“The Chosen Ones”, “China’s Little Emperors”, “The Me Generation”, call them what you will, the progeny of the “one-child-policy” are becoming a serious concern as the oldest of this homogenous group approach their late 20s in modern, prosperous China.
Controversy over this approach to population control has been widely reported, citing discrepancies in interpretation and jurisdictional enforcement to infanticide and selective abortion issues. There will also be a severe shortage of women for eligible men approaching marrying age. This fact dispels the myth that the “vanishing girls” syndrome was the result of non-registration of female births and rather supports the notion of widespread female infanticide.
But asked, if the CCP had ever anticipated any of these problems, spokesmen will suggest that they had thought of many of the consequences of the policy over time but believed that overall prosperity would provide measures to solve these problems. Ironically, prosperity and growth have not only been unable to provide solutions to the consequences of the policy but in fact have exacerbated the conditions.
The term “chosen ones” is used here to indicate not only a very special group of individuals but to emphasize that those future leaders of China shall be selected from this one-child-family policy. What are their characteristics?
Widely described by both foreign observers and domestic critics, they “are spoiled, self-centered, narrow-minded, and incapable of accepting criticism,” (Yang Xiaosheng, Beijing Star Daily). They lack the social skills of their parents and by comparison to their western counterparts are as impetuous children demanding whatever they want without consideration or care for any inconvenience their demands may make on others. Each child, it is said, is cared for by an average of 7 people: mother; father; uncles; aunts; and some combination of grandparents. And it is apparent that boys are more favored than girls with an average of only 3 people devoted to their care and attention.
To offer one example: In Qingdao, the co-host of the 2008 Olympics, Li Xue Mei is sitting in the local Starbucks nursing a ‘Vente Caramel Macchiato’ talking to three friends with similar tastes. They are all around 25 or 26. They all have the newest expensive cell phones and two have their Macbooks open on WiFi websites. They are all self-employed yet without clients. They have no marketing skills because they have never learned to network; nor have needed to. If they haven’t their own car, they are waiting for one of their parents to pick them up or to drop off some cash if they have decided to hit the night-life.
They have all graduated from a university of sorts, never having achieved a high enough grades to qualify for one of the better universities. Since the big push of the late 90s China has created more than 500 new universities and university colleges. The entrance exam taken by more than 9.5 million students in 2006 has many students in the bottom 50%. In fact, the standard rule of thumb is now: if you can’t get into the top 50% where you can enter a Chinese university…then plan on going overseas, usually to Vancouver, Canada, where they can enroll in some ESL class and spend the courses hours not in class but in the Bistros close by sipping Lattes and smoking Canadian cigarettes.
They complain about the unemployment rate but cannot understand why so many graduates are unable to find jobs. Unless their parents can find a connection for them so that they can work at something arranged for them they will not be successful in landing work on their own efforts.
In Beijing, Yuan Lin has recently opened a motor club for the elitist group of children of high level cadres in the CCP. He and his wife have borrowed the money without expectation of repaying it. The money loaned was in payment of a service provided for a businessman to make the bureaucratic entanglement of Beijing go away. At parties and clubs they talk about self indulgence and money. Both earned high salaries working for high level, well funded domestic or joint venture businesses before going out on their own. They now own an apartment, a car, and have taken on a 20 year lease of a country villa. They have one child, a boy. There is no talk of politics or democracy. Tiananmen Square is a vague historical episode that has no basis in daily life and any talk of democracy is acceptable so long as it does not upset the status quo and give to others if sacrifices have to be made.
This is the good life and they don’t want to give it up. It is fed by ultra-consumerism which is feeding on itself. There is unrest amongst the lower, underprivileged people but this is not a topic which concerns these city groups.
Last year there were several reports about farmers taking up arms against local corruption. The episodes were quelled and in some cases, many protesters were killed or jailed and later tortured. The papers paid little attention to the events and the authorities did nothing to assist those farmers who may have had legitimate quarrels with the local government officials.
Last month, Beijing issued a law prohibiting the height and of dogs kept as pets. Many pet owners, outraged at the effrontery, protested to the local government and so incensed the pet owner’s group that President Hu Jintao personally intervened to rescind the law. The governing party does not want to upset the children of conspicuous consumption. This brings us to ‘the chosen ones’.
This generation, born after 1978-80 when the one child policy was implemented, represents young upwardly mobile business people these days. At least, those with connections are. And those with the best connections, that is guanxi with highly placed CCP members are those from which will be chosen the next generation of leaders. The members of the ruling party are made up of 100 or so ruling families. Their children: the spoiled; the self-centered and narrow-minded, will lead China in the future. They have never had to sacrifice; have never required skills at communication or negotiation having never met confrontation. How will they fare?
During the last 17th Congress, Hu Jintao declared that by 2020 the party will quadruple the GDP. Where is the market? Certainly, the domestic market is limited for that kind of growth since the gap between the have and have-nots is widening. Much of China’s growth is not due to innovation but from production growth generated by systems like WTO (2202) and The Olympics (2008). China will not keep its low wage advantage much longer with industry looking at the Philippines and Viet Nam which have still lower wages. The US may enter a period of recession in growth and the dollar will weaken more. Unemployment is growing among the well educated and inflation fuelled by unprecedented appreciation of real estate and a stock market which is 70% owned by the PLA, shows no sign of abating.
The chosen ones will inherit a precarious position in the ranks of prosperity. All nations have faced these conditions from time to time, but their leaders have had some experience in real life circumstances: they have tasted defeat; they have experienced hardship; they understand the range of social conditions which generate hope and the will to survive.
The members of the old guard are survivors of the liberation movement and the Cultural Revolution: the new guard will have had no such learning experiences and will need to reach out for assistance which is their natural inclination. To whom will the hand go out?