Youth Cultures in China
Youth Cultures in China
Youth and Power: Education, Family, and the State
When youth are strong, the nation is strong
When youth move forward, the nation then moves forward.
Liang Qichao (1873-1929)
Liang Qichao was a Chinese philosopher, scholar, journalist, and a supporter of the most important student movement in the early decades of the twentieth century, the May Fourth Movement. His will to save the country was always no more than "self-strengthening," and according to his words, such seed should spark off from the youth. Given that Liang pushed in his writings for democracy in China, would he also advise youth to be the democratic pioneers in contemporary China? We would presume that if Liang were still alive, his call for democracy would not be answered by youth today, resonating with the same failure of his short-lived reform, the Hundred Days Reform during the late Qing Dynasty in the summer of 1898. If the monarchy or forces for the restoration of the monarchy were the major obstacles those days, what he would face nowadays would not just be the People's Liberation Army of the Communist Party. Rather than operating in such a top-down mode, power now traverses through every domain of society, including its institutions like school and the workplace, in everyday life and the desires for love, material well-being and success, as well as through and in the media. We witness a Foucauldian intensification of power: "power becomes lighter, more ubiquitous, less attached to 'negative' objects or practices (the disciplinary family, 'the father's no'), and more saturated within formerly ignored realms of social practice. In short, power becomes more effective while offering less obvious potential for resistance" (Nealon 2008: 71).
In the following chapters we are predominantly concerned with these intensifications of power in realms beyond the family and the state, in particular media, everyday life practices, and technologies of the self. In this chapter we engage with the strong ideologies in a triumvirate of institutions that span private and public domains in China, namely family, schooling, and politics. As Liu Fengshu remarks, the pressure for urban youth comes mainly "from high parental expectations typical of the only-child family, the exam-oriented educational system and fierce competition in society and the changed standard of a 'good life' " (Liu 2013: 89). In a study among students in Fujian, the respondents were asked what was most troublesome to them. Their top three resonate with the results of Liu's study: 50 percent replied they don't have a clear goal to fight for, 48.9 percent listed the difficulty of finding a job as a key problem, while 38.5 percent referred to study pressure (Lin 2008: 86).
The competition in society is, as we will show in this chapter, entangled with Party membership. To discuss familism, pedagogy, and partyism in this chapter helps us to understand the forces that bracket youth culture. With the ever (re)structuring society, economy, and politics, youth in urban China fall into the orbit of family in private life, school in public life, and politics in both domains. With only rare exceptions in rural areas, youth have been segregated from production and largely put under these systems to learn, reproduce, and practice the ideologies that they are being taught daily. From the discipline imposed upon them in the family to the textbooks of a school, they are all molded into subjectivities that prepare them not only for family life and life at school but also later in the society at large. In what can be seen as an increasingly value-vacuous society, the influence of the family has returned with a vengeance and it can be argued that it exerts an even stronger surveillance over the new generation given that the development of a single child in a typical family is being planned and prearranged by h