Fenqing (愤青) which is itself an abbreviation for Fennu Qingnian (愤怒青年), means literally “angry youth”. It mainly refers to youth who display a high level of Chinese nationalism. This term first appeared in Hong Kong in the 1970s, referring to those young people who were not satisfied with Chinese society and sought reform. It has now evolved into a term used predominantly in Internet slang. Whether fenqing is derogatory or not usually depends on the person. Critics describe them with negative terms including “粪青” (“shit-youth” or “idiotic youth”, same pronunciation), which can be changed further to “fenfen” (粪粪) as a derogatory nickname.[Oriental Outlook] This summer 12 American youth came to China. One of their study-aboard missions was to research on China’s “Fenqing” (愤青)
Johns Hopkins University every summer has this research class – “Chinese Contemporary Communication”. This class is divided into 2 phases, first in United States to be familiar with the background information by reading a large number of specified materials and reference books, and then move to Nanjing, China. In Nanjing University – Johns Hopkins University China-US research Center to complete another three week course.
Summer of 2009, the instructor of this class is Johns Hopkins University professor Wu Xu (吴旭). Lecture topics cover all aspects of China’s news dissemination, such as the traditional media structure, the competitive situation of the press, China’s public relations, new trends in public opinion on the Internet, China’s film industry and China’s image-building and so on.
All students are graduate students at Johns Hopkins University, most specializing in communication, government management and economic management. This year’s class of 12 students, five male and seven female, averaging 28 years old, half of them have media experiences. Among them, there are three students from outside of the United States, they are, Japan, Ireland and Pakistan; only two of them have been to China before, but did not stay long. Overall, many of their understanding of China, particularly in recent years, economic development, social transformation and changes were only told by others. There is no practical and objective understanding.
To pass this class, students must complete the assigned reading material; turn in two reading notes, a book report, a research project plan and a 20 page term paper. The topics of the two reading notes are assigned by professor Wu Xu. One of which is about China’s “Fenqing” and the so called internet nationalist.
China’s “fenqing” phenomenon, although occasionally “appears” in China, but seems people have grown tired of talking about it. However in the U. S. media, politics and academics it is a topic of great concern.
Wu Xu required students before completing the reading notes, must seriously study the four designated papers and reports, a investigation article “Fenqing: China’s new generation of neo-conservative nationalists” published last year in the “New Yoker” magazine, an academic paper “China’s new thinking towards Japan” by U. S. professor Grace, “Anatomy of nationalism in China today” by Perry Link, professor at Princeton University published in the U. S. Congress hearing in May 2008 and the academic paper “China’s media and youth: with regard to the attitude of nationalism and internationalism analysis.” by Luo Si Dian, professor at the South University of California.
On the basis of his assignments, students need to research for more relevant information, to write an 800 words reading notes. It is required to be written eloquently, and must give personal opinion.
Remember like a child, read history like an elder.
“Forgetting the past means betrayal” this means nothing to Americans
Wu Xu discovered, both the in-depth discussion in class, or in the after class reading reports, the U.S. graduate students expressed strong interest about their Chinese peer’s “anger”, and also gave some interesting interpretations.
For example, to understand the anger of Chinese youth, you need to have some knowledge of the world and China’s recent modern history. But maybe because the United States has such a short history, Americans believe that history is being created, rather than being memorized. Wu Xu noticed, Chinese people often say “Forgetting the past means betrayal”, to Americans it means nothing – “After all, the United States itself is established by a group of rebels who want to forget the history”.
“Is it really like this?” “But that is a long time ago, why still holding on grudges and being angry?” some American students often questioned him.
Another American students’ point of view is regarding to the Chinese culture and national mentality.
In their views, when Chinese people as individuals, they are most able to bear abuse and burdens; however as a group, they are not able to stand any psychological pressure, become very sensitive, irritable and easily angered.
They also saw, the deep-seated Chinese “face culture” (to highly value one’s face, reputation, prestige) is another important reason. In addition “China’s rise is just the beginning, they are not yet accustomed to being criticized. As the United Sates have been criticized by the world for nearly a century, we just do not care anymore.” “Criticized by others is a symbol of being powerful, there is no need to be angry.” They try to reason with China’s “fenqing” peers this way.
