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Y, 24, Guangzhou 广州, a recent Master’s graduate in Entrepreneurship.
Last year, Y contributed to “You Have More Freedom Than You Think” (你比你想象的更自由), a book documenting the experiences of 30 young Chinese who took a “gap year” 间隔年 to do something unconventional. Y is often asked how to overcome parental conflict as China’s only children deviate from their parents’ “fixed plan for their kids — primary school, middle school, college, job, marriage, and having children”.
Chinese education expert, Xiong Bingqi, explains that Chinese parents cannot fathom a year out of education because most Chinese universities only permit deferring in exceptional circumstances, such as illness; a “gap year” would hinder one’s chances of university admission when competition is already fierce. Another factor is one’s personal citizenship file: an unexplained year could disadvantage those applying at government or state owned companies. Despite this, Chinese youth are beginning to challenge traditional expectations of education, employment, and more importantly, social status. Sun Dongchun is confident that “society is progressing and more young people will be able to have their own gap year experience.”
On his own ‘gap year’ experience, Y primarily freelanced whilst building his company’s website as he likes to be able to anywhere. For the first 6 months, he travelled between Guangzhou 广州 and Beijing 北京 (roughly 2,140 km), choosing to leave Beijing and its cold, smog-filled winter for New Zealand 新西兰.
Interested to know what Y thought of the British, having just completed his Master’s in London, he told me before arriving in the UK he assumed the British would be高冷. The characters literally translate as “tall, cold”, the closest translation I could find being “haughty”. Another word used to depict the UK, (owing to Chinese social media) was 腐国 which is Chinese slang referring to, “the perception of the UK as decadent for its attitudes towards sexuality” . The former image of haughty Brits formed a stark contrast with the flamboyant, modern and seemingly “decadent” supporters of homosexuals.腐国in fact originated from Chinese social media trends and memes of various British TV series characters, that whilst we may appear cold and indifferent on the surface, we are humorous and light-hearted on the inside.
I asked Y if there is a particularly desired characteristic amongst the Chinese youth, to which he replied the spirit of being able to 折腾 which translates as “to toss from side to side”, or “to be weird and wonderful (crazy)”. If an individual is daring to persist, fight and dream for something they are passionate about all whilst having a positive impact on others as a role model, then, in the eyes of the upcoming Chinese generation, they have achieved 折腾. Y told me, “If you purposely pursue success, then you are just like everyone else in China. Pursuing success isn’t necessarily a desired characteristic because it’s too common, 折腾 is what the Chinese youth are now striving for.”
Written by Olivia Halsall. The full article is on her blog: 66hands.wordpress.com
Olivia Halsall spent the past year studying at Tsinghua University in Beijing as part of her Year Abroad. This article featuring Y, 24, Guangzhou 广州, a recent Master’s graduate in Entrepreneurship, is part of her attempt to understand China through her travels and interviews with native Chinese citizens from all walks of life.
The UoB Linguist Magazine
Guild of Students,
University of Birmingham