Liz Carter senior contributor

Viral Response to People’s Daily Sermon: You Caused My Problems

(Via Flickr/randomix)

Several days ago, the state-run People’s Daily ran a piece entitled “The Post-80′s Generation is Dispirited: Early Decline Cause for Alarm,” arguing that while China’s youth born after 1980 have far and away better material conditions than their forbearers, they face “spiritual confusion and a loss of identity.” The piece concludes by noting that a country’s youth are its future, and that it is the duty of the younger generation to address this problem. In response, social media celebrity and social critic Zuoyeben (@作业本) penned an essay on the real cause of this issue. The essay quickly became the top trending post on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, drawing more than 100,000 retweets and 29,000 comments in just a few hours. Tea Leaf Nation has translated the essay below in full.

In response to the People’s Daily: Why Is the Post-80’s Generation Dispirited?

Several days ago, the People’s Daily ran a story about how the post-80’s generation was dispirited, and how their premature decline in spirit was a source of concern. In this article, I will discuss this issue, using myself as an example.

When I was in elementary school, I was moved to tears by [such Communist heroes as] Qiu Shaoyun, Lai Ning and Lei Feng. At all times, I was prepared to sacrifice myself and become a martyr for the establishment of the motherland, spilling every last drop of blood. I thought my red neckerchief [symbol of the Young Pioneers, a Communist organization for children] was more important than my own life, because you told me: it was dyed red with the blood of martyrs. Back then, I wondered, how did martyrs keep their blood so fresh and red before they died?

It wasn’t until later that I learned, that stupid neckerchief was five cents worth of dye and ten cents worth of cloth that you sold to me for three dollars.

In the history books, you outlined the crimes of the Japanese, and made me want nothing more than to swim over to Japan and blow it up. You talked of how countless martyrs, Party members, and soldiers sacrificed themselves to win the War of Resistance against Japan. Back then, I was so deeply moved, I was angry I hadn’t been born several decades earlier, so that I could ride boldly into battle with just my knife and my horse. It’s a good thing I wasn’t born back then, after all, or who knows where I would have died.

In your anti-Japan dramas, seven or eight-year old kids could kill a lot of [Japanese] devils, and guerrilla units could charge at them with machetes to kill soldiers holding machine guns. Each died after being stabbed once – and sometimes you could kill two with one thrust. Were these devils stupid? You could kill more devils with a machete than a machine gun.

In secondary school, the education system was in the process of requiring teachers from schools not affiliated with the government to obtain licenses. Most of those teachers who had taught for decades were laid off. Those who remained, besides the few who understood a little bit about education, were usually the sons or daughters of powerful or rich people, and obtained licenses through their connections.

Those idiots beat students just as often as they ate. In my third year of high school, the PE teacher beat me within an inch of my life because my morning exercises were not up to par. My homeroom teacher slapped me across the face because I fell asleep in class. My art teacher knocked down my painting and easel because I cut class. The principal kicked me to the ground and wouldn’t allow me to stand up because I was late to school. What I’m trying to say is, back then, almost all teachers beat students, as long as they had some kind of physical advantage.

Of course, these days you’ve made some progress. You don’t beat secondary school students, you just get a hotel room with primary school students. [Editors: the reference is to the recent news that a primary school principal took six girls to a hotel room. Sexual attack is suspected.]

The physical scars of this are not even the worst part. You didn’t let us read novels, you didn’t let us date. What’s most despicable is that you took our private letters. Even taking them was not a big deal, but you would read them and then throw them away. This is an invasion of privacy. Do you understand that opening other people’s letters is illegal?

You approach education as if you had to force-feed us, always making us “recite the whole text,” learn from [Maoist model student] Jiao Yulu and to be wary of Western brainwashing. What use is it to recite the whole text? What are we supposed to get out of studying your examples and models? Do we deceive ourselves? Is there any meaning in “political thought education” for middle school students? Where is the value in making college students study Marxism, Leninism, Maoist Thought and Deng Xiaoping’s theories?

How is college different from vocational school? As long as you have money or connections, you can go to any college in the country you like.

How many of your professors do real academic research? Or have done real academic research? The world has already developed to this point, but you still require students to attend classes, or fail.

After I graduated, I entered the job market, and nearly drowned in a sea of other job-hunters. Is your employment assistance office just for show? After I found a job, I saw most companies didn’t pay requisite insurances. During the period in which I was unemployed, you forced me to sign a fake employment agreement, then you shamelessly declared to the outside that your employment rate was over 98%….

After entering society, your regulations beat people about the head until they bled. You collected so much in taxes that companies figured out ways to steal and evade them.  What about the employees, then? There wasn’t a single law that could fully ensure that citizen’s rights in the workplace were not infringed upon.

Why must we continually pay taxes for five years before we are allowed to buy a house? Why must someone who makes 3,000 RMB a month in this city, where property costs more than 10,000 RMB per square meter on average, pay individual income tax?

