Chinese youth make up for lost time.
Peking — Yes, we agree, China's youth have never been so ''frisky'' - never so mature and thoughtful, never so full of wisdom and hope, as they are today. We're a complex generation.
We like dancing, singing, traveling, having parties. We accept new things easily. We think hard work is only one part of life.
But the youth leaders (like those quoted in the Monitor article) - most of whom were young in the 1950s and '60s - think every young man should devote his life totally to the country's construction and consider parties a waste of time, energy, and money. Conservative old minds on one side and open-minded young ones on the other have created a gap between the youth and their leaders.
In the 1950s, the Chinese Communist Party had not been governing the country long and thus had not made any big mistakes. The country was improving greatly under the party's leadership. It was natural for young people to have ''absolute loyalty to, and trust in, the party.''
Then, unfortunately, the Cultural Revolution, which began in 1966, put the whole country into chaos. Of this ''revolution'' the young people became the most wretched victims. After wasting their most precious years in fighting or simply idling, they found that what they had done was all wrong.
When the Cultural Revolution was denounced absolutely at the Third Plenary Session of the Communist Party's Eleventh Central Committee in December 1978, many young people were greatly disillusioned. Having suffered simply from being obedient, they came to realize that not everything in society was perfect. Party leaders may make mistakes just like anybody else - something no one dared admit before 1979.
Those 10 years of turmoil uprooted the beliefs so deeply rooted in the minds of young people, frightened them, and taught them that they should take their destiny into their own hands.
It's not a cause for alarm that young people today are more ''frisky.'' It's a sign of the awakening of the newer generation. If the older generation had been as thoughtful as this newer generation, would they have obeyed so blindly, would they have suffered the 10-year catastrophe?
Youth of the '80s have learned from their disillusioned parents and become mature. Unlike our parents - who, eager to change their poor country into the richest and most powerful one in the world with their own hands, thought the party and Mao (Tse-tung) could never be wrong - the children have begun to think.
We don't worship anybody now, neither Deng (Xiaoping, China's top leader), nor Zhao (Ziyang, the premier). Their words will never have the effect on us as those of Mao on our parents - who, at a word from Mao, went to the countryside and Xinjiang, some even to Korea, where they joined the war and laid down their lives. The students today would never do such things without considering the consequences.
We expect more from the party and make higher demands on it. We appreciate the party's admission of having made mistakes in the past and its efforts to correct them, and we also hold it to make fewer mistakes in the future. We no longer tolerate abstract reasoning or preaching and are not easily convinced.
Youth's credo: 'Think before acting'
However, we are not basically skeptical. We tend instead to believe in ideals that have the likelihood of being realized. We seek the meaning of life and our own position in society. We are studying and working for China's ''four modernizations'' (agriculture, industry, science and technology, and defense) rather than for communism.
Bureaucracy, inequality, the poverty of the common people, and our parents' failures opened the young people's eyes. Nevertheless, our lack of passion does not mean we're pessimistic. We believe quite firmly, perhaps obstinately, that we will be able to strengthen and modernize the country, bring prosperity to the economy and happiness to the people.
Though most no longer have the communist passion, as descendants of a nation with a 5,000-year history, we still have a nationalistic zeal. And not only zeal - we also have confidence in ourselves, convinced that all the difficulties will be overcome when we enter society and come to power. We believe we are a modern, erudite, rising generation, still willing to sacrifice ourselves when necessary, but a little slow to act, because we want to think first. Our motto: ''Think before acting.''
Having been cheated out of a normal childhood, we have learned to suspect, to test everything with reason. Most important of all, we take a serious attitude toward history, to discover in it both failures and successes in order to make ourselves wise.
In the past few years, young people have explored a wide range of ideologies. For instance, (Jean-Paul) Sartre enjoyed great popularity among Chinese college students when he died in 1980. However, since his thought was in such fierce conflict with Chinese traditional ethics, it was soon forsaken.
'Creating our own paradise'
Following that experience, the students looked back at the national culture.
After comparing it with Western culture, they reached a better understanding of China. They realized that the only way for them was to absorb Western culture on the basis of Chinese culture.
So they settled down to solid work. What they went through can be explained in the words of (the 19th-century English essayist, Thomas) De Quincey: ''All action in any direction is best expounded, measured, and made apprehensible, by reaction.''
China has such a long history and such deep cultural roots that youth cannot be changed easily. We have great patience; we are enterprising and optimistic; we never lose hope.
