by Philix & Iris
12 January 2024
A Cube House Works Original (so were others): A Comprehensive Guide to Chinese Gen Z's Social Life, as of today (things change fast for the youth). Coming next: In the next post, we will shift the direction a bit and take you through the RECYCLING journey in China as well as examine sustainability via a microscopic lens.
I would like to continue sharing our observations and insights around Chinese youth and one key missing piece in our previous articles is the youth's social life. In this article, I am hoping to welcome you to the kaleidoscopic world of Chinese youth.
Crazy Literature Trend on Social Media
Recently, there has been a surge in a form of communication among young people on social media that is characterized by long, illogical, but emotionally intense and sometimes extreme expressions. This trend, known as "crazy literature," originated from a screenshot of a conversation between a young person and customer service, which solved a problem rapidly through an absurd expression and became viral. Young people not only use text to imitate animals, movie, or novel characters online but also extend these behaviors offline, such as attending concerts dressed in outfits resembling psychiatric hospital uniforms.
Understanding the Young Generation's Social Behavior
Despite the seemingly erratic behavior, this is simply a form of social expression among the youth, with underlying characteristics of contemporary social interaction:
Desire for Companionship: Due to the one-child policy in China from 1988-2013, many young people from this period crave alternative forms of companionship, as they grew up without siblings.
Broad Interests and Cultural Circles: With the emphasis on quality education from 1999, hobbies and interests outside of academic learning have been fostered, leading to the formation of cultural circles and communities around shared interests, like fan groups for celebrities.
High Dependency on the Internet: Known as "digital natives," this generation heavily relies on the internet, using it as a primary means of information and social interaction.
Immersive Experiences: Young people, growing up alongside digital technology, seek immersive experiences that provide a stronger sense of reality and engagement than traditional forms of entertainment.
Cultural Inclusivity and Innovation: Post-economic reform, there has been a friendly exchange of regional cultures. The internet facilitates cross-cultural interactions, leading to a generation open to diverse cultures and the creation of their subcultures.
Pursuit of Spiritual Freedom and Value Identification: With improved education and economic status, the young generation holds unique worldviews and values, seeking content that aligns with their beliefs and freedom in thought and identity.
Focus on Personal Branding: With the rise of social media platforms like TikTok and Little Red Book, young people are conscious of their online image and often create personal brands or personas.
Given that this generation has grown up as 'digital natives,' online socialization is an integral part of their existence, seamlessly integrated with their offline interactions. Initially, socializing may have been strictly online or offline; however, it has evolved into a multi-faceted experience. The constant thread through the social fabric of today's youth is their 'shared passions'. In the arena of 'interest-driven socialization' amongst young people, there is a blend of timeless activities and fresh trends. Furthermore, online socialization has matured from its initial budding phase. We will now delve into some of the social activities and trends among young people that we've recently observed.
Music Festivals/Livehouses/Stand-up Comedy/Dance Drama/Traditional Opera Performances: During the pandemic, the performance industry faced a significant setback due to the issue of crowd density. Although live performances are not a novelty, they saw an explosive increase after quarantine restrictions were lifted. On one hand, young people consume performances with a mentality of compensatory revenge; on the other hand, the atmosphere of revelry and letting go of concerns is also one of the reasons young people are willing to pay for these experiences.
Pets: Raising pets is like taking care of children, and young people look for pet "moms" or "dads" to share their pet-raising experiences. This not only brings the companionship of pets but also new friendships, doubling the therapeutic effect. Although the discussion of pets is not new, this generation of young people is still exploring various new ways to engage with pets, such as pet sports meets and pet parties.
Online Socialization in Games: Games offer built-in chat platforms and activities for multiplayer interaction. For example, in a game called "Sky: Children of the Light," players can sit around certain objects and communicate with other players or strangers, with actions such as holding hands and hugging available. This satisfies young people's desire for social and even intimate relationships. Compared to offline socialization, the virtual names and avatars can alleviate awkwardness or shyness and make it easier to start conversations. Social activities in games are becoming increasingly diverse, including offline events.
Role-playing games like Werewolf Kill, Murder Mystery, and Escape Rooms first became popular as mobile or PC games among young people and then extended offline. The offline experience has evolved from players imagining characters to providing realistic environments (usually rooms themed after the game), costumes, props, and makeup. This offers young people a novel and genuine experience that they can't typically access.
Fandom: The development of media allows this generation of young people to access information about different personalities, from well-known stars to niche figures, and even distinctive "paper characters." They can discuss their favorite personalities on various social media platforms and organize various offline activities to provide opportunities for fans to interact.
Raising a Character: Some young people compete to purchase attractive game character skins, treating them like virtual dolls. These dolls may be treated as their virtual children or as part of their persona within the game world. Recently, virtual dolls have become insufficient to satisfy the need for companionship, and the trend of dressing up Barbie dolls from childhood has returned among them. However, now the dolls come in various types: not just hard materials but also soft ones.
Exhibitions, Fashion Shows, Float Parades, and Other Touring Activities: Various art-related activities are loved by many young people for their visual appeal and lively atmosphere. After Disney's float parades were widely spread on social media, such activities began to innovate based on mobility, not only providing novel visual experiences to the audience but also stimulating their desire to share on social media.
Outdoor Sports, Handicrafts, Knowledge Sharing Sessions, and Other Skill or Knowledge Acquisition Activities: Whether it's outdoor sports introduced from abroad or traditional/intangible cultural heritage craft experiences that are increasingly popular locally, they are all processes of learning skills. Similarly, various themed discussions or symposiums are also processes of knowledge acquisition. Young people are increasingly willing to learn various skills and knowledge; these activities also serve as their social capital. In other words, they can establish different personas on social media through these topics.
Citywalks, Camping, Tea Brewing by the Hearth, and Other Leisure Experiences: In a fast-paced society, slow-paced living has become a rare experience. Therefore, a short period of slowing down is especially popular among young people, who are willing to invest the corresponding time cost. The gameplay of such slow-paced, relaxing activities is also constantly being updated.
Recently, regardless of their hobbies, young people have started to seek "partners," which refers to a relationship that is more intimate than strangers but less committed than friends. They may have different "partners" for different activities, emphasizing precise companionship in niche areas, as if an online forum or hobby group has moved into reality. As a significant portion of young people move to unfamiliar cities for living or studying, intimate relationships are tested by factors such as time and space. Compared to friends or lovers, "partners" have fewer commitments and constraints, meeting social needs while requiring less time and emotional investment, thus quickly becoming an alternative to intimate relationships.
In June of this year, Ctrip, in collaboration with Helen's, launched an offline "Find a Partner" event. Ctrip also further segmented partners based on different travel characteristics, such as being laid-back, a commando, frugal, sleeping on the bus and taking photos after getting off, etc., helping young people find more compatible "partners."
In product design, brands should harness the latest trends from youth culture and keep a close eye on it, ensuring these elements are not only engaging but also functional and user-centric.
Marketing strategies should tap into social media's reach, offering low-barrier interactions to captivate young audiences, while continuously refreshing the narrative to sustain engagement.
From a brand positioning perspective, act as both a purveyor of value and a facilitator of knowledge exchange, fostering communities around shared interests.
In brand communication, focus on niche segments with an appetite for depth in content, positioning the brand as a curator of exclusive experiences and a connector within cultural ecosystems.