TED02: The generation that is remaking China by Yang Lan

The night before I was heading for Scotland,I was invited to host the final of " China ' s Got Talent" show in ShangHai with the 80.000 live audience in the stadium. Guess who was the performing guest? Susan Boyle. And I told her, I am going to Scotland the next day." she sang beautifully. And she even managed to say a few words in Chinese. So it is not like "hello"or "thank you,"those ordinary stuff. It means "green onion for free." why did she say that? Because it was a line from our Chinese parallel Suan Boyle,a 50-some year-old woman, a vegetable vendor in ShangHai, who loves singing Western opera. But she did not understand any English or French or Italian, so she managed to fill in the lyrics with vegetable names in Chinese. And the last sentence of Nessun Dorma that she was singing in the stadium was "green onion for free."  So as Susan Boyle was saying that,80.000 live audience sang together. That was hilarious. So I guess both Susan Boyle and this vegetable vendor in ShangHai belong to otherness. They were the least expected to be successful in the business called entertainment, yet their courage and talent brought them through. And a show and a platform gave them the stage to realize their dreams.

Well,being different is not that difficult. We are all different from different perspectives. But I think being different is good,because you present a different point of view. You may have a chance to make a difference. My generation has been very fortunate to witness and participate in the historic transformation of China that has made so many changes in the past 20,30 years. I remember that in the year of 1990,when I was graduating from college, I was applying for a job in the sales department of the first five-star hotel in Beijing. Great Wall Sheraton---it is still there. So after being interrogated by this Japanese manager for a half an hour,he finally said,"so Miss Yang, do you have any questions to ask me?" I summoned my courage and poise and said,"Yes,but could you let me know,what actually do you sell?" I did not have a clue what a sales department was about in a five-star-hotel. That was the first day I set my foot into a five-star hotel.

