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Myth-busting the Chinese Youth (2023 edition)

Updated: Nov 23, 2023

揭秘中国年轻人2023


by Philix Liu

14 November 2023

Let's call this a preface:

写在前面:

I am no longer a young person by definition in the world of marketing, so I am writing about the world as a 36-year-old , a market research veteran who has been observing, immersing, and critiquing everything about the Chinese market for more than 10 years. All views are my subjective interpretation of the news, campaigns, and personal observations either currently existing in the public discourse or derived and distilled from some of our youth related projects. In some of my future posts, I will also share perspectives and observations written by my colleagues, 100% genuine Chinese youth. In short, my goal for this series is to document and share our latest interpretations and observations of the China context with focus on Chinese youth so you could either have an occasional 'aha' moment or learn something helpful for your future work in China market.

根据市场营销的定义,我不再是年轻人。这些内容是我作为一名36岁的市场研究领域老手,持续对中国市场观察和体验10余年之后的见解或评判。所有观点均源自于我对于社会及市场动态的个人观察与解读,以及对曾做过有关年轻人的项目的衍生和提炼。未来的帖子还将分享我的同事们(100%真正中国年轻人)所写的观察和观点。简而言之,这个系列主要目的是记录和分享我们对于中国背景的最新理解和观察,并重点关注年轻人,让你时不时有“啊哈”的感觉,或者学到一些对未来在中国市场开展工作有帮助的东西。


Coined as Gen Z in the West, in China, this generation is often referred to as post-95s and post-00s based on their year of birth. In my following discussion, I will use a more culture-neutral term, the Chinese youth. According to McKinsey & Company, 15% of China’s population is born between 1996 and 2010. This generation is (supposedly) one of the most dynamic and documented generations of all time.

90后及95后的这一代人在欧美被称为“GenZ”。而我将用更中性的“中国年轻人”去称呼他们。麦肯锡数据显示,中国出生于1996年至2010年间的人口达15%。这是有史以来(据说)最有活力的,也是最“有迹可循”的一代人。


The Mirage of Chinese Youth post-2022

2022年后中国年轻人的幻象


2022 was a peculiar year for the Chinese people. The key theme for 2022 in China centered around these two words: 'lock' and 'down' for obvious reasons. Personal freedom was locked, and the economy was experiencing one of the very few visible downturns in my memory. The financial and emotional toll people took has a long-lasting effect on decision-making, future expectations, and spending behaviors. Such impact was even more prominent among the Chinese youth, especially those who were in college and just graduating in 2022. In fact, the outcome was somewhat amusingly surprising; Chinese youth today seemed to have abandoned all the values and characteristics we used to describe them with in the past, transforming into an unfamiliar species, aspiring to ‘lay flat’ and ‘become full-time children’. They now enjoy visiting temples as a hobby while constantly seeking out the best deals, partaking in travel experiences at minimal cost, and demonstrating many contrasting attitudes from the young people I knew prior to 2022.

2022年对于中国来说是奇怪的。显而易见,这一年的关键词是“限制”和“低迷”:个人的出行自由被限,经济正在经历的明显衰退在我记忆中也是鲜少的。情感和经济这二者的双重“创伤”对决策、消费以及对未来的期待有着长久的影响,这对中国年轻人的冲击更为突出,尤其是正在上大学以及2022年刚大学毕业的学生。出乎意料的是,过去给年轻人的性格特征以及价值观打上的刻板标签,已经被这一代的中国年轻人亲手撕下,他们变得更为“另类”:或想要躺平,或成为全职儿女;爱上寺庙,乐衷省钱,享受穷游……这与2022年之前我了解的年轻人完全不一样。

"How to save money without pain" and "reverse consumerism" have become popular hashtags on Chinese social media (Xiaohongshu in this case).


Digital home kit for praying for good luck and fortune, as a parallel path to visiting temples.


"Travel like soldiers" is a popular travel style embraced by young people, emphasizing minimal cost while visiting maximum amount of places.


It is quite shocking to witness how a generation can change over three years: from the 3 highs to 3 lows, from high demand, high spending, and high hope to low desire, low consumption, and low motivation. Besides calling for state companies to increase hiring of fresh graduates to mitigate the U-turn of this generation, the national government has also pushed to correct the course and add fuel (motivation 加油) on social media. The result of these efforts is yet to be seen.

一代人仅在三年内发生如此大的改变是令人震惊的,从三高:高需求、高消费、高期待到三低:低物欲、低消费、低动力。除了呼吁国企扩招应届毕业生以缓解就业压力之外,政府也通过社交媒体发声,试图改善目前中国年轻人的现状,而成果还有待观察。


Does this mean consumerism could abruptly take a sharp turn for this generation in China? Is there still going to be room and potential for growth? Is there any silver lining here? What is it then?

这是否意味着消费主义会在这一代中国年轻人中突然一蹶不振?这里是否还有发展的空间和潜力?是否还有希望的曙光?那会是什么呢?


There is an old Chinese saying, ‘there are more ways than difficulties’. In the upcoming series of Myth-Busting (let's call it for now before I come up with something clever), we will try to dissect the Chinese Youth by debunking questions and myths often echoed in the news and client’s conference rooms. We will also share stories, insights, and cultural nuances around the Chinese Youth, perhaps to pin-point directions for growth potentials.

俗话说得好,“办法总比困难多”。在接下来的《揭秘》系列中(在我想出一个巧妙的名字之前,暂且这样称呼它),我们将通过剖析热点和访谈间中经常出现的问题和表象来重绘中国年轻人,包括有关中国年轻人的现象、洞见和文化细微之差。这或许能够准确定位未来的增长方向。


Coming up NEXT:
即将推出:

In the next part of the Myth Busting series, we will take a crack at how Chinese youth actually spend their yuan and what might change in the future?

在《揭秘》系列的下一篇中,我们将探索中国年轻人是如何花钱的,以及未来可能发生的变化,敬请期待。

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