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Myth-busting the Chinese Youth (2023 edition)

Updated: Nov 23, 2023


by Philix Liu

14 November 2023

Let's call this a preface:


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.


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.


The Mirage of Chinese Youth post-2022


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.


"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.


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?


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.


Coming up NEXT:

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?


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