In last week's post we published part one of an article titled titled “What are our Young People Thinking: How to Witness to Youth of the Post 1980s, 1990s and 1995s,” originally published in The Church Magazine. That post looked specifically at the unique characteristics of the post-80s generation of Chinese youth.
Part two looks at the post-90s generation.
Post-90s: A Generation of Happiness, Positive Energy, and Finding Oneself
Whether at home or in society, the post-90s generation is an attention-grabbing generation. China’s progress in developing a spiritual culture has lagged behind its progress in developing a material culture. And society will find a place for its spiritual sustenance with the next generation of post-90s youth. Yet, everyone seems concerned with their development and maturity. In the eyes of many, this is a headstrong, emotionally unstable, and self-centered generation. But is this indeed the case?
Just because the post-90s youth have a high self-regard does not mean that they are selfish. Their hearts bear heavy psychological pressure. They are driven to succeed; not only for their sake, but also for the sake of those they are close to. Deep down they know that they are living first and foremost for those around them, and not for themselves. This is not due to selfishness, but because they are saddled with the expectations of China's previous generation. Even though many come from broken families, they still have a deep love for their parents and want to care for them.
A higher percentage (compared to post 80s youth) is single children. While their parents and grandparents love them, there is also a heavy, unseen pressure that they experience. They set very high standards for themselves in order to meet family expectations. When they encounter a setback, they appear even more depressed. When their hearts are struggling, it is more difficult for them to open up and ask their family or others for help; they will likely become trapped in their own emotions and not be able to free themselves.
Generally, their family members are not well educated; they are lacking in humanistic values and have not inherited a religious tradition. Many parents believe that to love their children is to ensure their child's material security, as well as to constantly pressure their children to pursue success as determined by mainstream society. The expectations they place on themselves are much higher than the previous generation, yet their hearts lack the "faith resources" (信仰资源) of the previous generation. Naturally, they appear weaker and unable to bear up under pressure.
Post-90s youth value friendship and are willing to pay an enormous price for a friend. For them, a very important daily activity has become spending time with a close group of friends from childhood. They feel that everyone in universities is out for fame and fortune and it is not easy to find sincere and pure friendships there. So, they cherish good friends in high school. Even after everyone has run off in their own direction after high school they still often keep in touch. In high school they use social media as their community newsletter and they will continue to do so after they go to university.
The ideal society in their minds is a society where people mutually encourage each other to achieve personal dreams. Perhaps this is similar to the four high school friends in Guo Jingming's (郭敬明) novel "Tiny Times" (小时代) who come of age together in a decadent, materialistic world. What is more, for post-90s youth, searching for themselves can become a life pursuit and communal impulse. They only focus on individual self-fulfillment, and therefore they also pay attention to other people who achieve this fulfillment. When they watch the TV show "The Voice of China" they applaud and cry for the other average Joes to succeed. They will also pump each other up and cheer each other on to pursue their dreams.
Post-90s youth have grown up in the post-Reform Era, an era in which China's rapid economic growth has taken off and various institutions have gradually have gradually improved and come into line with international standards. They are largely unaware of the political turmoil and social changes that society previously experienced. All they know is the golden age of "the rise of China." Their impressions of societal development are much more positive than post-80s youth, and many are quite nationalistic. Compared with the post-80s youth, they seem rather indifferent towards news reports that have a negative viewpoint of society. They are more interested in hearing reports about major national construction projects, continued social progress, pop-music "themes" (主旋律) and "positive energy" with an uplifting message for people.
Compared to the post-80s youth, they are more spontaneous, free, easy, and straightforward. They also hate hypocrisy and acting pretentious. Their parents have been protective of their children, to the extent that they are naive about the world. As a result they often have unrealistic dreams. However, precisely because they have not yet been socialized in society's contaminated waters many of them preserve a childlike sense of right and wrong. They seem more sincere, kind, and possess a sense of shame, making them the preservers and defenders of a social conscience.
