Toward Individualism - China's Culture at a Crossroads

By Barber, Ben | The World and I, April 2001 | Go to article overview

Toward Individualism - China's Culture at a Crossroads


Barber, Ben, The World and I


Along busy Huaihai Road in central Shanghai last summer, the rush of the modern age was sweeping away the last external vestiges of the old order. Almost. Pretty girls in short skirts strode confidently past aged grandmothers peering into the McDonald's, which was crowded with the younger generation. In Starbucks, young high-tech aficionados sipped their caffe lattes. But when a Western visitor tried to shoot photos at the busy street beyond the plate glass windows, a worried manager quickly stopped him. It was forbidden.

Shanghai is exploding. For those familiar with the old Asia, the feverish pace is reminiscent of Bangkok during the 1980s, when growth was 13 percent a year, the highest in the world. But while Bangkok was rushing to build forty-story skyscrapers, those in Shanghai are sixty stories high, draped in scaffolding with cloth signs advertising for tenants.

The building boom has its downside, however. The prosperity that comes from spearheading the country's modernization and prosperity in the last six to eight years has opened a rift in Chinese society. The old ways remain hostile to much of the new lifestyle that has come with the boom: short skirts, sex before marriage, provocative novels, political diversity, the Internet's access to the outer world, and the clash of generations. One North American college teacher described the old system well, asking that her identity and the inland city she worked in be withheld. "There's no short skirts in the inland," she said. "In my city, girls and boys live with their parents until they are 25, and then their mothers tell them who to marry.

City vs. country

"When one girl in my class--she was 22--slept with her boyfriend, he told his friends and it got around," said the teacher. "She was so ashamed and depressed she tried to commit suicide. In my city, none of the kids are having premarital sex, and they are still totally controlled by the mores of their parents." In Shanghai, however, flush with money from joint ventures with international corporations such as Proctor and Gamble, young people have begun to break away from the strict sexual taboos that were part of traditional morality and were enforced since the communists took power in 1949.

"Lots of us young people are living with our boyfriends," said one young college graduate, 25, who also spoke only on condition that her name not be published. "But we do it because we have come to Shanghai for university or jobs and are far from our parents," she explained with a giggle. The fact that the newly Westernized youth must hide their sexual freedom from their families is one sign that the new culture has barely penetrated the mass of the 1.3 billion Chinese. Conservative mores still rule the hinterland away from the leading edge of modernity, while the new sexual and social freedom is limited to areas such as Guangzhou, formerly called Canton, adjacent to Hong Kong; the capital, Beijing; and Shanghai, the traditional site of foreign influence ever since Western nations set up shop along the Bund riverfront some hundred years ago.

A recent poll published in Newsweek's international edition reported that only 28 percent of young Chinese felt it was very important to be an individual. In Thailand, however, where the modern age and Western contacts have had more than twenty years to take root and the free press and democracy have nurtured freedom and individuality, some 78 percent of young people said they highly valued being an individual.

Youth vs. the government

Mian Mian, a novelist in Shanghai, is one of the best-known leaders of the new movement that some have called nihilistic and others say is simply a sign of the longing for freedom from ancient and repressive social controls. She was pregnant and complaining about the treatment in the local hospital where she had just gone for a prenatal visit but welcomed an American visitor with her views on the new Shanghai. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Toward Individualism - China's Culture at a Crossroads
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.