cars worth over RMB200,000
    -look for better jobs, better school, better quality of live
    -spend for decent holidays home and aboard

    Hundreds of Millions perhaps.

    west media hopes an uprising of Chinese people which could throw everything into chaos. No Chinese lives in China will ever buy this idea.

    west media always focus on a very small minority's suffering and turn a blind eye on ever growing wealth of general public.

    material and money aren't everything. Yes, only when I am a millionair, money isn't important anymore.

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  • 30. At 06:20am on 04 Jun 2009, funnyanotherblogger wrote:

    Today's youth are kept quiet?

    I guess it is very disappointing to see the Chinese youth of today choose reform rather than a violent revolution. How disappointing!

    Why should young people choose to overthrow their government when their life is getting better and better and their socienty getting freeer and freeer?

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  • 31. At 07:16am on 04 Jun 2009, suozhe wrote:

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  • 32. At 09:17am on 04 Jun 2009, Godasse wrote:

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  • 33. At 10:00am on 04 Jun 2009, wuhaocom wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 34. At 10:39am on 04 Jun 2009, mooncake wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 35. At 12:19pm on 04 Jun 2009, shutuhh wrote:

    First comment: Rock or heavy mental music are quite unpopular in China.

    Although these things are some of the most significant life elements among youth in Europe and America, they have never been widely appreciated in China even in young generation, due to cultural differences. The meaning of interviewing a chinese rock player for his political opinion is as marginal as interviewing a buddhist among an Anglo-American community for his idea about the financial crisis.

    Second comment: Interview more normal people, not only dissents.

    China has made its 'reform and opening' for more than 30 years. There are countless problems emerging, many of them are considered hopeless by the ourside world, yet we come through all of them. One important point of understanding a policy in China is to observe whether it can benefit the majority of people. If so, then it will work, if not, it will be abandomed.

    Thus, for each and every event, if you only care about dissents, you can always find some, not strange at all. But if you only do this, you will learn nothing more than once again confirming 'China is evil'.

    In reality, China is much more than that.

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  • 36. At 3:18pm on 04 Jun 2009, mooncake wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 37. At 3:42pm on 04 Jun 2009, TrnOvrANwLeaf wrote:

    I have the deepest respect for Liu Qiong. Yearning for a better future in the face of immense persecution requires a strength that is not common among humans.

    Thanks for writing about this James.

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  • 38. At 3:53pm on 04 Jun 2009, TrnOvrANwLeaf wrote:

    This generation of Chinese youths is going to be the generation that runs China in a few decades.

    I lament the fact that most of them will be ignorant of the past and have a worldview that is as wide as an ice cream cone. In Australia, we are encouraged to get involved in the civil society and live our citizenship. Chinese youths are not going to compare favorably with their counterparts across the sea.

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  • 39. At 4:52pm on 04 Jun 2009, Ilavabeer wrote:

    I'm impressed by the He Weifang's courage.

    No nation has the monopoly on human frailty but it is in all of our interests to let our failings as human beings be discussed openly: if we who are not Chinese bring anything constructive to this problem it is surely that simple fact.

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  • 40. At 3:17pm on 05 Jun 2009, grow-up wrote:

    hello,man, I think it great to read some different sound from your report, but why don't you report them in justice standpoint. Of course, young people in China have some fault and lost some traditional virtue, however, most of them are good person and try to hard work for their family and country. Please report the truth likes this, don't mislead other countries by the misunderstanding of the tiny things. Please keep the quality of the real reporter, tell the truth, not prejudice.

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  • 41. At 04:33am on 07 Jun 2009, lily_lilu wrote:

    I was born in 1989.I was ignorant of what happened 20 years ago when I was still in my mother'uterus,untill I heard about from my teacher in the university.
    Then I pay more attention about the tragedy.So does the friends and classmates of mine.Addmitedly,many youngsters are educated to be quite,but it's not always the case.
    I learn about views of the western world.But that does not mean I'm totally agree with them.

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  • 42. At 9:31pm on 07 Jun 2009, CaravanPark wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 43. At 08:27am on 10 Jun 2009, runnyjoesmith wrote:

    To a certain extent i can understand how many blame america for playing their continental blame game to cast every other country but their own as inferior and put themselves as god to many situations in which they have no right to even intefere with. This much i understand, and agree with. Any country that the US even sniffs of as having the potential to overtake their economic status, will be fired upon by the fury of press and media coverage to give the public dishonest and baised information. But thats reality and politics, you'd expect it from any country. Lets face it the world aint pretty. However, this censorship is really to china's own doing. Look at this from any point of view you want, its restriction of freedom and blatant communisim, and in no can be argued as "picking on". Comon were adult not children, and if the goverment had the balls to make this move and declare a entire nation censorship, then they must have thought of the consequences. In fact if any other country tried to pull this, there would not be only a uproar from the international media but by their own citizens. How the people of China see this a neccesary measure and "correct" is just a exemplifying the fact that the nation is still stuck in the past, and confined to communisim. Unless it breaks this barrier of control this type of "picking on" media will just keep on coming.

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  • 44. At 03:12am on 11 Jun 2009, U14029228 wrote:

    Brainwashed and hopeless generation! Are those people our country's future?

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  • 45. At 07:49am on 11 Jun 2009, KapitanCina wrote:

    I lived in the UK for 10 years before moving on. I was very much into the Indie/House scenes in Manchester during the 90s. So I grew up virtually totally immersed in western youth music scenes.

    Now, I have been working in China for close to 4 years. I think youths everywhere are just good at being ... well youths. Mostly they want to have fun, chase the opposite sex, impress their own peers etc. They are the same in China as everywhere in the world. Although I've never been to any gigs etc in China, out on the street, they seem just like any youngster you would see in NY, London, Singapore or Tokyo - strange hair-styles, strange clothing, strange waggle, strange language even!

    I can imagine in the 70s, China would've been very different. They have open up to the world and what a grand job it was so far. Can we expect a country with over a billion people to just change, ideologically and politically, to be exact copies of the West overnight? C'mon even in my own country, if you play an electric guitar, you might still be seen as a lazy no-lifer. When you were a young did you just wanted to party and have a good time or did you wonder if your government was cool?

    If you invited guests to your house, you would be very offended if they openly fluant disgust and disagreement on what color curtains you chose or your choice of silverware or how overfed your cat is.

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  • 46. At 10:52pm on 07 Jul 2009, pwmclear wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

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