Of course, others also believe that China’s “fenqing” is a product which was “educated” by the Chinese government. Wu Xu said this kind of reasoning, in five years ago, is indeed difficult for people to argue, “China’s uniform education system, is difficult to not let the creative, liberal Americans to be suspicious.” However, During the 2008 Olympic, when Chinese youth escorted the Olympic torch all over the world, when after the Sichuan earthquake, Chinese people worked together in unity, they indeed shocked the American peers. The “Post 80”, “Post 90” so called “Bird’s Nest Generation”, many of them study abroad, have to accept all news and information, and to have freedom to make independent judgments. When they demonstrated the kind of strong, direct passion and “anger”, American youth gave positive views.
Anger = Insecurity + Confidence
After such confrontation, most of them being in China for the first time, the young American graduate students started to go deep into the mind of China “Fenqing”.
An American girl Adrienne Hoar used an interesting analogy to describe the “Fenqing” mentality:
“There is a man, he was not very concerned about you, and just so, you want to be his friend. Despite the lack of interest expressed by him, you still keep close track of him and eager to earn his respect. Your chase makes you to produce an unquenchable desire towards him – you want him to return you with his interest. But also it results in you no longer like that person, because he was not able to meet your wishes. Many Chinese young people hold this kind of emotion towards the Unite Sates.”
She further analyzes, the Chinese youth in this conflict between east and west cultural integration have very contradictory feelings. “On one hand, they want to live the American life like in the movies, want to have expensive cars and clothes. However, the excessive pursuit of western cultural has brought about the destruction of the eastern tradition. Many Chinese youth hated that for parting from their own culture and identity, eager to get back to what they perceive as the traditional Chinese people.”
Ruarai McKenna who has a good background in philosophy and political science in Ireland interpreted the source of “anger” from the background of changing times.
“Obviously, this generation of angry Chinese youth have a far better understanding of western culture than a western youth to Chinese culture. This anger is also a multi-faceted phenomenon – a seemingly contradictory combination of insecurity and self-confidence, it is different from the early “post Mao generation”. The reason why today’s young Chinese are angry is because they are the first to understand the views of the west. At the same time in an unprecedented process of social development in China, they are encouraged by the country. They have the self-esteem which the past generations did not.”
He also was aware of “Fenqing” phenomenon reflects the western views on China’s “Cognitive Deficit”:
“Although China is, after 90s has made progress in many key areas, the west’s description of the Chinese are still stuck in more than 30 years ago. This incorrect description directly resulted the anger, hatred and suspicion of these future Chinese and world leaders.”
China’s “Fenqing” need to “get ready to be Drowned by the world’s saliva”
At the same time, many people have pointed out that such "anger" emotion is naive and even dangerous.
From one of the “angry” targets, Japan, Japanese student Kobayashi Yoko wrote:
“Some personal extremist views rapidly spread in Japan, making China to over-react to Japan. It is naïve. In other words, the extreme point of view in Japan are a minority, it does not represent the vast majority of the Japanese. In summary, right now the situation is two sides of extremists with different ideas and views formed on the internet. With the development of the internet technology, these people from both sides are more likely to unite and ‘fight’ with each other.”
U.S. female student Mitchell Vanderhoff wrote “’Fenqing’ want the respect of there country from around the world, but being emotional and showing muscles, cannot win the respect, even if such request is fair and reasonable.”
American girl Cynthia Yapiaite bluntly wrote “I do not think the Americans will respect the Chinese because of China’s GDP figures are higher… Chinese “Fenqing” need to get ready, before they become world leaders, they may be drowned in world’s saliva.”
In addition, a considerable number of respondents expressed the “nationalist” sentiment to expand and spread fears. Among them, Ruarai McKenna said,
“In short, “Fenqing” are the future of this country, so they are also largely determine the stability of the world in the 21st century. However, this generation of “Fenging” compare with any of the past generations, they have access to much more information, which is one of the reason we are cautiously optimistic. Optimistic because their criticism for domestic and international affairs, to a large extent is the result of their own rational thinking, and reflects their self-esteem; caution because of these criticisms are like a mixture of two things: 1. the mentality of seeing the western world as enemies and 2. the most destructive force of the history – nationalism.”