American Youth VS Chinese Fenqing

| August 29th, 2009

20090830-fenqing-01

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.

20090830-fenqing-02 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.”

22 Comments | Leave a comment | Comment feed

  1. malagebi says:

    No offense, but this story was translated poorly. If there are quotations from an originally English language source (student quotes) why not use the originals?

    • Key says:

      none taken, I translated this in a hurry earlier today, and I just revised it, hope its better now.
      As for the students quotes, They are in Chinese too in this article, and I don’t have the original quotes.

  2. Mango says:

    I thought the translation was pretty good…
    Agreeing with the students’ view on Fenqing could be dangrous, anger might evolve into something wrose, nationalism is not far away from racism.

  3. corbett says:

    Well, maybe we can convince these 愤青 into making some decent Chinese pop music.

  4. Sanya says:

    It’s an interesting article because, despite the double translation of the English quotes, you can see that the American students are striving after some genuinely meaningful answers, whereas the writer of the article gets zero points for effort. History most certainly is not the past “memorized” and it only takes two seconds of thought to figure out why. That’s not even a faithful representation of the party line.

    “Men’s ideas are the most direct emanations of their material state.” Karl Marx

  5. Mike Fish says:

    Good article, good translation.

    Are fengqing really a potentially influential group? Do we really worry about the xenophobic reactionary vitriol spewed from right-wing websites, conspiracy theory nuts, and disgruntled internet addicts?

    These people aren’t future leaders. They are future car salesmen, computer repairmen, or middle management at best(not knocking any of these professions). They are likely not going to be political leaders, bureaucrats, CEOs, professors, or real leaders of any sort.

    • Piles says:

      Spot on.
      Although it’s difficult to get a really accurate picture, the ‘fenqing’ seem to be a pretty small, albeit vocal, minority of a massive population.
      As for their futures…Once they are little less ‘qing’, leave college/get a job/ lose their virginity they might also be a little less ‘fen’.
      Their mantle might be taken on by the next generation, but so what? Every country has a section of society who confuse nationalism with patriotism; why shouldn’t China have one too?

    • Carl says:

      I disagree, like the author had pointed out, fenqing is a pulsar reaction of young people in times of conflicts, and not a stable group of angry youth making typing out rants on forums. Though it is far enough to say that at least a minority of youth people are extreme in their views, this fenqing is a general phenomenon.

      As in response to your “These people aren’t future leaders.”, many people will not be future leaders if only because of sheer luck. Their personal/collective belief has no relevance in regards to their future occupation.

      Oh and since you haven’t studied this topic in depth or are not a young Chinese, your opinion has been discarded as uninformed.

      You’re welcome.

  6. nanheyangrouchuan says:

    China’s fenqing are in some ways comparable to the vehement and venemous “true Americans”, many of whom live in the rural areas of the US and came out of the woodwork for the Iraq and Afganistan wars when Bush was in office. They would go so far as to pronounce that “real America” is a hard core Christian nation that only exists in the interior of the US and that the coasts were inhabited by America haters who were at least misled liberals and at worst out and out communists.

    But these people are small in number and are typically ignored by the rest of the US as embarrassments.

    China’s fenqing can be directly tied to the Boxer movement that led to the Boxer Rebellion and later the Red Youth. Both earlier instances were used as tools against groups the governments didn’t like (Boxers -> Foreigners and Chinese Christians, Red Youth -> anyone who wasn’t a hard core Mao supporter) and in the end their activities got so out of hand that the army had to put down both movements.

    Many Chinese dismiss the angry youth as lost people and without any culture/sophistication, but in a country with a 3:1 gender gap, foreigners continuing to marry or adopt Chinese females and wages continuing to be pushed down even when employment was rising, as well as the world continuing to refuse to bow to the Peacock throne and continued support for Taiwan, Tibet, the Dalai Lama and now E. Turkestan, the angry youth have plenty of fuel for their fire.

    • sern says:

      As per your over generalization of “interior” “real Americans” I can’t say I see your point. It is largely a cultural difference between parts of our country, not simply an ultra nationalist one. Please also remember 911 was a major cause for support for Iraq and Afganistan. Many east/west coast people strongly were supportive,(at least initially), of te conflicts. Please also remember most Americans are/were Christian or of Christian ancestry (largest US ancestries are German, Iris, Brit, all very or formerly very Christian countries ) . I’m guessing you are actually referring to evangelicals by ” hard core Christian “, some of whom support war against Moslems or for Israel for religuous reasons.

      “China’s fenqing can be directly tied to the Boxer movement that led to the Boxer Rebellion and later the Red Youth.” If you mean similar I’ll agree. Most seem to be similar etnocentric xenopobic knee jerk reactionary mobs, reminiscent of Nazis.

      • Carl says:

        As per your misspelling of “Moslem”, I can’t say I see your point.

