Sunday, June 15, 2014

Generation Gap

In our relationship, Ming and I face many cultural differences. These differences have become more strikingly clear as we've journeyed through pregnancy, post-partum, and parenting. I've recently come to realize, however, that many of our differences are due to a generational gap.

In America, I am somewhere on the cusp of Generation Y and the Millennials. I was fortunate to grow up during a time of fast technological advance and great economic prosperity. Sometimes I wonder how much this has shaped the person I have become. I think many Chinese view me as naïve—I don't particularly care about money and I am fairly trusting of others. I value happiness about all else. I think these traits aren't common among the Chinese and this holds especially true for people of Ming's generation. Ming came of age during a rather unstable period of ongoing change in China. The effects of which are apparent in both his personality and values.

In China, Ming is considered a qī líng hòu (七零后), post-70's generation, while I, if Chinese, would fall into the category of a bā líng hòu (八零后), post-80's generation. Here, you are labeled according to the decade during which you were born and due to the rapid change in China's modern history, the characteristics and experiences of those born within each decade are considerably different. I recently listened to an interesting podcast on Chinesepod that described some of these differences.

The host of the show, Jenny Zhu, described her experience growing up in the 80's and early 90's. Jenny was born the same year as I, so it was interesting to hear what life was like growing up in China for someone my age. She also had a guest born in the early 70's and one born in 1990. The post-70's generation woman could remember a childhood during China's Cultural Revolution when slogans were chanted in the street and people were sent away to “reeducation camp.” Ming was born in the final year of the Cultural Revolution, the year that Mao Zedong died. He didn't experience the same turmoil as someone born several years earlier, but he did grow up during a time when food was bought with ration tickets and a typical monthly salary was 40 RMB (US$7) per month. As a child, he didn't have a refrigerator or a television; there was no indoor plumbing. These circumstances were typical for the vast majority of families at the time.

Due to the hardships and uncertainty they had growing up, many post-70's Chinese are incredibly hardworking and concerned about money. They are practical but also entrepreneurial. Compared to the emerging generations (post-90's and -00's), they are collectivists who care very much about saving face as well as their parents' approval. Of course, these are generalizations, but I see many of these characteristics in Ming and even my students' parents, most of whom where born in the late 60's or the 1970's.

There are times I feel very frustrated by Ming's values toward work and money. Sometimes I think he regards them higher than happiness, family, or friendship—the things I hold most dear. I know I need to be more sensitive and understanding, because these values are in many ways a result of the time he grew up in. They are not so much due to the fact that he is Chinese, but due to him being a Chinese who was born in the 1970's. 


Isabelle said...

Hey, hi, just saw one of your comments on "Speaking of China" and thought it might be you. How do I subscribe to your blog? Cheers, "Isabulle" from CS (we met in Chengde when I visited you with my friend Pang Yan maybe 5 yrs ago) ^..^

rosieinbj said...

Hi Isabelle, I remember you well! I think there is a button to subscribe by the "About Me" section. I'm having some trouble finding it because I'm signed in and it doesn't let me follow myself.

Hope you are doing well. :)