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A Generation of One


Why China's most privileged youth generation ever is still looking for more.

China's one-child policy has created, for the first time in history, an entire generation that has not known what it is like to have brothers, sisters, or cousins.

China's most privileged generation to date, the youth of today have grown up with McDonald's and iPods, online video games and instant messaging. They are the most connected, the best educated, and the most well-off of any generation in recent history.

They are also perhaps the loneliest.

Although China's one-child generation has been the sole recipient of parents', grandparents', and aunts' and uncles' (if they had any) attention, this attention has often translated into pressure to succeed academically. The pressure begins with kindergarten and culminates in their teen years when they are expected to sit for the national university entrance examination.

Youth alternate between cramming for tests and escaping into the virtual world of online gaming and entertainment. There is no time for real relationship. Nor is there time for developing life skills that will carry them beyond the artificial world of succeeding through figuring out how to take tests and into the real world beyond.

No wonder then that this generation, although the most educated, is perhaps the least prepared to face the challenges of China's rapidly transforming society. According to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Australia, China's only children tend to be more pessimistic, self-centered, and risk-averse than those who grew up with siblings. The study also found the one-child generation to be less trusting and less altruistic. These characteristics do not bode well for future roles in a business climate where, increasingly, innovation and teamwork will be the marks of success.

A One Hope survey of youth aged 13 to 18 years found that 47 percent had entertained suicidal thoughts in the previous six months. More than half did not expect to be happy in their marriages once they settled down.

The challenge for China's church to embrace these youth in a new way is exacerbated by the oft-heard protestation from their parents that there is no time for church activities; their children just need to study more. Church leaders, not wanting to offend the parents, are reluctant to raise the banner of youth ministry too high. Clearly, in order to meet the needs of the youth, these leaders will need to confront the attitudes and expectations of their parents.

Dr. Luis Bush and I explore further the lives of China's youth and the church's responses in China's Next Generation: New China, New Church, New World, available as a free PDF download from ChinaSource or in Kindle version on Amazon.

Image credit: Joann Pittman, via Flickr

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton

Brent Fulton is the president of ChinaSource and the editor of the ChinaSource Quarterly. 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... View Full Bio