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China’s creative millennials

A creative response to an uncertain future

Globally, millennials are defined as those born after 1980 and who came of age in the new millennium. In China, this represents 385 million people, or 28.4% of the population. However, rather than one wide demographic, China’s millennials are divided into those born after 1980 and those born after 1990. The difference in mentality between these two groups is partly rooted in China’s rapid growth. Eric Fish, author of China’s Millennials: The Want Generation, sums this up by stating that

“Someone born in 1995 was born into an economy more than twice the size of someone born in 1985”.

The post 90s generation have enjoyed rising family incomes, a proliferation in digital technology and a stronger and more global China. Their confidence and expectations are seen to be higher, as well as their openness to more fulfilling, less traditional career paths. However, they became economically active from 2012 onwards, as China’s economy slowed down. They also face higher competition. The total number of university graduates grew seven fold between 2000 and 2013.

Researchers at China Youthology describe the post 90s generation as having had a more comfortable start, but are faced with a more uncertain future. They are therefore are more focused on living well in the present, and see a good quality of life is one that is built around personal choices, rooted in but not limited to the material.

Although China’s economy has begun to slow down, it has also changed form. One expression of this has been the government’s growing focus on the creative and cultural industries. These were enshrined into national policy in 2006 and by 2011 they were put forward as a ‘main pillar’ of the national economy.

These, among other factors such as growing consumption of non-essential goods, may be encouraging a higher proportion of post 90s young people to see the creative and cultural industries as a serious career option. The ‘90s kids’ series on China’s millennials presented by Chinese online publication Sixth Tone gives an insight into the lives and aspirations of 30 young people in this generation.

24 year old fashion designer Chen Jialun aims to build a personalized commercial brand and employs 9 other young people in her studio, “all of whom dare to imagine”. Young jewellery designers Zhang Zhihao and Wang Fei have big aspirations and see themselves as “young entrepreneurs”. After completing their degrees they decided to start selling through a market stall, as “it means a lot to have our own space — a place where we can design exactly the way we want to.”

This entrepreneurship does not come at the expense of broader values and personal fulfilment. Young textile and clothing designer Lu Nanhong runs a clothing brand, inspired to work with traditional Chinese indigo dyeing, as she was “sad to see traditional dyeing only in museums. I really want to do something to make (it) thrive again.” As Zhang Zhihao and Wang Fei succinctly put it, for the post 90s generation “Money, you can make it whenever you want to. The key point is to follow your heart.”

- The BOP China team

Photo credit: Vic Xia, Ying, flickr cc