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July 07, 2005

How Are Young Indians and Chinese Different?

Peter Coy

How are young Indians and Chinese different from their elders? Are they smarter? Lazier? More creative? Less obedient? How will their differences affect the development of the two nations in coming decades, in everything from consumption patterns to technological advancement?

01:04 PM

Whenever a country modernize there is speculation that the new generation will be dramatically different from those that preceded it, in particular more Westernized. Much of that speculation is based on superficial observations regarding rock music and the like; however most systematic studies show that new generation retain much (though not all) of the core values of their culture. Cultures change, if at all, very slowly, what is changing is the environment in which they live, their living standards, opportunities for advancement and self-fulfillment. Young Chinese and Indians certainly have more opportunities today, and it is easier to be ambitious and hard working when these qualities are rewarded.

Posted by: Oded Shenkar at July 7, 2005 01:25 PM

According to some latest pollings, living in a better life and a more open society, young generations in China are more individualistic, more consumerist, less obedient, and more knowledgeable about the world. The country will have a better-educated work force, and the eagerness about a successful career is quite high.

Young generations are optimistic and positive; personal interest and high income are top factors in choosing a job while the concern about stableness of job is quite low.

Regarding the potential of technology innovation, about 65% high school students express they are not interested in science. This exposes one of the biggest problems with Chinese education, college admission-centered, suppressing the interest about science.

Posted by: Wang Yong at July 8, 2005 06:56 AM

I have two daughters. One is 23 and the other is 20. We have raised them partly in India and partly, overseas. I see their generation at close quarters also because, my company has 2500 people - mostly, twenty somethings. I often travel to non-urban Indian places and I watch young people there. Here is what I think of them.

When I look at my two daughters, it amazes me that they never lost a day in school or college due to a "student strike". We have before us, a generation that did not turn to streets because they were deeply unhappy about something. The last student movement in India was on an issue related to reservations but that itself was not a national movement of any significance. The last time students seriously took to streets was when Indians protested the emergency in 1975-76.

The current generation has, by and large, rejected politics as a prime mover.

They have grown up with a TV and a telephone either at home or in the vicinty.

They have watched MTV but washed their hands before dinner.

They still go the temple and most of them seriously believe that God exists.

For the first time, it is OK in India for a kid to say that he or she wants to be a theater person, a singer, a fashion designer, a writer, a cricket player as a profession without parents losing sleep.

It also means that they had multiple choices to pick up a role model.

For the first time in India, business is not a bad word. It is okay, to be a businessman.

When I look at young people around me, I see more hope than helplessness. More aspiration than angst.

Posted by: Subroto Bagchi at July 8, 2005 08:18 PM

These set of questions are primarily about the differences between the younger and older generations within the two countries, but it is worth noting that China has experienced unprecedented economic transformations and other dramatic changes (including its political environment) in the last 25 year, exactly the time needed for a generation to grow up. In contrast, changes in India are less extraordinary and more gradual. Such a difference results in a much wider generation gap in China than that in India. Another thing we need to keep in mind is that not all the young people are the same, growing up in the same environment or thinking in similar ways, especially in India and China, where in both there is a huge development gap between the urban and rural areas and between the regions.

The young in urban China today are much more open-minded, better informed about the outside world, less politically indoctrinated, and more entrepreneurial in economic activities. They could be still nationalistic yet the value system is predominantly utilitarian and self-centered. They tend to seek better education, opportunities to study abroad as hundreds of thousands have done. None of these qualities can be said about the generation that grew up from the 1950s to 1970s. Among this new generation there will be very energetic and talented people emerging as social, economic, and political elites, and they are likely to guide the Chinese economy all the way to rival that of the United States by the time they retire. Many of them will study in the US, Japan and other advanced industrialized countries. Unlike the last generation of Chinese students who went abroad and stayed abroad, the new generation of students who go abroad will return to China as they see that?? where the future is and where they can make a good living.

However, the majority of young Chinese live in the countryside: there are still 900 million classified as rural population, and 600-700 million are still trying to make a living in the agricultural sector. Some 200 million are surplus labor, and most of them are now floating population. The young people in rural China are experiencing similar kinds of changes but not quite at the same level of intensity as those in the cities, and they also face a new set of challenges: they no longer want to remain in the rural areas, either out of desperation or out of the desire for a better life in the cities. They venture into cities but many young males end up doing hard labor, such as in the booming construction industry. Many young women from rural areas go to cities, working mostly in the low-paid service industry, and many of them also end up in the fast-growing prostitution trade. They form a huge army of internal migration that is likely to become the largest urbanization movement in human history, moving hundreds of millions from the Chinese countryside to the cities in the next few decades. They will also join a growing and young urban unemployed population. Together, they will put tremendous pressure on the government to continue the current pace of economic growth, and they are likely to be the core element of social instability when things go wrong or their expectations are not met.

