Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Culture Conflict

Times are changing for families in China - at least that is what The Washington Post suggests in its recently-published series of articles on the subject (link to the articles). From sexuality to literacy, a transformation emerges that divides generations along simple conventional lines. The older generation has lived through the Cultural Revolution of the mid-1960's. The younger generation has grown up in a China where "to get rich is glorious" and to brim with Western sensibilities is the ultimate benefit of a social capitalist society. To say the two are extremes is not particularly groundbreaking, but I find the dichotomy fascinating when compared to the US.

Where the Chinese practice a certain form of Confucianism in terms of collective family mores, the Americans are a bit more individualistic and self-focused. This is particularly insightful when considered against the backdrop of a United States that is growing its Baby Boomer ranks at a healthy clip, those children of the Long, Hot Summer who want many things - including the personal and financial freedoms to do as they wish. Interesting to note that these are exactly the sort of freedoms that are frowned upon with youth, but that is another topic altogether (read this editorial comment in the Financial Times for a thought-provoker on the Baby Boomer-Gen X/Y perspective divide).

Fundamentally, though, the generational divide is the same across countries, with the distinction being parental values orientation. The Baby Boomers are well-understood in their freedoms and entitlement, but those that lived through the Chinese Cultural Revolution have a completely different sensibility. To be different for this generation is to be outright excluded from society. To achieve for the benefit of society is all-encompassing and worthy of all energies. To fall into line is not just expedient but also potentially life-saving. And to promote these messages to the upcoming generations is important and vital.

In either case, the point is that a culture conflict looms beneath the surface. But even more telling is that although the conflict plays out with a different generational context, the younger generations have begun to exhibit similar sensibilities of technology savvy and self-expression. What might be more troubling is that the Baby Boomer/Cultural Revolution generations have less of an understanding of the uniting factors that bring the global Gen X/Y generations together. The culture conflict looming transcends borders in ways we do not yet fully understand.
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