Youth in China today undoubtedly represent the most privileged generation of any in China's history. Globalization has brought iPods and McDonald's, and the legacy of China's one-child policy is that these "one and only" children are the sole recipients of the affection of multiple sets of grandparents, aunts and uncles.
Previous generations of youth in China have been characterized by their unique struggles and corporate experiences shared against the backdrop of China's unfolding political history. Nearly a hundred years ago the May Fourth generation made its mark as it stood against the oppression of China by imperialist powers following World War I. In the wake of the Second World War, revolutionaries in the 1940s joined Mao in ushering in the new China. Later the "lost generation" of the Cultural Revolution again cast its lot with Mao, only to be discarded in the countryside following a period of nationwide chaos. The June Fourth generation was left similarly disillusioned as the leaders whom they hoped would bring true reform to the nation fell from grace and their own fortunes fell with them.
Today's youth generation has no shared struggle, no defining life and death experience. In spite of the attention and material prosperity these youth enjoy, this generation is perhaps the most alienated. The research featured in this issue of the ChinaSource journal highlights the state of today's youth, who describe themselves as increasingly distanced from their parents and teachers. Browbeaten by unrealistic pressures to succeed in a highly competitive society, many retreat to the security of internet chat rooms or spend hours playing online games with friends. While many in the church are today awakening to the need to reach out in new ways to youth, successful models for such ministry are hard to come by.
In a society where relationships are key, the challenge is connecting with the youth where they are as opposed to waiting for them to find the church. Here is where the very technology that seems to be pulling youth away from meaningful relationships can instead be a means to bring them into contact with the Truth. This interaction will likely take place virtually via websites, telephone texts, or internet chats. Along with much creativity, those seeking to connect with youth need long patience and a willingness to genuinely listen.
Today's youth are tomorrow's leaders. In the late 1970s it was largely youth who took up the challenge to take the gospel to the far-flung regions of China, resulting in a rural revival that spawned what has arguably been the most massive church growth in history. As the stage now moves from the countryside to the cities, it is up to this generation to pass the baton to the next.
Brent Fulton is the founder of ChinaSource. Prior to assuming his current position, he served from 1995 to 2000 as the managing director of the Institute for Chinese Studies at Wheaton College. From 1987 to 1995 he served as founding US director of China Ministries International, and from 1985 to... View Full Bio