The war between the 80s and the 90s
(Shanghai Daily)
Updated: 2008-07-14 09:06

BEIJING -- Children. Children. Stop that bickering. Grow up. You're both flowers of the nation, so call a truce and work together for China.

Easier said than done. What's a parent to do? What's the younger generation coming to? Feuding continues online.

An Internet war of words is raging between China's younger generations - the 1980s and the 1990s - commonly known as the "Strawberries" (pretty and easily bruised, also the "little emperors") and, for purposes of this article, the "Jellies" (colorful, insubstantial gelatin desserts).

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The Jellies are commonly called the "non-mainstream" generation. The outlook includes individualistic views like "I can live by myself."

This article is about some - by no means all - of the two generations of young people, overwhelmingly urban. It is based on Internet research and interviews with 40 young people - 20 Strawberries and 20 Jellies.

This furor and Internet slug fest is passionate and sometimes nasty, though comic at times. It has even reached the mainstream media, television and newspapers. There are Strawberry salvos, Jelly rejoinders.

It's about values and identity, who's patriotic and responsible, who's spoiled and pampered. Both sides online are outspoken and defiant.


Han Han, a famous young writer and race driver, is labeled as a post-80s idol. [File photo]

The feud sheds light on China's young people who grew up in the period of opening up and reform that began in 1978. The 1980s generation - the Strawberries - knew China before rampant consumerism; many in the 1990s - the Jellies - have known only abundance, and many of the outspoken Jellies are arrogant in their affluence.

The Strawberries were the original rebels, the "egocentric kids" and Chinese "beats" with wild and crazy ideas, dabbling in new values.

Now they see the Jellies as "self-centered and irresponsible, materialistic, spoiled brats."

The Jellies, on the other hand, see the Strawberries as "ho-hum has-beens, out-of-date." They see themselves as the future of China, glittering and upbeat.

Retired English teacher Paul Wang has taught both the 1980s and 1990s students and worries more about kids today.

"I worry more about the 1990s, because kids from the 1980s, although naughty and rebellious, would still listen to teachers, if not fear teachers. They have different opinions and would argue with me, but there was still respect."

Kids today are different, says Wang. "They know your salary, they know that you won't criticize them and many of them don't respect us anymore."

Leslie Song, a consultant in the Education Commission of Pudong District, agrees. "Teachers cannot criticize kids today as they did with the 1980s generation. The education bureau suggests teachers be nice to the students, especially those who don't do well in school, telling them they are smart and just need a little more time and effort."

The online conflict began some four months ago, the response to two self-recorded video clips posted at vastly popular site. It was launched by a Strawberry who denounced the Jellies. Then came the Jelly rejoinder.

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 The 80s children show talent for trouble
 Sound personality vital for young generation

The war was on. There was a brief respite when the earthquake struck on May 12.

Since the earthquake, commentators in newspapers and on TV have shown a greater appreciation of the 1980s generation. The views can be summed up this way: "We used to feel disappointed about the 1980s, but they showed unbelievable courage and energy after the earthquake and proved they are patriotic and responsible enough to support this nation."

And on the 1990s: "This generation is listless. They don't know what they want because they have everything. They don't care about anything else except themselves."

Opening salvo

The Strawberry salvo was 15 minutes, titled "On the Non-Mainstream" by a "professor." It was a clever satire based on CCTV's evening news program.

The masked guest, the "professor" himself, used the TV news format to discuss the "problem" of the "non-mainstream generation."

The clip showed typical 1990s clothing and fashion, Webpage design and writing styles. It criticized them as "stupid."

It set off a firestorm. There were thousands of visits and a blizzard of comments in just a few days.

Then came a 10-minute clip titled "Response from a Non-Mainstream Beauty." A young woman in flashy clothes and heavy eye makeup delivered an aggressive speech while pretending to play a pink portable PlayStation. She was later revealed to be 20 years old.

She criticized the 1980s for blaming the 1990s "for no reason but jealousy because we enjoy a more comfortable life." She boasted that her friends have big houses and drive Hummers and luxury SUVs.

"We will become the elite and majority of the new century soon, so you only have a few years to claim the right to speak - be careful and shut your mouth," she says.

"You're old, out of date, cowardly, silly and jealous," she concluded.

In three days, everything about the girl was posted - her real name, home address, schools, telephone number, online names, homepage, and even her pictures.

For the next few weeks, the battle was fast and furious. The 1980s posted many clips of 1990s people who knew virtually nothing about the quake, and appeared indifferent. Homepages by the 1990s with unpatriotic and cynical articles about the quake were advertised. Their real names, backgrounds and online accounts were also posted on public forums by the angered eighties. And so it went ...

"We never bothered anyone, why do you suddenly attack us and our lifestyles?" asks 17-year-old Kino Ding, who speaks for many Jellies. "Because you feel frustrated. You were criticized by the generation before you for being wild - and now you feel out of date because of us. So you struggle between the two and you are frustrated. You envy us because we shine so bright and we're upbeat."

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A typical 1980s response: "You kids are so bored. We don't have the time or energy for you. You are just repeating what we have done before. But at least, you should respect your parents. And you have no right to attack us until you earn your own money." This is from 28-year-old Joyce Lin.

This controversy reminds many people of the situation 10 years ago, when society first started defining a group of people by decade of their birth. At that time the concern was the 1980s, the first generation of single children.

Their elders asked: "Are these 'flowers of the nation' going to destroy the country? Do they still have morals? Aren't they too wild and rebellious? Are they responsible enough to take China to new heights?"

The same questions are now being asked about the 1990s - by the somewhat self-righteous 1980s.

Strawberries

That first generation of single children drew attention in the late 1990s, and especially after the millennium, when they entered the workforce.

They were considered spoiled and selfish, "the apples of their parents' eyes." Sociologists wondered how as adults they would affect society - would they always put themselves first?

The 1980s grew up during China's early days of economic reform, but the early days were not times of abundance for many. In childhood, their experiences were similar to the late-1970s: playing outdoor games with other kids because there was no Internet, living in old apartments without their own rooms, taking crowded buses because cabs were too expensive, and so on.

Once they entered middle school in the early 1990s, China was hurtling forward. They witnessed the first craze for stocks. They saw the first computers in school.

Western and Japanese culture impressed them with glittering celebrities, Hollywood movies and other values that were never taught at home or in school.