Bloomberg reported on December 2 that years of indoctrination and censorship may ironically have made some Chinese youth inclined to demand change.
Last weekend, political protests broke out in many cities across China, from Shanghai and Beijing to the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi. Protesters were mainly twenty-something Chinese in age.
They protested overtly, some demonstrators even calling for Chinese President Xi Jinping to step down.
Z Gen Chinese have only ever known a system where the state heavily controls all information.
They know almost nothing about the bloody massacre that ended the Tiananmen protests in 1989 or the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, where 45 million peasants died of starvation.
Between 2004 and 2010, the regime also introduced a new high school politics curriculum explicitly meant to shape students’ pro-CCP ideology.
Researchers have found it very effective. Children subject to these new teachings are more likely to express trust in the authorities.
China’s youth have also grown up imbibing media that celebrates the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) as a resolute defender of their interests.
Cinemas are dominated by patriotic films, while state propaganda consistently touts the Party’s successes and political goals.
Until this weekend, it looked like these efforts had produced a generation of obedient youths.
The young have been active participants in recent anti-Japanese protests and vocal supporters of using force to block Taiwanese independence.
Compared to the older generation, the relative innocence of young Chinese insulates them from fear of extreme reprisals.
Having little idea of how violent the Party can be, some may underestimate the risks of speaking out.
Similarly, their sincere belief in the Party’s ideology may encourage some young Chinese to protest.
Indeed, the COVID protests showed that the full effects of two decades of propaganda and censorship are much more complex.
Many genuinely believe that the CCP exists to “serve the people.” So the young feel particularly betrayed by how officials have implemented Xi’s “zero-COVID” policies.
Locking up families in their homes without food, blocking the ill from reaching hospitals, and perhaps even leaving people to die in fires, as in Urumqi recently.
The fact remains that no other large country in history has been as successful as China in controlling information and indoctrinating youth.
In a speech touting the movement’s “patriotic” spirit, Xi asked young Chinese to “unswervingly obey the Party.”
Those young Chinese most persuaded by official ideology became the heirs of the Party’s revolutionary movements.
The very nature of revolution means smashing the old world and entering a better one.
Chairman Mao took up arms against a malign government on behalf of ordinary citizens. In that light, raising their voices against a corrupt government is an act of patriotism.
In that spirit of Mao and recent protests, young Chinese today may be the loudest voices demanding change in China.