China youth's rising self-interest. Some leaders fear young are straying too far from Maoist ideals
Peking — CHINA'S young people may be the most exhorted and lectured in the world. Told to emulate the communist revolutionary heroes, they are now being exposed to a fresh crop of movies and television documentaries commemorating the 50th anniversary of the end of the Long March, Mao Tse-tung's strategic retreat from 1934 to 1936 from the Nationalist forces of Gen. Chiang Kai-shek.
Every student is supposed to study the new resolution ``on the guiding principles for building a socialist society'' passed by the Central Committee plenum last month. They must also memorize lesson formulas such as the ``Five Beautifuls,'' the ``Four Stresses,'' and the ``Three Loves,'' developed by the Communist Party to improve public morals and ethics.
But despite a continuing effort to shape their attitudes and ensure their loyalty, Chinese youth have also become a source of increasing anxiety for the party. With the country's rapidly changing social climate, some party officials worry that China's young people may be going astray in a world in which socialism has been redefined to exclude poverty and where loyalty to the nation no longer means making the kinds of personal sacrifices demanded of their parents' generation.
What senior leader Deng Xiaoping calls the ``Second Long March'' to make China prosperous is very different from the real one -- an arduous, 8,000-mile journey survived by 6,000 of the 80,000 communist soldiers.
Many people are worried that the revolutionary heroes offer little guidance to youth at a time of rising material expectations. The new notions of serving the country are linked closely to personal interests -- getting an education, finding a well-paying job, having access to consumer goods, new housing, and travel abroad.
``The older generation believes in contributions without gains,'' wrote a Shanghai graduate student in China Youth Journal recently. ``I think this is militant communism plus utopian socialism. Its foundation is in their enthusiasm for the [communist] revolution. But what the new generation wants is `self-realization.'''
For many, ``self-realization'' translates into prosperity for themselves, leading eventually to prosperity for the country - an attitude encouraged by the party's approval of some people's becoming rich ahead of others.
Communist Youth League officials say their young people are ``practically minded,'' not impressed with the ``empty political talk'' of their parents' generation. But this may be a benign description of what some party officials have said is a materially minded generation that lacks discipline and respect for their elders.
Some leaders blame what they see as a crisis in youthful ideals on the failures of political education. It began, they say, during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), when school classrooms became soapboxes for ultraleftists' campaigns against their political and ideological enemies: Lin Biao, Confucius, and Deng Xiaoping.
One solution has been to strengthen the school curriculum in political theory and history in order to lay the proper foundations for future party membership.
But what are youth thinking today, and how serious is the erosion of socialist values? Several recent opinion polls have tried to find answers.
One poll conducted among 3,000 college students in Wuhan reported that 65 percent said the country's economic reforms yielded good results but also many problems. Almost half of those surveyed said individuals should be independent in their thinking and have personal opinions in politics. Only 10 percent said one should stick with the party line on political issues.
Although students favor individualism in a political sense, another poll indicates that they are not prepared to give up their dependence on government in the economic sense. A survey that included working young people in 23 cities indicated that almost two-thirds thought the government should provide everything in their lives, according to the official China Daily.
A more comprehensive poll by the Youth League in Peking recently asked critical questions about young people's attitudes toward government and its current policies. The Youth League is a kind of scouting organization that prepares young people for party membership. Last year, about 1 million out of 52 million Youth League members were admitted to the party -- the largest number admitted in one year since the late '60s.
One result that pleased the pollsters was that 70 percent of the 12,000 youth surveyed in the Peking area said they were ``willing to join the party.'' There may be reason to doubt whether answers to such a sensitive question are reliable, given the Chinese inclination to respond in ways expected of them. But Youth League officials say the survey was conducted scientifically, according to techniques developed by US pollster George Gallup, and that the margin for error was very small.
Large increases in party membership applications by university students hint that many more are willing to join the political establishment than a few years ago. But this may be of little comfort to ideologues, since many students see the party as a fast track to success.
``Youth are more outspoken than ever before,'' said Wang Qun, whose Youth League department conducted the Peking survey.``Some even dared to write comments on state policy on the margins of their survey forms,'' Mr. Wang said, himself a recent graduate of Peking University. Some did not agree with specific policies that contradicted their personal interests, he explained, though he would not say which policies they criticized.
On China's modernization drive, students were asked to choose the most important among seven obstacles to economic reforms. A majority checked off excessive bureaucracy, followed by lack of a developed legal system and the absence of rule by law. The abuse of privileges by members of the Communist Party came in third.
Some observers also note a growing spirit of nationalism among Chinese youth, due perhaps to greater contact with the outside world - which has shown China to lag behind in so many areas. During the Asian Games in Seoul last month, Chinese fans showed the usual passionate support for their teams, and some observers predicted violence if China didn't come out on top.
All told, China took home 94 medals, one more than the host country, South Korea received. One young fan said that if a big country like China hadn't taken home more medals than the little countries of South Korea and Japan, it would have been a ``humiliation.'' No doubt, the revolutionary fathers would have agreed.