We have calmed down from the first feverish admiration of the high material civilization of the West. We have begun to realize that no matter how wonderful life in the West is, it is not ours. The high standard of living in Western countries was not given by God, but created by the hard work of the Western people. If the West is paradise, it is not our paradise. We must create our own paradise with our own hands.
The feeling of hopelessness, of being beaten by the disillusion that followed the downfall of the ''gang of four'' lasted only a year or two. Then most young people came to understand it was no use crying over spilt milk.
Like Liu Sija, (the fictional character) in ''All the Colors of the Rainbow, '' (who represents the new, savvy type of national hero), we learned it was fruitless simply to criticize the present situation. We had to bestir ourselves to try to change the situation. We had to concentrate and gather strength to work and study hard in order to make up for lost time.
Storms in nature bring about physical destruction; political storms cause spiritual destruction, which is harder to recover from. The Cultural Revolution destroyed minds and souls, especially of the youth. Can we blame a patient who is suffering greatly for being ill? Neither can we blame our young country for making a mistake.
More inspiring is the fact that more and more young people have recovered fully. They were greatly damaged during the Cultural Revolution, but they were not destroyed.
When that storm was over, when all the damage it had done was revealed, the youth, especially those who had acted as Red Guards, seemed to awaken from a terrible nightmare. They woke to find that what they had ''bravely'' fought for had brought only destruction to the people and the country, and what they keenly believed and adored was false. The trauma of a young, naive heart is most difficult to cure. The young are quick to believe, quick to lose faith.
But now they have a thirst for knowledge. They've regained their ideals and convictions. Young workers study at night school or through television school (with homework assigned over the air, using course materials and exercise books sold in most bookstores).
Young peasants are learning scientific methods of farming. Soldiers are encouraged to learn a special skill so they can do civil jobs well after demobilization. Unemployed youth are getting special training in order to get jobs. Colleges and universities are establishing stricter requirements for students.
Some people complain that today's young people do not have enough political enthusiasm, but the youth should not bear all the blame.
If the youth workers improved their method of political education, making it more suitable for young people, they would certainly heighten the young people's political consciousness.
Leading young people who tend to think before they act, question before doing , is, of course, more difficult than leading those who do whatever they are told. However, if the leaders can guide us correctly, we will indeed become ''a great force'' in the construction of the country.
Effects of 'spiritual undernourishment'
Some of us, however, are not so sanguine. Some of us think this young generation is hopeless, that people suffered from undernourishment in their early years. During the Cultural Revolution, they had nothing spiritual to eat.
Although they're now losing no time in making up for what they missed, they're not so strong and healthy as they should be.
They don't think deeply. They can imitate fairly well, but they can't invent. They're naive; they can't tell evil from good.
Our leaders overestimate the bad influences from the West, saying young people's thought is too free. On the contrary, their thought is not free enough; they lack courage to do important things.
We learned from the Cultural Revolution that not everything we're told is correct, that it's not necessary to do exactly what we're asked to do.
Young people today are not in the habit of helping each other, but inclined to take advantage of one another, so it's difficult to unite them. The cause for this is reported to be the tyranny exercised by the ''gang of four,'' the corruption of some of our irresponsible comrades and the influence of the West. But the essential cause is the corrupted social relationship between people, from which no one could flee.
Some young people, the hurt in their hearts still hurting them, say their belief is to believe in nothing. They keep their distance from everything to observe more clearly.
They think more about themselves than about the country; they think it's more realistic to learn something about themselves first. They want to believe in only what they think right to believe in, not in what they are asked to believe in.
The unspoken salve: love
But one of us expresses himself in a way perhaps the rest of us feel, but would not express so openly. Young people, he says, are not cynical and selfish. They are confident about the future.
He speaks of love, saying, ''It is love that keeps mankind from destruction. Our own life is short, but the life of mankind is long.
''From generation to generation, people began to learn how to love each other. They understood that if they wanted to exist on the earth, love was necessary. It's certain that we will die, but our love will not die. We give our love to our children; they keep the love in their hearts and learn to know what love is....
''These days people don't pay much attention to love. They struggle with their material lives all day long. By and by they begin to misunderstand love. They think it's only a false concept, and they never try to learn how to love.
''It's really a tragedy of our time. We need love. The world needs love.... If we want to live a happy life, we must first fill our hearts with love.''