Mainland Moments: China’s Me Generation

China’s equivalent to the Y Generation have just entered the job market. Karen Tye looks at the ramifications for a generation of one-child employees who have grown up in a modern China with the world at their fingertips.

China’s Gen Y, better known as the post-90s generation (90后), have copped much flak from older generations as being spoilt, selfish and lacking drive as this generation has only known an affluent China, spurred by year after year of robust economic growth.
The middle of this year saw the first batch of post-90s generation kids swarming the job market, with apprehensive employers not quite knowing what to expect aside from the bad media rap.
According to China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, there were 6.8 million college graduates this year, most of whom were born between September 1989 and August 1990.
Serena Xu, who recently graduated from Shanghai Normal University and now works for a multinational company, is one such example.
“Regarding the post-90s generation, we’re all One-Child policy kids, so we’ve been showered with love and attention from our parents and grandparents. I guess compared to the post-80s generation (80后), you could say that we’re a little bit more self-orientated, perhaps even selfish,” she says.
Zhao Jin and Sha Jing are classmates and are currently in their last year of university in Anhui Province. “I think those from the post-90s are an energetic bunch who really like to express their individuality, although perhaps from time to time, they may go a little overboard,” Jing says.
He adds that many of them don’t have clear goals and direction and don’t think twice about spending their parents’ money.
Jin adds: “We’re definitely a more carefree generation, who are happy in the moment and enjoy the simple pleasures in life. I think aside from looking for a job after we graduate, most of us just want to hang out with friends on the weekend and go traveling on our holidays.”
All three agree that the job market is definitely getting more and more competitive.
“There are more job seekers with increasingly higher qualifications – I definitely feel grateful that I am in my current job. Those from the post-90s generation have had a comfortable upbringing, so perhaps a lot of them might not be prepared for the harsh realities of being an adult and whilst they may be unable to secure their dream job, they may not want to settle for any less either,” adds Serena.
Serena’s colleague, Peter Fu, who was also born in 1990, says that despite the increased channels when searching for a job including Internet job sites, China’s changing education system has made the job market all the more competitive.
“Most of what I learnt at university was at a fundamental level. If I wanted more specialised knowledge, I would have to go through a Master’s degree. Holding a Bachelor’s degree is very common these days in China, and entry requirements into university seem to be lower than in the past.”
Despite being from the post-80s generation, Yang Zengdong, a Chinese language teacher, shares similar views on the topic.
“Just by sheer numbers, there are more post-90s generation students compared to those who graduated in the past decade. Not only do the post-90s generation have to grapple with that, but China’s rapid economic development and inflation have also given rise to other things that must be taken into consideration when looking for a job, including increasing rent and living expenses,” says Zengdong.
“But I think the post-90s generation are not able to bounce back as quickly from setbacks, including those related to work, when compared to my generation. It’s partly due to the fact that they are not able to grit their teeth and soldier on and also partly because their family can’t bear to see them go through a little hardship and as a result, step in to help out,” Zengdong adds.
“However, aside from learning university course work that will allow them to perform at a job, I think they have also learned how to express individual thought and question the norm, which will serve them well at work,” says Zengdong. “They have grown up in a fast changing environment and are very reliant on the Internet, which has allowed them to be more creative and adaptable than other generations.”
The lack of ability to think outside the box among Chinese white collar workers has often been noted and is partly influenced by the heavy emphasis on rote learning in the Chinese education system.
“As for my experience, there was more of an emphasis on developing individuality and creativity in university and how we would apply that in our jobs. I think the post-80s focused more on learning real-life skills and using these skills at work,” Serena says.
“Overall, I think my generation is more open-minded than the previous one, and more receptive to cultural differences, which will also help us to perform better in the workplace.”
According to Cheng Kanghao, a 19-year-old who attends university in Shanghai, he, like many others in his generation, appreciates both Chinese and Western cultures.
“It’s very important to maintain Chinese culture but at the same time, I think that there’s something very new and exciting about different cultures from abroad.”
On the whole though, Kanghao believes that the bad press about the post-90s generation has been exaggerated.
“Sure, sometimes I’m frustrated by the things that I hear about my generation but I believe those who are spoilt or have a feeling of entitlement only represent a small portion. You know, the post-80s generation was also once described as hopeless and selfish, but mainstream views about them have since changed. As the post-90s generation enter adulthood, I’m sure that the rest of China will come to see that we are not the selfish, immature lot that they once thought we were.” 

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