THE first of the post-1990s, web-savvy generation - those "irresponsible kids" born in 1990 - are entering the workplace and they're being closely watched to see how they adjust to the real world. Li Anlan reports.
Graduation season concludes with a huge sigh of relief: There are memories of funny cap-and-gown photos, going on trips with friends, relaxing after years of pressure. For some, this summer also marks a huge transition in life - the beginning of a professional career.
China's post-1990s generation, those born in 1990 or later, are going to work. Some young people born in 1990 have just entered the workplace.
They are only 22 years old, but they are being closely watched for signs of how well the single-child, web-savvy generation will perform in real-world jobs where discipline, personal interaction, old-fashioned e-mail and even picking up the telephone are important.
They are considered a bellwether of a generation born into a prosperous China with high hopes for the future.
People everywhere always criticize the youngest generation, wondering what they're coming to. China is no different, stereotyping the post-1990s generation as irresponsible and self-centered.
Known for their peculiar fashion, their ever-present earphones, online connections and apparent air of indifference, the post-1990s generation is commonly labeled and stereotyped as non-mainstream, spoiled, apathetic (or defiant), irresponsible and lazy. This generation, like the post-1980s (also said to be selfish and self-centered) is mired in controversy about their personalities and abilities and what they say about the future of China.
Of course, their future is an open question and it is also said that this (post-1990s) generation is better educated than previous generations, better informed, more open-minded, more opinionated, more creative and more socially involved and interested in a better, more just society.
Around China, 6.8 million students are graduating from colleges and universities this year, both graduate and undergraduate. Around 7,100 graduated from Shanghai Fudan University, both graduate and undergraduate. The employment rate for Fudan undergrads is reportedly 88 percent. It's not known how many are the first post-1990s.
Shanghai Daily interviewed a number of post-1990s graduates in their first real job (see the story on B2), as well as employers and HR professionals and found no indication that there were "generational" problems. They seemed sensible and grounded, surprisingly ordinary. Many already had internships and passed muster. Another check in a year's time would yield more meaningful observations.
Also known as Generation Z in Western countries, China's post-1990s generation grew up with the Internet and all kinds of digital devices. It's the first generation to have always known the digital world and they're the most web-savvy newcomers ever in the workplace. It's hard for them to live without the World Wide Web.
They are adept, even better, at keeping in touch with people via social media than via telephone or personal contact, while parents and teachers fret that they are overly exposed to the huge amount of information online.
Observers and prognosticators say they may be so used to the digital world and to surfing and skimming that they may be losing vital interpersonal and face-to-face conversational skills and losing the ability to focus, concentrate and follow through. Because they always seem to be multitasking, they are sometimes known in the West as Generation M or Generation C for connected.
In China it's common to categorize people by their generations, such as the post-1980s and post-1990s, though many of the distinctions are artificial. Similarly, China refers to film directors as belonging to generations 1 through 5, though generation is loosely defined.
The majority of the post-1990s generation are single children in their families, so they have been the primary focus of parents and relatives. Many have been indulged, they don't know privation and haven't been called upon to shoulder responsibility.
The post-1980s generation is also labeled as spoiled and self-involved, but they grew up with parents who mostly did know privation, instability and hard times and passed their drive onto their children, many of them known as "little emperors." Today the little emperors have iPhones.
Popular sayings on the Internet compare China's post-1990s with post-1970s and post-1980s. This one is typical:
"Post 1970s: Have bank savings.
Post 1980s: Have a mortgage.
Post 1990s: We just call daddy!"
"Post 1970s: Will always stand up when a leader is present.
Post 1980s: Equality above all!
Post 1990s: I don't care about who you are - I am the greatest!"
Over time, opinions about generations become more nuanced and accurate.
But for now, the post-1990s are under the microscope in their first real job. Over time will they be able to focus on the work at hand and complete tasks efficiently? Will they languish if they are not able to go online during work hours?
Zeng Yanbo, a researcher at the Youth Research Center of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, says the post-1990s generation is actually more mature and socially responsible than people think.
"They grew up in an easier environment, and they look at things more positively," Zeng says.
"They haven't experienced too many obstacles and frustrations, and they understand things earlier in life as well," Zeng adds.
She also explains that although they have been indulged, a lot of young people put too much emphasis on individual self-interest and believe justice and equity are important.
"They think fairness is the most important thing," Zeng says.
Many parents and relatives consider the post-1990s to still be immature. Before stepping into the work world, they haven't had to handle much responsibility beyond getting to class on time and doing well in school. They can think about their personal interests.
"They don't have experience at the beginning, because their families don't need them to do anything," Zeng observes. "They'll become more responsible after getting married and learning to face reality by themselves."
Unlike the older generations, for whom getting into college was hard and diplomas were rare, the post-1990s take college as a given. Average levels of education are higher today and there's a proliferation of colleges and universities.
Getting a job isn't the end of education, it's the beginning of a new stage of learning and it's important for new employees to study both professional and personal development, Zeng says.
"Even if you are satisfied with your current position, you still need to pursue further education and have a plan for life," Zeng says. "You also need to distinguish between right and wrong and understand your parents."
As the post-1990s are getting more involved in social activities and movements, such as environmental protection of all kinds, many are not afraid of speaking out and making themselves heard.
Contrary to being indifferent or self-centered, some young people are quite outspoken on social issues.
Though the overall employment situation is promising, new employes still face obstacles and problems. Some have job offers unrelated to their majors and some are dissatisfied with their new positions.
He Mei, professional career advisor at the Shanghai Employment Agency Center in Hongkou District, says she's "pretty lenient" with post-1990s young people, saying they're just starting out.
"It's impossible to get everything under control at once," He says, adding that people still have little life experience and don't have a clear idea about the future. That's why many don't seem to care much about anything.
"Some want to have some accomplishments and success immediately, but many goals are not realistic when they are just entering society," she says of impatient young people.