“Four Generations of Change: The 90后” – Musings from an Australian Perspective

If you’ve read my previous passage on 80后then you’ll know that 90后 refers to the Chinese generation born between 1990 – 1999 (congrats on your Mandarin 101 Learning!). If I had been born in China this is where I would fit in.

Barry Li, author of The New Chinese, the book I am going through excerpt by excerpt and discussing, is from 80 后 so he interviews Joyce, a southern Chinese girl studying here in Australia, for a perspective on 90后life. Like Barry, she lived separately from her parents, who lived rural and wanted for her a better life, which means better education, which means living in the city. Her parents paid for her to live with kindergarten and primary school teachers. This seems an outdated way of living, but as I’ve said early when discussing Li’s backstory, this practise of Chinese parents leaving children with someone else so that they can focus on income making – which then goes towards bettering the child and family – happens today, even within Australia. Growing up, Joyce had the electronics of a modern home, Japanese animation, a family car, and American fast food and movies. She went to a British university located in China for an undergraduate degree, and then Australia for her Master’s. For Joyce, travelling outside China during the summer and winter holidays was normal for middle-class families.

For me, this excerpt highlights two things. The first one is something that Barry Li is very keen to drive home –  the rate of change within China. Being born ten years later means a world of difference; while Li’s 1980’s childhood sounds archaic and very much the stereotype of post Cultural Revolution China, Joyce’s 1990’s childhood (apart from living apart from her parents) sounds very normal and ordinary.

Perhaps the point that’s more important to me. There’s many things in Joyce’s life that I can relate to, despite our completely different backgrounds and upbringing. There’s likely many common beliefs or experiences that are indicative of our 1990’s birth; despite not being part of the West, she might have only been a few years behind me in getting a Walkman, then an iPod, and then a Facebook page.

Only two noticeable differences are apparent to me in this excerpt. The first is that Joyce finds Australia not expensive in comparison to China in 2014 and her other overseas experiences. I completely disagree, finding day-to-day living in Australia much more expensive than China and I wonder how we’ve both arrived at such different conclusions. The other difference is the engagement with politics. Li quotes Joyce as saying that “her generation [have] absolutely no interest in politics… not interested in elections or political movements”. I myself have a vague awareness of politics, but am not actively involved. Some of my peers are though, and more often than not, are actively campaigning against the party in leadership. Even though neither Joyce or I have an interest to be involved in politics, I guess this is a fundamental difference we have about our ability to decide. I can understand why one wouldn’t have any connection to politics if it doesn’t feel intrusive in your life, and even if it did you had highly limited options to oppose.


Photo taken at a kindergarten in Wanning, Hainan, January 2015. Not a photographer – just going through the photos I have and finding a new purpose for them.