        Many mandarin speaking American-Chinese are tiananmen dissents, so even if you say that you “have Chinese friends” and “talk” to them, you are very likely to get the wrong idea and the wrong impression about the mentality of the current generation of Chinese youth.

        That is to say if you even claim that.

  7. yeah says:

    There are two different types of fenqing. One of your average educated type who has little knowledge of the world and who have been brainwashed by propaganda. They are fenqing because they are ignorant.

    The other fenqings are those who are highly educated, many in the Western worlds. After getting their advanced degrees they went back to China because they see more opportunities. They have been extremely successful in their fields. They are upset because they have seen the West, know of its ills, and have very little respect for the West. They are hardly seeking for approval from the Western nations, but they are upset at the attempts by the Western nations to influence Chinese domestic politics.

    Personally I am not sure what’s the big deal with fenqings. You will get your conservatives in every country. If there are only liberals in China you would get chaos.

  8. Shereen says:

    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”.

    Hah

  9. Shreesh says:

    I think the ‘fenqing’ phenomenon is quite common across the world, except that ‘they’ represent in each country the “loud” minority noticed by the media. Indeed, there is simmering anger in every developing society that has taken the route of ‘unbridled capitalism’ for its growth because the much-professed trickle-down effect rarely takes place, leading to greater and ever greater disparity between the haves and have-nots. In large populations like China’s, or for that matter India’s, the ‘fenqing’ at best represent the fringe minority that gets noticed. There is a huge population out there, waiting for the first opportunity – preferably in anonymity – to pounce on the rich of the world…. Sad, but true…

  10. mark says:

    Americans are just like many other cultures even chinese history is a huge part of any ones life no matter what culture you are or where you come from with this said do not beleive all you read or hear use the imformation you have taken in and make your own opnions but know this i would consider myself a normal American history is very importain to me on the other hand i am also married to a chinese women so i have a little understanding of both worlds and to her and to me our historys are respected between us both in the big pitcure we are all on the same planet we must respect each others opnions as humans no matter how much money you have or make a person man or women put there pants on the same way one leg at a time

  11. DaveH says:

    These “shit youth” are like the ultra-nationalists of every country, and often they’re also angry at the PRC government for not being extremist enough. They’re nowhere near leadership material, and would probably going to spend their lives working in a factory somewhere.

    Then again, many Chinese netizens are angry at the West because of the clash in cultures, values, and political systems. The Western way of dealing with problems is often direct and confrotational, which many Chinese interpret as an insult. The best way to deal with the situation is to drop the ethnocentrism and look at the issue from a Chinese point of view, and vice versa. There is simply too much hostility on both sides of the specturm, pro-Chinese posters were often dismissed by Westerners as paid CCP propagandists, while pro-West posters were often labelled as foreign imperialists trying to split China. But I do believe striving for mutual understanding is a solution to the problem, and these “shit youth” minority shouldn’t be regarded as a image of every Chinese netizen.

  12. Anonymous says:

    What if you’re a Chinese-American Fenqing?

  13. Chinese American Fenqing says:

    Actually, I am a Chinese-American Fenqing as well. I dont know, I guess America probably will disregard us because we dont mean shit to them. Too few in numbers anyways.

    Lol, i hate to say it but its probably going to end badly for us. We’re on track towards going the way of the American Indians. I dont know but the US feels so hostile to me, has always been, and always will be. I cant believe Im wasting my life thinking about this subject, its just that people are such assholes…

    • Carl says:

      No you’re wrong, they do pay attention to you, they probably think the Chinese government pays you 50 cent per post. You’re on CIA’s watchlist buddy. You’ll have better luck contacting terrorists than to post comments on websites.

  14. theorycraft says:

    Hahaha, you’re all wrong, especially the “Chinese American” Fengqing – I don’t know why America feels too hostile, whether its because Asians are more meek or simply Westerners are more outspoken and give shit about “face” but I, as a Chinese American, can guarantee you that American treatment of you or anyone else has nothing to do with race, partially with culture but most likely something that got lost in translation. In my view, Chinese are the assholes because everywhere you go, they’re trying to figure out your value and whether they should kiss your ass or piss on your face (metaphorically) But, as I have the advantage of time on my side, let me just say that the angry youth in China are a rising population, gaining in strength, numbers, and ambition. They want democracy (not necessarily the western kind but a country run for the people by the people) and the government is continuously trying to convince them that their lives suck because of Western Imperialism and Japanese *****s. They are mostly educated people who are disgusted with how life and society works and feel like they’ve been ripped off from a fair chance. They are the people who get straight A’s but can’t find a job because they’re family doesn’t have connections and their anger towards other countries mostly comes from this idea that the Chinese are the best at everything but because the world hates them they have to try 10x as hard to get any recognition

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