Around the same time, I was going through an audition --the first ever open audition by national television in China with another thousand college girls.    The producer told us they were looking for some sweet,innocent and beautiful fresh face. So when it was my turn, I stood up and said:"Why do women ' s personalities on television always have to be beautiful,sweet,innocent and you know,supportive? Why can not they have their own ideas and their own voice?" I thought I kind of offended them. But actually ,they were impressed by my words. And so I was in the second round of competition,and the third and the fourth. After seven rounds of competition, I was the last one to survive it. So I was on a national television prime-time show. And believe it or not that was the first show on Chinese television that allowed its hosts to speak out their own minds without reading an approved script. And my weekly audience at that time was between 200 to 300 million people. Well after a few years, I decided to go to the U.S. And Columbia University to pursue my postgraduate studies,and then started my own media company, which was unthought of during the years that I started my career. So we do a lot of things. I have interviewed more than a thousand people in the past. And sometimes I have young people approaching me say,"Lan,you change my life."and I feel proud of that. But then we are also so fortunate to witness the transformation of the whole country. I was in Beijing ' s bidding for the Olympic Games. I was representing the ShaiHai Expo. I saw China embracing the world and vice versa. But then sometimes I am thinking,what are today ' s young generation up to? How are they different,and what are the differences they are going to make to shape the future of China,or at large,the world? So today I want to talk about young people though the platform of social media. First of all,who are they? What they look like? Well this is a girl called GuoMeimei,20 years old,beautiful. She showed off her expensive bags,clothes and car on her microblog which is the Chinese version of Twitter. And she claimed to be the general manager of Red Cross  at  the Chamber Commerce. She did not realize that she stepped on a sensitive nerve and aroused national questioning,almost a turmoil,against the credibility of Red Cross. The controversy was so heated that the Red Cross had to open a press conference to clarify it ,and the investigation is going on. So far,as of today we know that she made up that title,probably because she feels proud to be associated with charity. All those expensive items were given to her as gifts by her boyfriend who used to be a board member in a subdivision of Red Cross at Chamber of Commerce. It is very complicated to explain. But anyway,the public still does not buy it. It still boiling. It shows us a general mistrust of government or government-back institutions which lacked transparency in the past. And also it showed us the power and the impact of social media as microblog. Microblog boomed in the year of 2010,with visitors doubled and time spent on it tripled. Sina.com,a major news portal,alone has more than 140 million microbloggers. On Tencent,200 million. The most popular blogger--it is not me. It is a movie star and she has more than 9.5 million followers,or fans. About 80 percent of those microbloggers are young people under 30 years old. And because ,as you know,the traditional media is still heavily controlled by the government,so social media offers an opening to let the steam out a little bit. Because you do not have many other openings,the heat coming out of this opening is sometimes very strong ,active and even violent. So through microblogging, we are able to understand Chinese youth even better. So how are they different? First of all,most of them were born in the 80s and 90s,under the one-child policy. And because of the selected abortion by families who favored boys to girls,now we have ended up with 30 million more young men than women. That could pose a potential danger to the society,but who knows we are in a globalized world. SO they can look for girlfriends from other countries. Most of  them have fairly good education. The illiteracy rate in China among thing this generation is under one policy. In cities,80 percent of kids go to college. But they are facing an aging China with a population above 65 years old coming up with seven point some percent this year,and about to be 15 percent by the year of 2030. And you know we have the tradition that younger generations support the elders financially, and taking care of them when they are sick. So it means young couples will have to support four parents who have a life expectancy of 73 years old. So making a living is not that easy for young people. College graduates are not short supply. In urban areas ,college graduates find the starting salary is about 400U.S dollars a month,while the average rent is above 500. So what do they do?They have to share space squeezed in very limited space to save money and they call themselves"tribe of ants." And for those who are ready to get married and buy their apartment,they figured out they have to work for 30 to 40 years to afford their apartment. That ratio in America would only cost a couple five years to earn,but in China it is 30 to 40 years with the skyrocketing real estate price.Among the 200 million migrant workers,60 percent of them are young people. They find themselves sort of sandwiched between the urban areas and the rural areas. Most of them do not want to go back to the countryside,but they do not have the sense of belonging. They work for longer hours with less income,less social welfare. And they are momre vulnerable to job losses,subject to inflation,tightening loans from banks,appreciation of the renminibi, or decline of demand from Europe or America for the products they produce. Last year,though,an appalling incident in a southern OEM manufacturing compound in China:13 young workers in their late teens and early 20s committed suicide,just one by one like causing a contagious disease. But they died because of all different personal reasons. But this whole incident aroused a huge outcry society about the isolation both physical and mental of these migrant workers. For those who do return to the countryside,they find themselves very welcome locally,because with the knowledge ,skills and networks they have learned in the cities,with the assistance of the Internet,they are able to create more jobs,upgrade local agriculture and create new business in the less developed market. So for the past few years,the coastal areas,they found themselves in a shortage of  labor. These diagrams show a more general social background. The first one is the Engels coefficient witch explain that the cost of daily necessities has dropped its percentage all through the past decade,in terms of family income,to about 37-some percent. But then in the last two years, it goes up again to 39 percent,indicating a rising living cost. The GiNi coefficient has already passed the dangerous line of 0.4. Now it is 0.5---even worse than that in American,showing us the income inequality. And so you see this whole society getting frustrated about losing some of its mobility. And also,the bitterness and even resentment towards the rich and  the powerful is quite widespread. So any accusations of corruption or backdoor dealings between authorities or business would arouse a social outcry or even unrest. So through some of the hottest topics on microblogging, we can see what young people care most about. Social justice and government accountability runs the fist in what they demand. For the past decade or not,a massive urbanization and development have let us witness a lot of reports on the forced demolition of private property. And it has aroused huge anger and frustration among our young generation. Sometimes people get killed,and sometimes people set themselves on the fire to protest. So when these incident are reported more and more frequently on the Internet,people cry for the government to take actions to stop this. So the good news is that earlier this year,the state council passed a new regulation on house requisition and demolition and passed the right to order forced demolition from local governments to the court. Similarly,many  other issues concerning pubic safety is a hot topic on the Internet. We heard about polluted air,polluted water,poisoned food. And guess what,we have faked beef. They are sorts of ingredients that you brush on a piece of chicken or fresh,and it turns it to look like beef. And then lately,people are very concerned about cooking oil, because thousands of people have been found cooking oil from restaurant slop. So all these things have aroused a huge outcry from the Internet. And fortunately,we have seen the government responding more timely and more frequently to the public concerns. While young people seem to be very sure about their participation in public policy-making, but sometimes they are a little bit lost in terms of what they want for their personal life. China is soon to pass the U.S as the number one market for luxury brands-that is not including the Chinese expenditures in Europe and elsewhere. But you know what,half of those consumers are earning a salary below 2000 U.S dollars. They are not rich at all. They are taking those bags and clothes as a sense of identity and social status. And this is a girl explicitly saying on a TV dating show that she would rather cry in a BMW than smile on a bicycle. But of course ,we do have young people who would still prefer to smile,whether in a BMW or on a bicycle. And in the next picture,you see a very popular phenomenon called "naked"wedding,or "naked"marriage. It does not mean they will wear nothing in the wedding,but it shows that these young couples are ready to get married without a house,without a car,without a diamond ring and without a wedding banquet,to show their commitment to true love.And also,people are doing good through social media. And the first picture showed us that a truck caging 500 homeless  and kidnapped dogs for food processing was spotted and stopped on the highway with the whole country watching microbogging. People were donating money,dog food and offer volunteer work to stop that truck. And after hours of negotiation, 500 dogs were rescued. And here also people are helping to find missing children. A father posted his son's picture onto the Internet. After thousand of,the child was found,and we witness the reunion of the family through microblogging. So happiness is the most popular word we have heard through the past two years. Happiness is not only related to personal experience and personal values,but also,it is about the environment. People are thinking about the following questions: are we going to sacrifice our environment further to produce higher GDP? How are we going to perform our social and political reform to keep pace with economic growth,to keep sustainability and stability? And also,how capable is the system of self-correctness to keep more people content. With all sorts of fiction going on at the same time? I guess these are the questions people are going to answer. And our younger generation are going to transform this country while at the same time being transformed themselves.

Thank you very much.


















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