When going to your various departments to fill out paperwork, you hold up endless hoops for us to jump through. When I went to obtain a certificate of unemployment, I had to go back and forth more than ten times between three different offices, traveling over 200 kilometers in total.

When I went to obtain my driver’s licenses, the instructor gave me all kinds of hints that I should give him a bribe. When it was time for me to be tested in reverse maneuvering, he told me three minutes into my allotted ten minutes that time was up.

When I went to get a replacement ID card, it took you over a month to deliver it to me. When I go to the bank, the unresponsive tellers act as if I’m stealing their money.

There are all kinds of ridiculous overcharges for my cellphone.

When I surf the net or mess around on Weibo, you freely delete my posts, which in and of itself isn’t a big deal, but you also invite people to “drink tea,” monitor them, or send them to re-education through labor camps for nothing more than a tweet.

If I want to buy a house, I can’t afford to eat or drink for thirty years.

When I buy stuff, fake goods, low-quality goods, toxic goods and unsafe items are everywhere.

If I want to buy a foreign-made car, I have to pay two times its original price.

“Primary school food meets sanitation standards, lamb meat is lamb meat, the rivers are clean, and there aren’t 10,000 pigs in the river. The air we breathe isn’t poisonous; you don’t have to wear a face mask.”

Now that I’ve grown up, you even dare to put poison in infant milk powder. The stench of the rivers is awful; the air is filled with the smell of the End Days. Housing prices are rising faster than anything, agents are evil, landlords are cunning, and renting an apartment has become like a battle.

I don’t care that your organizations are bloated beyond recognition, but why must I obtain a ‘temporary residence permit’ in my own country?

So you tell me. I belong to the post-80’s generation. How is it possible for me not to be dispirited? It’s enough of a f**king accomplishment that I’m somehow still alive!


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Liz Carter

Liz Carter is a DC-based China-watcher and the author and translator of a number of Chinese-English textbooks available on amazon.cn. She and her cat Desmond relocated to DC from Beijing, where she studied contemporary Chinese literature at Peking University, after learning that HBO was planning to adapt Game of Thrones for television. She writes at abigenoughforest.com and tweets from @withoutdoing.
  • Woodrow

    ‘Forebears,’ not ‘forbearers.’

  • Wayne

    As a Chinese I gotta say that it’s true,but a country of 1.4 billion population can’t change easily especially after a hard period from 1966 to 1976 and some other periods like that,to be honest,I hate many of those greedy officers who take the money that belongs to those in need and comfort themselves at other’s expense,I get mad when seeing the cars with some sorta privilege rushing on the road just to get to the bar quickly,when people like Guo MeiMei appears,everyone wants to kick her in the ass.But as a developing country,we need time,which would be use to creat more working oppotunities,or at least train the workers,just like Obama’s aim—lifting millions out of poverty,China is getting better and I think it always will be,the task ahead will be tough,but China is going to make itself heard in the world that we’ll definitely overcome,the 90′s geneation is rising while the 80′s is going to be their backup force,we are learing to fly,and everyone is gonna see us right in the middle of the sky…By the way,if you are still watching,I appericate for your time.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tavenner1 Carson Tavenner

    To quote a Chinese associate, “My great grandfather was taught to hate foreigners, my grandfather was taught to hate the Guomindang, and my father was taught to hate Communists. But hatred cannot save China. We must change our attitude from hatred to love.” How can you do that when an entire people have not been taught or shown any love, hardly at all? “To grow rich is glorious” is not falling as the empty promise it was.
    Good news: several associations are at work to provide more education and access for this Chinese generation to learn how to form positive self-perceptions and personal identity. How to live a full and rich life. There is a desperate cry for help in understanding the all-important element of human spiritual health in all this as well.

    To think that all this well-grounded criticism in the essay doesn’t even begin to touch the issues of what this generation of Chinese will learn about the formation of their modern identity when they begin to access more freely the information of what happened from 1950-1975 (famine and widespread violence). They do not know their own modern history. They only know the history of the Party.

    So sad.

    • miksang

      Famine didn’t start until 1959 and the violent period of the Cultural Revolution came to an end around 1972. Your view of China’s modern history and Chinese people’s perceptions of it is a gross overgeneralization. The truth about the Party’s history is not taught officially obviously, but any person with half a brain in China (and even some without) knows about the Great Leap Forward, The Great Famine, the Sent Down Youth, the fate of Liu Shaoqi, Lin Biao, and more recently: ’64′. Chinese people may have become disillusioned about political systems and politics in general, but do not tell us that we “don’t know how to love,” we are still people with values and families and our reverence for our ancestors is one Confucian value that the Communists could not destroy. China has its own academic historical perspective with its own conventions and an independent theory of the whole that is the summation of a lot more history and analysis that you can imagine.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tavenner1 Carson Tavenner

    …and thank you , Liz, for the translation work!