Obviously, modern youth is a period of indoctrination disguised as education. The youth are promised material rewards – wealth, economic independence, the opportunity to mate – if only they obey.
When the authorities are unstable and they break their promises to youth, then the youth revolt violently. But when the authorities are strong and well-organized, violent revolt is no more appealing than suicide to the vigorous youth. (Perhaps the least vigorous sectors of youth pursue individual suicide or ideologically prettified suicide, such as “suicide bombing.”)
It seems to me that when a considerable mass of youth is intelligent enough to realize that its economic prospects are much worse than what had been promised, AND that revolt is impossible, they react with FATIGUE, and not with rage.
Thus Beat Art arises, in various forms, and Beat Art is always FATIGUED art. The youth are libidinous, restless, discontent, ignorant – and they embrace the distractions of luxury rather than the stern work of economic or ideological subversion.
Definition of beat
1a : being in a state of exhaustion : exhaustedSometimes I’d be so beat that I’d flop down and go to sleep fully dressed. — Polly Adlerb : sapped of resolution or morale
The Beats comment on the Beat Generation
- “The so-called Beat Generation was a whole bunch of people, of all different nationalities, who came to the conclusion that society sucked.”
- “John Clellon Holmes… and I were sitting around trying to think up the meaning of the Lost Generation and the subsequent existentialism and I said ‘You know John, this is really a beat generation’; and he leapt up and said, ‘That’s it, that’s right!'”
In recent years, an increasing number of urban, middle-class Chinese young people have begun to identify with sang(桑) culture. Simply put, sang refers to a reduced work ethic, a lack of self-motivation, and an apathetic demeanor. “I’m just a waste of space,” “I don’t care all that much for life,” and “I’m listless to the point of despair” are typical phrases uttered by sang youths.
Meanwhile, memes such as the “Ge You Slouch(葛優躺),” the recently deceased Pepe the Frog, and “Gudetama(蛋黃哥)” or “lazy egg” have become the beloved mascots of sang youngsters. American series such as “Bojack Horseman” and sang dramas from Japan reflect the same mentality.
There is a huge genre of Japanese young adult novels and films that evoke the downtrodden attitude of many modern young people. These works, in turn, have inspired China’s wenyi qingnian(文藝青年) — young, artsy hipster types — scoring highly on review sites such as the IMDb-like Douban(豆瓣).
One of these works is the film “Setoutsumi,” which was introduced to Chinese audiences at last year’s Shanghai International Film Festival. The film centers on the humorous riverside rants of two Japanese high schoolers who meet after class each day. In particular, a line from high schooler Setou’s internal monolog seized the hearts of many moviegoers: “Why do we have to spend our youth running around, working up a sweat? Why can’t we just idly spend it by the side of the river?” This notion of idleness is central to the sang mindset.
Another Japanese cult film in the sang genre, “Tamako in Moratorium,” is an even more vivid expression of idle living. After graduating from university, the female protagonist, Tamako, returns to her hometown in rural Japan. Far from concerned about the traditional post-graduation pressures of finding a job and starting a family, she holes herself up at home and spends her days napping and snacking. As the seasons come and go, Tamako continues her seemingly monotonous existence within the confines of her apartment. A recluse with few friends, all attempts at changing her fate seem futile, and any thoughts of success seem like extravagant pipe dreams.
However, we don’t necessarily have to view sang culture as an extreme, negative, or desperate state of mind. In their critiques of sang culture, cultural commentators tend to treat the phenomenon as though it arose from nowhere, failing to recognize sang’s unique context.
Sang culture is actually an evolved form of the once-prominent notion of xiaoquexing(小清新) — fleeting moments of joy found in everyday life. For instance, buying a loaf of fresh bread — still hot from the baker’s oven — taking it home, and gnawing on the heel as you cut the rest into slices. Slipping through the undisturbed surface of a deserted swimming pool in the early hours of the morning, and pushing off from the wall with your foot. Listening to the chamber music of Brahms as you contemplate the silhouettes of leaves on a paper window, created by the gentle sunlight of an autumn afternoon.
If xiaoquexing is an appreciation of the little triumphs to be found amid life’s monotony, then sang culture is a similar emphasis, even an exaggeration, of a pervasive feeling of loss.
Fleeting joy forms the underlying context of sang culture. To be sang is not to be in a state of complete despair; instead, the term evokes the sense of disenfranchisement that certain young people feel as a result of being excluded from some of the life’s supposedly greater pursuits, such as home ownership, the accumulation of personal wealth, and the attainment of social mobility. Sang culture is a first-world problem: Its adherents wallow in grievances that contrast starkly with the much more pressing problems faced in most other developing nations.
Sang culture resonates with young people not because they aren’t interested in success. On the contrary, an increasing number of young people describe themselves as sang because they feel that it is futile to pursue traditional notions of success. In this respect, Japanese society has provided an important point of reference.
