China’s young people have become the most powerful in the world, representing the drivers and beneficiaries of its economic boom with little appetite for freedom.
Last Tuesday marked the Chinese New Year of the Tiger.
But as the country’s youth look to the future, for many their greatest desire is not for democracy but for a higher salary, an expensive holiday or a new gadget.
It has now been 30 years since Chinese and American leaders sat down in Beijing signalling the normalisation of diplomatic relations. Economic ties since then have expanded massively with the Western world. So much so, that if that Wal-Mart were its own country it would represent China’s seventh largest trading partner.
Unfortunately alongside this, the political relationship on the part of the broader West continues to be based on a blind and deterministic logic.
To many outsiders China’s rapid economic transformation over the past three decades signals a similarly rising sentiment towards democracy. But the reality is in fact the opposite.
While China has trebled its wealth in the 20 years since Tiananmen Square, the impetus towards democracy on the part of the Chinese has largely evaporated.
The relationship between culture and commerce is clearly complex though, and while there cannot be democracy without capitalism, there can be capitalism without democracy - a model represented by modern China.
China’s youth, the so called “me” generation of those born after the adoption of the 1979 one-child policy, represent the bulwark of the current communist regime. Numbering more than 300 million, they block the path to democratisation with little appetite for reform and much to gain from the political status quo.
While college students have often represented a hot bed of pro-democratic sentiments, party membership among this group rose from 0.8 per cent to 8 per cent between 1990 and 2001 and a third of graduate students are currently communist party members.
Despite their communist roots, these young people are still able to enjoy many of the freedoms of a young American from Beverly Hills or a young Australian from Bondi. They drink Starbucks, eat McDonalds and use Facebook.
The one major difference is not the form of government, but the economic opportunities a booming opposed to a receding economy creates. A survey by Credit Suisse recently revealed the average salaries of young Chinese professionals had risen by more than 10 per cent a year since 2005.
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