Cyber Politics

The Impact of the Internet on the Worldview of Chinese Youth

Global China and Chinese Youth                                                          

The rise of contemporary China is marked by the 2008 Olympics and its solid economic growth not just during the 2008’s financial crisis but also in the past three decades, which pulled millions of Chinese people out of poverty. China has been actively engaging in building soft power and international relations. With its Asian neighbors, China recently started to show a stronger position on issues such as the South China Sea. The first China-led international institution, Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), was set up in 2016. In May 2017, the One Belt and One Road initiative were proposed in Beijing as part of China’s grand strategy to exert its economic and political influence across the Euro-Asia continent.

China is Canada’s second-largest trade partner next to the United States. In 2015, Canada’s total export to China was worth $20,223 million according to the government of Canada’s data. The slowdown of the Chinese economy will be felt in Canada, especially in BC. In order to respond to an increasingly global China, it is critical for Canadians to make sense of not just the Chinese economy but also China’s presence in international affairs. Therefore, it is important to understand a new generation of Chinese and their views on the world.

The current generation of Chinese youths has been growing as China herself was rising to the world stage. Here we focus on the young Chinese who were born after 1990; they are called the post-90s generation. Unlike their parents, the majority of the post-90s generation in the urban and suburban areas grew up in a relatively stable society. They did not experience the turmoil during the Communist Revolution nor did they suffer from extreme poverty. One of the tools available to today’s Chinese youth that has the potential to truly change perspective is the internet. Due to the influx of information made available via the internet, Chinese youths are more open to the world around them than were their parents.  

Video as an influential platform to convey cultures and values

Online video is one of the most popular forms of media in China. According to PwC’s report, the total market of entertainment and media in China will account for $235,711 million dollars by 2019. Total electronic home video revenue was estimated to increase at a rate of 12.9%; estimated to reach US$753 million by 2019. The number of online video viewers is predicted to increase from $460 million in 2014 to $700 million by 2016. Most importantly, 80% of Chinese internet monthly users are between 18 and 34 years old, which suggests that the contents watched by 80% of Chinese netizens can have a significant impact on their views on the world.

Foreign TV Dramas and its influence on Chinese youth’s views on the world

Two prominent scholars, Jiang and Leung, conducted research focussing on “American and Korean TV drama viewing among Internet users in urban China.” Based on data from the PwC report, 80% of internet users in China are between 18 to 34 years old. According to Jiang and Leung, viewing foreign TV dramas has become a mainstream recreational activity because the internet allows for 24-hour streaming of shows at low cost.

The demand for viewing TV dramas mainly comes from a lack of China’s own popular cultural production during the cultural transitional period. The impact of foreign TV dramas on Chinese viewers is significant. Jiang and Leung argue that “foreign dramas bring foreign images, cultures, languages, and values, which usually expresses a televisual version of modernity more intense than the current Chinese socio- scape.”

Jiang and Leung’s research focuses on analyzing the impact of Korean and American TV dramas on Chinese viewers. According to them, there are four dimensions of gratification that are sought after through foreign dramas: entertainment, sociability, learning, and escape. All these suggest that Chinese viewers watch foreign dramas mainly for self-entertainment, chatting with family members or friends about TV dramas, learning foreign languages and cultures, and escaping from reality and responsibilities.

The four dimensions of gratification demonstrated by Chinese viewers are closely related to lifestyle. Viewers that have had the opportunity of a better education seem to prefer American TV dramas; the fast and complicated narratives of certain American TV shows require a higher development of literacy. Cultural practices and preferences, like watching foreign dramas are also the results of education (Jiang and Leung 160, 168, 169, 175).

Foreign video bloggers and their influence on Chinese youth’s views on the world

Our content analysis selected one sample video from one of the popular foreign bloggers, Fulinfang on Chinese video platform. One of his videos is titled “13 facts of Britain that you do not know”.

In this report, only selected facts are analyzed based on the relevance between the “facts” and popular social issues discussed appeared in Chinese society in the past few years. The analysis contains a total number of 1000 comments from viewers.

Four topics of content analysis are presented by bullet points form as follow:

Religion

01:15-01:29

  •   Fact 3: “59% of the Briton described themselves as Christians. They all believe Christianity. That’s 59%. 25% are not religious. Atheist.”

   Reactions to the fact is about Britain/other countries (4)

  1. Are you Christian?
  2. Showing their knowledge of religion in Britain
  3. Surprised about the percentage of non-religious people in Britain (1)(higher than expectation)

   Reactions to the fact is about own religious identity/China (8)

  1. I am also Christian
  2. China has many atheists/China is Marxism
  3. I am an atheist
  4. China is a country with religious freedom
  5. Chinese people pray to all kinds of gods
  6.   Chinese has ancestor worship

The development of the E-commerce

02:22:02:35

  •   Fact 8 : “British people are good at online shopping. Each person spends 2000 pounds, which is 20,000 yuan shopping online each year. Each person spends 20,000 yuan online, isn’t it badass?”

      Reactions to the fact is about Britain/other countries  (3)

  1. Knowledge of online shopping or shopping in the UK

   Reactions to the fact is about own religious identity/China (35)

  1. confidence/China has a more developed e-commerce
  2. More rational and critical (average per person, China didn’t match):

Cultural Diversity

3:01- 3:39

  •   Fact 10: “In Britain, the local accents have significant changes for every 40 km.“

   Reactions to the fact is about Britain/other countries (23)

  1. London accent is famous
  2. Showing the knowledge of other British accents

   Reactions to the fact is about China (40)

  1. China has more cultural diversity

History

03:51:03:57

  •   Fact 12: “The oldest house in Britain has 6000 years of history”

   Reactions to the fact is about Britain/other countries (3)

   Reactions to the fact is about China (23)

  1. We have 5000 years of history but can also be 6000 years, we are older
  2. We have 4000 years of history rather than 5000. Face it

Implications

Based on the selective topics analyzed above and our findings of demographics of Chinese Internet users, Chinese youth online have demonstrated their knowledge and made their curiosities about the outside world, Britain in this case,  aware to the online community. For instance, their comments have shown their diverse understanding of British speak and British history.

However, the Chinese youth online have demonstrated a much stronger reaction to “the facts” so long as they were relevant to China’s popularly debated topics or national pride. For example, religious beliefs; recent development of e-commerce;  China’s cultural diversity, and eventually China’s national pride were among the topics that generated a response from the viewers. The polarity of their responses, however, signifies that the views made by Chinese netizens are more diverse than ever. For example, on the topic of religious beliefs, three of the users who commented self-identified as Christians and two other users self-identified as atheists. Apart from those, only one comment emphasized that China has religious freedom while two other comments stressed that China is a Marxist country. And lastly, though one comment criticized that the Chinese pray to all kinds of gods, the other explained China’s history of ancestral worship.

The implications of the content analysis lead to two key points. First, our understanding of China should not be generalized into one simple narrative in any aspects of Chinese society. The new generation of Chinese youth is as diverse as their parents or grandparents because of the geographic, cultural, and historical diversity of China. Secondly, the impact of both of foreign TV dramas and foreign bloggers’ videos has gone beyond providing more information about the outside world for Chinese youth online but stimulated a sort of discussion or self-reflection of the way that Chinese youth see China’s role in the world. As Chinese youth continue to understand the outside world through the medium of TV shows and vlogs, a higher degree of discussion will trigger a broader and deeper reflection of China’s role in the world.