Many post-90s youth believe that we only need to give China a little more time until she will become a truly great world power. They hold a more neutral attitude toward Western values and do not believe that the West is necessarily stronger than China. They like to call China a "Great Celestial Empire" (大天朝). When the international community does not acknowledge China, when it does not give China enough respect and development space, they become indignant and resentful. They are more idealistic than the post-80s youth, perhaps due to their disaffection with current social conditions, they develop into radical youth or narrow-minded nationalists.
Post-90s youth are more eager to receive the sustained attention of other people and to be cherished and encouraged than are post 80s youth. When their idealism is actually attacked, they will likely easily become depressed or exhibit negative emotions. Post-90s pursue happiness, not for its own sake, but because they are looking to maintain their high spirits and positive energy. But the pursuit of happiness itself does not bring happiness. Rather, the pursuit of a value of life higher than oneself is what can bring happiness, which is a truth many post-90s youth do not necessarily understand. Some people become addicted to material pleasures, indulge in lustful passions, or over-rely on friends and feel like life is completely hollow.
Post-90s and post-80s internal struggles both have to do with their families of origin, but the two have a slightly different nature. Post-80s youth do not know how to change their families while post-90s youth do not know how to change themselves. They believe they have the ability to change the world, but their biggest enemy is often themselves. A hero in their eyes is someone like the pop star Jay Chou who doesn't give in to the system, doesn't follow tradition, but bravely expresses his own personality, gives people positive energy, and wins the respect of parents.
Post-90s youth are also a product of the suffering of their times. Although they say they are not dramatic and pretentious, that they value right and wrong, and that they value self-fulfillment, yet when they enter a relational world, they are emotionally over-dependent. In relationships, both sides have mutually high expectations. They want to pursue idealistic love and they value self-importance. And yet, it is not easy to change for another person; the more feelings develop, the more they torment each other and the deeper the pain becomes.
Things are changing every day in the world of this generation. Their values are increasingly diverse. Except for placing a high value on self-fulfillment and individual style, the number of things that they share in common with each other is gradually decreasing. They are finding it harder and harder to communicate with and understand each other. Loneliness is on the rise, because even though there is a sea of people, finding a close friend to whom one can pour out his/her heart remains difficult. Social groups that have popular appeal and accommodate all types of personalities are becoming the new social environments of choice for post-90s youth.
As far as sharing the gospel with post-90s youth, it is better to begin by introducing the life of fellowship rather than immediately talking about truth. Their starting point for understanding the Christian faith is observing “our group of people.” They do not easily come to faith by immediately learning abstract truths of the gospel. When they enter a fellowship group, their first assessment will be: Can I find a sense of belonging in this group, too? Does the fellowship have a diverse range of personalities? Does it have a lively, interactive atmosphere? Is there trust and sincerity between people? Are the relationships accepting and loving? These often become key considerations for them when deciding whether they will further consider the Christian faith.
Sharing the gospel with this generation means first building a relationship, then passing on knowledge. When a trusting and loving relationship is built, they are often relatively more open to learning about faith. Their interests are broadened and there are many things they are open to learning about with others. What is more, once spiritually empty youth step into the halls of faith, they are on fire to grasp the entirety of the Christian faith. The new generation of post-90s Christians are enthusiastic for theology, indeed even more so than the previous generations. Quite a few of them hope to go to seminary when they graduate from university.
Helping post-90s youth to differentiate between "confidence" and "faith", and "ideals" and "dreams" will help ignite a passionate faith within them. Most have ideals, but because their ideals are grounded in self-fulfillment it is very easy for them to become discouraged when they encounter conflict in real life. But faith is not so easily shaken when we encounter conflict in life because God's sovereignty and will are the starting points to understand the meaning of one's own existence as well as the ultimate purpose of self-fulfillment.
Moreover, one can also share with post-90s youth about the concept of "new life" in Evangelical theology. Jesus is the true vine, he gave new life to us, and we must be joined together with him to be able to have such a life; we cannot depend on ourselves. Since they dislike pretentiousness, and because they often struggle with their own weak emotions, they are searching for a universal truth that has the ability to change lives. Being in Christ means having the gift of new life in Christ!