Travels in the China of the aspiring, wanting young.
By Mandarin-fluent communications consultant Dychtwald’s reckoning, there are about 400 million millennials in China—more, that is, than the entire population of the United States, and though Chinese reckon generations by decades, those born between 1984 and 2002 (the U.S. definition of “millennial”) constitute a vast and world-changing cohort, “part of the world’s middle class, the first generations less preoccupied with needs and more involved with wants.” The author ventures insightful comments about his time in China, likening his explorations to the rock walls of the Grand Canyon, each layer telling its own story, from the differences between Chinese and American cultures to the differences between the idealized Chinese life of Buddhism and Confucianism and the actual Chinese life of consumer capitalism. Dychtwald chronicles the pent-up demand for things that fuels a subeconomy of faked Western brands, and he observes the rise in obesity among young Chinese to levels higher than Japan or South Korea. Much of this he links, in a nice logical exercise, to the consequences of the one-child policy (now abandoned) and the resultant surfeit of grandparents as compared to grandchildren. “A grandparent-led childhood,” he writes, “is part of why excess, and greater wealth, is so central to the experience of China’s only children.” The narrative is full of incomplete stories—incomplete because they’re not yet resolved, such as whether gay people will be accepted in the rising China—and unintended consequences: China’s anti-corruption campaigns, for example, mean that government work is not financially desirable, driving young people into entrepreneurship. Dychtwald is sometimes gee-whizzy and given to stating the obvious (“because of their remoteness, these places are prettier and more serene than the industrializing areas of China and are relatively untouched”), but his book is readable and engaging all the same.
Informative and often entertaining—good reading for anyone looking into the crystal ball for a glimpse of the world a quarter-century from now.