The Good Life or Western Manipulation?

My former Dow Jones colleague Mark Clifford has just completed a report entitled “Through the Eyes of Tiger Cubs,” which Chinese leaders may want to take a peek at. Mark, who now heads up the Asia Business Council, sorted through some 400 essays from young people across Asia who offered their views on life and the future. Excerpts from and a link to Mark’s essay in Caixin are below. The opinions in these essays are consistent with what I have been hearing from young Chinese friends. The children of boom-time Asia have grown up with much different views than their parents, and they have very high expectations. Their opinions provide a stark contrast to recent rumblings from Beijing that “hostile international powers are strengthening their efforts to Westernize and divide” the Chinese people. In the latest edition of the CCP magazine “Seeking the Truth,” Chinese President Hu Jintao warned that Party leaders “must be aware of the seriousness and complexity of the struggles and take powerful measures to prevent and deal with them.” Chinese leaders, and parents, these days probably feel a lot like my parents generation. They had gone through World War II, and their parents had suffered through the Great Depression. But their babyboom children, born in the late 1940s and 1950s, turned into the rebellious and demanding teenagers and young adults of the 1960s and 1970s. China is not facing an onslaught from the West. If is facing the consequences of a couple of decades of incredible progress and success — and younger generations that are very different from their parents. There must be a Beatles song that can help Chinese leaders understand what is coming…..

What will Asia look like in 2020? If the young Asian contestants in the ‘Asia’s Challenge 2020’ essay prize have their way, there will be a lot more transparency and accountability. Governments and companies a decade from now will be far more responsive to their citizens and customers than they are today. Throughout Asia, there will be less corruption, less poverty and greater social equality. Asians will have more – and better – education and health care. There will be an increasingly unified sense of regional identity.

The ‘Asia’s Challenge 2020′ contest was sponsored by the Asia Business Council in partnership with Time and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. We asked young Asians to tell us what they felt was the biggest single challenge facing Asia over the next decade and what should be done to solve this problem.

…The most striking common theme is a massive generational shift in looking at the world, one that reflects Asia’s increased prosperity and self-confidence. Young Asians’ expectations – material and political – are high and rising.

…The ‘Asian miracle’ melded good economic policies, a favorable global political climate that was open to freer trade, and a hard-working and increasingly productive work force. The Tiger Cubs’ parents didn’t have time for thinking about grander issues – they were too busy trying to make a living and to ensuring that their children had a brighter future.

…They have grown up in an era where their economies and societies, despite short-lived crises, have for the most part just kept getting better. The hardships of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations are just stories to them.

…What’s particularly striking, though, are the Tiger Cubs’ worries: America frets about the rise of Asia; young Asians worry about a lousy education system, lousy governance, bad jobs, and environmental degradation. They are the “in-a-hurry generation” (as they’re called in India), and their demands for accountability, transparency, and results are likely to keep challenging governments and companies. Their performance on standardized math and science tests is, in some countries, at the top of global charts. Yet they complain their education isn’t providing the critical thinking needed for the jobs of tomorrow. They want better access to education – for without universal literacy sustained economic growth is impossible – and they demand higher-quality education.

There’s little tolerance for corruption. There’s a demand that education be improved. Government workers who think that they can slack on the job or teachers who count on not teaching classes, will be held to account. Social media makes possible a level of accountability that would have been unimaginable even ten years ago – before YouTube and micro blogs and Twitter and texting and the like.



About James McGregor
James McGregor is an American author, journalist and businessman who has lived in China for more than 25 years. Currently, he is chairman of APCO Worldwide, Greater China. A professional speaker and commentator who specializes in China’s business, politics and society, he regularly appears in the media to discuss China-related topics. McGregor is the author of the books "No Ancient Wisdom, No Followers: The Challenges of Chinese Authoritarian Capitalism" (2012) and "One Billion Customers: Lessons from the Front Lines of Doing Business in China" (2005). He also wrote the 2010 report "China’s Drive for ‘Indigenous Innovation’ – A Web of Industrial Policies." From 1987 to 1990 McGregor served as The Wall Street Journal’s bureau chief in Taiwan, and from 1990 to 1994 as the paper’s bureau chief in Mainland China. From 1994 to 2000, he was chief executive of Dow Jones & Company in China. After leaving Dow Jones, he was China managing partner for GIV Venture Partners, a $140 million venture capital fund specializing in the Chinese Internet and technology outsourcing. In 1996, McGregor was elected as chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China. He also served for a decade as a governor of that organization. He is a member of the Atlantic Council, Council on Foreign Relations, National Committee on US-China Relations and International Council of the Asia Society. He serves on a variety of China-related advisory boards.

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