With a click, Chinese vault cultural walls
Under a millennia-old Confucian system, Chinese were taught to worship their ancestors, their parents, and the emperor in a stone-hard hierarchy that was cut off from the rest of the world.Skip to next paragraph
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Then came the Internet. And young "Netizens," like harp student Sun Lingsheng, are among the 10 million Chinese today who are chipping away, at mouse-click speed, the great walls of xenophobia and fear of change.
As in most cultures, youths are the vanguard of this societal shift. But here, China's one-child population policy, an injection of free-enterprise ethos, plus a growing disillusionment with communism, all contribute to the creation of a generation of individualistic, pampered "little emperors." They have the means to go online to explore new values and the desire to join a "pop planet" cultural movement.
The following cybersurfers interviewed in Beijing offer a snapshot of this blossoming trend.
Each day at dawn, Sun Lingsheng attends classes at the prestigious China Academy of Opera and Dance, where he studies the guzheng, or ancient Chinese harp, centuries-old rules of music, and the official state creed: a mix of Confucianism and Communism.
Yet each day at dusk, Mr. Sun enters a world that is as freewheeling and eclectic as his mornings are structured and steeped in tradition. As he settles into a chair in one of the cybercafes that crisscross Beijing, Sun pulls out a Palm Pilot to record his favorite Web sites, and begins skipping from site to site on the cafe computer.
"I love the Internet because you have complete freedom to talk with people all over the world, hear music from any point on the planet, and you never know where you're going to end up next," he says.
"Technoboy," one of Sun's online names, scans the virtual horizon for the latest samples of electronic music, and lands at a British site to catch a "streaming" interview with techno-pop DJ FatBoy Slim.
Opening more windows, Sun bounces back to Beijing, where he checks the newest releases from modernsky.com, China's top alternative music site, and enters a Shanghai chat room called "Words of the Heart."
For Sun's contemporaries, the Internet is starting to erode a generations-old practice of parents choosing their children's spouses based on social and political status.
As he clicks between virtual matchmakers based in China and New York, Sun says "online, what you think and feel is more important than who you are or where you're from."
He adds that the Internet is becoming the great equalizer, within and without China. "In the outside world, there are so many walls between people - class walls, cultural walls, and national walls," Sun says. "But the Web is like a ladder that helps us climb the walls, and maybe someday melt them."
Zhang Xu, a young director in Beijing who makes documentaries on the Chinese arts, says digital technology is exposing China's youths to a tidal wave of films, television, and compact discs from the West, and the Internet is giving them the ability to link up with other youths.
"Kids in Shanghai and New York who stay in their rooms all day with satellite tv and the Internet are likely to turn out more similar to each other than to their own parents," says Ms. Zhang.
Zhang says Web-broadcast tv and radio could one day homogenize the thinking, interests, and tastes of young people across the planet. "There is a real possibility that, in the future, the world will have only one culture."