The Japanese sociologist Atsushi Miura analyzed his country’s collective disillusionment in his book “Karyū Shakai,” first published in 2005. He takes the word karyū — which here literally means a “low-class” or “lower-stream” society — to refer to countrymen whose communication skills, life skills, passion for work, motivation to learn, and consumer desires are lower than those of other people. The downwardly mobile society evoked in Miura’s work is the product of Japan’s sluggish economy, which has failed to revive itself since the financial crisis of the early 1990s. The resulting lack of social mobility has turned many Japanese young people into defeatists.
Of course, China has its own social mobility issues. Household registration policies, high real estate costs, and unequal wealth distribution are the main obstacles to personal growth in today’s China. Many young people are unable to attain success in the form of owning a house, a car, and a permanent urban residence permit. In addition, China’s slowing economic growth has led to a wave of layoffs. Meanwhile, young people also complain that work is excessively stressful and the dating pool has been contaminated by materialism and opportunism.
In this sense, the sang mentality is a means of self-preservation. By deliberately stunting themselves, China’s young people reduce their expectations and alleviate stress. In making their plans as unambitious as possible, they never have to endure the feeling of failure.
Sang culture is merely a reflection of social problems. Despite the petulance of refusing to engage with society, China’s sang youngsters are staging a timid, disorganized rebellion against society. Instead of demonizing them for it, we should strive to resolve the problems that this culture reflects. In my opinion, we must proceed with caution and attempt to understand and empathize with sang people.
Young people don’t choose to be sang — they simply have no alternative. In fact, sang is a coping mechanism similar to stoicism: It demands that we conform our desires to reality, not the other way around. As a result, when confronted by the irrationality and meaninglessness of the real world, we may be seduced by the cool indifference of sang culture, but we must also bear in mind that it is a form of self-sabotage. By giving ourselves up to being sang, we ultimately stop envisaging a better life for ourselves.
It is true that real estate prices are high, work is exhausting, and wages are low; this generation of young people really don’t have it easy. That said, we can’t solve all our social problems at the flick of a switch. Instead of opting for dejection, we can choose to tackle the problem head-on. People can become an important force in promoting social reform and progress, or they can choose the way of political indifference, complacency, and listlessness, viewing society’s problems as inevitable and ineradicable, and seeking refuge in small comforts and ephemeral pleasures. Ultimately, the key to improving one’s lot in life lies in this choice.
… The piece was first published on Sixth Tone here. …
New regulations issued by Bejing will prohibit portrayals of homosexuality, prostitution and drug addiction. The China Netcasting Services Association (CNSA) is targeting what they consider “abnormal” sexual activity.
The rules which were issued on Friday demand that online video platforms hire at least three “professional censors”. They were ordered to view entire programmes and take down any considered not sticking to the “correct political and aesthetic standards,” according to the latest regulations.
The move is seen by human rights groups as the latest tightening of censorship in China. Government officials had closed down celebrity gossip blogs that authorities claim were “catering to the public’s vulgar taste,” according to Channel News Asia.
Other online material deemed offensive include damaging the national image, criticising revolutionary leaders or portraying the supernatural such as “conjuring spirits”.
The Western idolaters of sodomy are aghast that the PRC does not worship sodomy. However, the PRC’s demand for authority runs much deeper than a demand for sexual conformity.
The PRC is run by officially atheistic Communists. They demand authority over belief in reincarnation (if such belief has any practical bearing on politics, as it does in Tibet). They allow or persecute Christian practices depending on the circumstances.
The youth of China have been called an “Ant Tribe” because they work hard for small wages with little hope of advancement. I expect that the Communists will be able to hand out a lot of paid employment. The Communists will not hand out bread and circuses – they will hand out exhausting work, and they will sell expensive luxuries. The discontented youth will get eclipsed by the ultra-ambitious youth. The ultra-ambitious youth will work sixteen hour days, buy luxuries so that they they can brag to their co-workers – and they will not have time or mental energy to disrupt the political status quo.
Meanwhile, the USA will be preoccupied with the following 27 delights:
3. SOCIAL MEDIA
5. LACK OF HUMAN INTERACTION
6. LACK OF OPPORTUNITY
9. INDENTURED SERVITUDE
10. LACK OF QUALITY JOBS
11. MENTAL ILLNESS
12. ONLINE DATING
14. THE INTERNAL DEATH OF THE SPIRIT
16. LEGAL OPIATES
20. POOR FOOD
22. SEDENTARY LIFESTYLES
23. ECONOMIC DEPRESSION
25. LACK OF MASCULINITY
26. WESTERN SOCIETY IN GENERAL
27. CONSTANT LONG-TERM STRESS
The PRC will probably be able to preserve something with a strong resemblance to 20th century civilization. The PRC of the 21st century will probably control a trade “empire” of allied nations much like the USA of 1950 controlled a trade “empire” of allied nations. (But will the PRC’s edifice last any longer than the USA’s?)