Chinese Church Voices

Do You Have a Message for Your 18-Year-Old Self?

Chinese Church Voices is a weekly column of the ChinaSource Blog providing translations of original writing by Christians in China. The views represented are entirely those of the original author; inclusion in Chinese Church Voices does not imply or equal an endorsement by ChinaSource.

Why at the end of 2017 was there a sudden flood of people posting photos of themselves when they were 18-years-old on Chinese social media? And what were the captions they were writing?

December 31, 2017 marked a coming of age date of sorts for all the kids born in the 1990s. These post-90s kids are now coming into adulthood. This is significant in part because of the rapid change China continues to undergo decade by decade. A ten- or even five-years age gap makes a significant difference for how someone has grown up in China. Someone born in the 70s had a very different childhood and coming of age than someone who grew up in the 80s. And those born in the 80s grew up very differently than those in the 90s, and so on.

To mark the shift of 90s kids into adulthood, people of all ages posted a photo of themselves with a note they wish they could tell that 18-year-old self. In this post, Pastor Chen Fengsheng, an 80s child, shares how God worked dramatically in his life when he was 18 and how he would share that with his 18 year-old self.

If You Had the Chance, What Would You Say to Your 18-Year-Old Self?

I came across this question two or three days ago, on a program listening to FM93 where the male and female anchors raised it multiple times. That’s because on December 30, everyone's phones were inundated with photos of friends at 18 years old. The reason being, on December, 31, 2017, the last of the 90s kids (that is, those born before December 31, 1999) turned 18. This means that legally speaking, the entire 90s generation is now adults, and has bid their adolescence farewell. And so, there was this fad of posting photos of 18-year-old selves on social media. I didn't think much of this at first, and really couldn't find any photos of when I was 18. But to my surprise, when my old class monitor shared his own old photo, he shared a photo of me as well. And so I followed suit and reposted.

On the night of the 30th (Saturday), I was taking my daughter to her piano lesson when I heard the radio anchor ask what we would say to our 18-year-old selves using only four words. I sent a text in all seriousness, but had only two words, "thank you." I never did hear if the program broadcasted my words, since we were in a hurry to get to the teacher's home.

The next day, I heard the radio anchor repeat their question, and so I spent a little more time thinking about 18-year-old me. I shared three group photos from when I was studying in Wenzhou. In one I was 17; in the other two, 18, all according to traditional counting.[1] Just from these two photos you can see how much I have changed. I went from a boy barely 5 feet tall to a man. And it was during this year that my spiritual life underwent great change as well. I experienced the Lord's blessing, tasted the Lord's grace, repented, was reborn, offered myself to him, and began serving in Sunday school. When I actually turned 18, which was exactly 20 years ago now, I took the seminary entrance exam and was accepted.

Why would I say "thank you" to my 18-year-old self? You see, I had finished my seminary entrance exam and was home waiting for an acceptance letter. When I was with my Sunday School students at one point, I told them what many people thought was an empty boast. I said, "If I get into seminary this year, that's the path I'm following the rest of my life." I really have to thank my 18-year-old self, because that "boast" became my life's goal. At least today, 20 years after the fact, this is still what I am working toward. Of course, I must not forget that this is the Lord's blessing, and it is God's choosing. But I am thankful that the Lord listened to what that muddled 18-year-old boy said, and listened to his prayers.

I heard many people's reply to the question on the radio program. Some encouraged their 18-year-old selves to "study hard," "keep moving forward," "date earlier." There were even some prophetic tips, such as "boyfriend surnamed Chen," "buy a house early," etc. My own "thank you" seemed to be neither very creative nor very prophetic. But it is an affirmation to my 18-year-old self, and also summarizes my past 20 years. I thought to myself, that since I stand on the edge of 40, I can't go back in time and tell my 18-year-old self to do this or that, because it's too late. Wouldn't it be more practical to give myself a reminder and encouragement?

Life only happens once. And being 18 only happens once. There is no way we can go back, and no way we can replicate the experience. We realize that any decision made by our 18-year-old self directly affects our current selves. I say "thank you" because the "boastful" declaration and prayer by my 18-year-old self shaped my efforts for the past 20 years. The result is my current self, and even if I am still not that great and not quite perfect, I don’t regret it because I have already put in the hard work.

I am on the road to 40. In a few years, all the 70s kids will have to bid farewell to their 30s and enter midlife (even if we are still a little reluctant). So as to have no regrets in our 40s, we need to get a good hold on the end of our thirties. No complaining, no slacking. Your past made your present, and your present will decide your future. Instead of complaining about the past, why not seize the present, and achieve the future!

And to the young people who are yet 18 years old, even if I'm not quite acting my age, I'd like to nag a little like a middle-aged person, even if it might seem a bit cheesy. I want to tell you, dream while you are young, and work hard to chase after that dream. I hope that when you are 28, or 38, you will have no regrets, and can turn around and say “thank you” to your 18-year-old self.

Original Article: 如果给你机会,你会对18岁的自己说句什么话?, Chen Fengsheng


  1. ^ Translator note: According to Chinese tradition, a person is considered a year old when they are born, and instead of marking birthdays, they turn a year older on Chinese New Year. So the author's actual age would probably have been 16 and 17 respectively.
Image Credit: Chinese Friends, Beijing, China, 1980 by Terry Feuerborn via Flickr.
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