啃老: on millennial poverty

In 2010, when many of the 90s kids where applying for college, they were encouraged to become economically independent. Shame was also deployed, and recent college graduates who couldn’t find a job and continued to live at home were accused of “gnawing on the old folks (啃老)”. Of course, these were the same kids who were also accused of “being too rich for their own good (富二代)”. Continue reading

深二:growing pains

Last weekend I met two young men, 18 and 19 years old, who are filming interviews with and about “Shenzhen’s Second Generation”. We talked about the actual definition of a “Shen 2 (深二),” which I have tended to think of in terms of immigrant generations. In contrast, they were specifying the term also with respect to decades: they consider the 80s and 90s generations to be members of Shen 2, while 70s kids and millennials are not. They also noted that Shekou’s Second Generation (蛇二) is even more precisely defined; these are the children of utopian Shekou, who lived in the old China Merchants housing developments, and attended the original Yucai School.

So what defines Shen 2 kids? Continue reading

changing expectations among shenzhen workers

I just had conversation with a friend who is the CEO of a Shenzhen based fashion firm. She said that Shenzhen (and ultimately) Chinese manufacturers were facing two problems:

  • Low level manufacturing was being relocated to countries like Vietnam, where wages were lower, and;
  • Workers born in the 80s and 90s generation have higher quality of life expectations than do workers born in the 60s and 70s.

Her point, of course, was that the workers from the 60s and 70s not only built Shenzhen, but are also currently factory owners and the most active in society. Therefore they are not necessarily willing to offer workers from the 80s and 90s improved working conditions, including regular time off, air conditioned dormitories, and fewer roommates. She concluded that to be successful, Shenzhen producers needed to offer higher value, niche manufacturing that incorporated both industrial and social design into new business models.

This conversation chimes in on ongoing discussions I’m hearing about dormitories in Shenzhen. It is also reflected in Re/Code”s recently published article, “A Rare Glimpse Inside Foxconn’s Factory Gates” which shows the Taiwanese multi-national’s efforts to re-brand its Shenzhen campus, as a place where workers are well treated and therefore happy.

可怜天下父母心: generation 80 and 90 go abroad

I tend to think that middle class Chinese parents have it good. Grandparents take care of young children, elementary school children go to school and can generally be pressured into doing several hours of homework a night, and older children hang out with their parents, not only out of respect, but also because they acknowledge that being with children makes parents happy. In fact, a visit to any park or mall, or even an ordinary bus commute suggests how well behaved Chinese infants are. One or two fuss, but most sit calmly on their grandparents’ laps or play with a water bottle. School age children get themselves to and from campus, attend cram sessions, and organize their homework.

Even after graduating from college, middle class children take care of their parents’ well-being. I know more than one member of Generation 80, for example, who returns home for weekly meals. Working Chinese children also arrange for their parents and parental-in laws to live with or near them in order to attend to parental needs. So common is the assumption of parental care that throughout Shenzhen, hospitals and shopping malls market themselves as places where children can express care for parents — arranging a mother’s dental appointment or family dinner, for example. Certainly, facilitating migrant remittances from Shenzhen to neidi and family network phone plans are huge sections of the financial and service industries. In other words, my experience has shown me the extent to which middle class Chinese children — even members of Generation 80 and 90 —  remain remarkably filial. Or certainly seem so when compared with their age cohorts in the United States.

I realize that mine is a minority position. Commentators in both China and the West have focused on how China’s middle-class parents work exceedingly hard to provide the material conditions for their only child to live well. These parents sacrifice all sorts of ambitions and desires so that their child can go a famous university. They also point out that since promulgation in 1980, China’s one-child policy has produced not a few “little Emperors (小皇帝)”, who in common English are simply “spoilt brats”. Now it may be that when two sets of grandparents and often a nanny orbit the lone descendent, some children become unreasonable. But not all. And certainly not the majority, who study hours as long or longer than their parents work to achieve academic results that will make their elders proud. Indeed, I am still impressed by the number of young Chinese people who make their parents’ dreams (rather than their own) their lodestar.

As I have begun to gather stories about generations 80 and 90 abroad, however, my perspective has shifted. I am beginning to realize the extent to which their parents have made these young people their life’s purpose. It is not simply that middle class parents bask in the glory of their child’s accomplishments, but also and more importantly, that they have crafted lives out of raising this child. These parents often confuse high grades with success and low grades with failure, or interpret independent thinking as “rebellion” and “intransigence”. Nevertheless, once their child successfully matriculates in an overseas high school or college, these parents suffer acute ” empty nest” syndrome, as we call it in the States not only because they realize that they will no longer be able to direct their children’s development, but also because they finally understand, no matter what and how they dream for their child, ultimately they cannot give their child a smooth and carefree life.

Yesterday, I helped a mother read and understand US insurance documents. Her daughter is in California and was in a car accident. The other party has filed for damages, and the daughter’s insurance company has begun to negotiate with the claimant’s lawyer. Ironically, the mother sold her own car so that the daughter could purchase a car, which she explained, “is more necessary in California than Shenzhen.” The daughter whose English is fine, but not strong enough to feel confident about her understanding of documents in legal English sent her mother digital copies, asking for guidance. The mother does not read English and used half a day to find a connection to me to make an appointment. After I explained the content to her, we came up with a plan of action and contacted the daughter, who is no doubt figuring out what needs to be done and doing it. Her mother, however, is in Shenzhen managing the anxiety of helplessness; she deeply wants to help her daughter, but cannot.

All this to say that am hearing the expression “take pity on the hearts of the world’s parents (可怜天下父母心)” differently, and perhaps more accurately. I used to hear it as spoilt parent moaning about a child’s attempt to establish a bit of independence. Today, I am better able to pity parents, not because their child received poor grades or has a stubborn streak, but rather because they would do anything to make their child’s life smooth and happy. Of course, that is precisely what they cannot do, and so they suffer.

Interesting cultural postscript: in Chinese, empty nests refer to lonely grandparents and the phrase “empty nester” is translated as 孤寡老人. Thus, when their children go and remain abroad, Chinese parents not only become empty nesters in the US sense of “children have moved out”, but also potentially in the Chinese sense of “old person without a grandchild”.

what’s not to love?

This bit of gossip illustrates the social construction of Shenzhen identities, so I’m not just pandering to my baser nature. Really. It may even tell us something about the socio-economic conditions predicating the globalization of yoga. That said, I’m sure it says something about education at Shenzhen University – hee!

I practice yoga at a great studio. Like many studios in Shenzhen, classes are held during the day, evening, and weekends. Their main clientele are upper middle class women from 20 to maybe 55ish, however, most of the women are in their 30s and 40s. There are several male students, but in any class, they are usually a party representative (党代表), which is slang for the only man in a group of women.

One of my friends teaches at Shenzhen University and has, on occasion, introduced interested students to the studio. A while back, one of her male students started practicing and usually joined her for evening class. Then two weeks ago, my friend couldn’t go to class and so student went by himself and found himself the recipient not only of all that female attention, but also invitations for dinner and trips. He finally decided on one of the more flexible cougars and they have been dating since.

Here’s the interesting part of this story: no one had approached him previously because they thought he and my friend were dating! They finally dared approach him on a day when she wasn’t there. In other words, the working assumption of the women and staff at the yoga studio was that when men show up for yoga, its couple’s yoga. Moreover, that when a younger man and woman go to class together, it means that the young man’s virtue is probably up for grabs (so to speak).

As my yoga studio turns: What’s not to love?