I would like to hear from other colleagues who are more familiar with India. There might be some global trends affecting people across borders, but my understanding is that the young in India are not growing up in such a quickly changing and dramatic environment as their counterparts in China.

Posted by: Wenran Jiang at July 9, 2005 01:22 AM

There is, as Subroto has outlined, an exciting expansion of opportunities in India. But it is not yet clear if this is greater than the parallel reality of simmering frustration. This contrast is visible in cities and villages alike -- for there is now substantial rural affluence.

For those young people who are 'in the loop' and in a position to tap the new opportunities things are changing fast. For those who are left out, who have nothing more than their labor to sell for a bare subsistence daily wage, there is a dark stagnation. This is partly why armed Marxist-Leninist groups are able to wield considerable power over large tracts of three states in India.

In this context there are no simple, uniform answers to the questions posed above. But if we limit our view to the young Indians who are even on the edge of the expanding opportunities, there is certainly a greater ??o getting?energy than before. The iconic status of Infosys is largely about it being the creation of regular middle class folk who rose to the top through sheer skill, dedication and honesty – not by manipulating a license-quotas system. The ripples of confidence triggered by such examples were not there twenty years ago and are thus important to celebrate.

However, these ripples don’t reach those young Indians who are at present completely out of the loop – either because they are mal-nourished, or insufficiently educated or unable to cope with an English speaking world. There is a real fear that India could become a competitive global economy and still leave hundreds of millions out in the cold. In which case the potential advantage of a large working age population would become a nightmare. The jury is still out on whether India’s current growth trajectory can ward off this scenario.

Posted by: Rajni Bakshi at July 9, 2005 08:42 AM

I agree the assessment of Wang Yong on young generations in China, more individualistic, more consumerist, less obedient, and more knowledgeable about the world, more creative (I add), which actually depicted the characters of young Chinese in urban areas. Here I want to describe some special conditions that may not be common in either India or western countries and that may be used to explain some special characters in young Chinese. The first one is the One Child condition. In the new generation of urban areas, a boy or a girl is almost always the center of a family. Extraordinary care is taken to the child by the whole family (usually father, mother, grandfather and grandmother). The second one is the extremely tough education competition. A primary school student usually needs to study very hard to upgrade to a famous middle school, then a middle school student usually also needs to study very hard to upgrade to a famous high school, and then to a famous university. Any failure in this career path will result in leaving the main stream, therefore the psychological pressure of urban area children is usually very high.

I am more concern on the children in rural areas as Wenran Jiang commented. These constitute the largest part of the young Chinese population. As the urbanization movement is expanded from coast areas to inner areas of China, the education condition in these rural areas is also being improved. However more efforts still need to be made to improve the living and education conditions of these young generations.

Posted by: Jiang Li at July 10, 2005 04:33 AM

I believe the young generations of China are overall stronger than the elder ones. They will greatly move forward the development of the nation in coming decades in everything from technology to ideology?

Posted by: Jiang Li at July 11, 2005 09:51 AM

I think the more interesting aspect of this question may be, not what is the difference in orientation and attitudes of younger and older people today but the differences in how the older people thought about the world when they were as young as the youth today, and the the young today.

A principal difference in India, I notice, is the attitude towards money and wealth. In my younger days, wealth did not automatically or easily give you high esteem. Now, wealth seems to have become the most important indicator of a person's worth.

In those days, a question one had about rich people was, “I wonder what else is good about this person for me to respect him?” As a contrast, I was asked when I moved to the US in the late 80's, by an American colleague, “If you are so good, how come you are not rich?” Indian youth think more in this way now. Jobs and careers are valued mostly in money terms, whereas in those earlier times,'service to the nation' was an important source of status, compensating greatly for less money.

The admiration of wealth is an orientation that will accelerate the growth of India in money terms. We need economic growth, therefore this shift must be good for the economic side of India. I am nostalgic, however, for the idealism that I found, in much greater measure, in young people in those earlier times.

Posted by: arun maira at July 11, 2005 10:54 AM

Our company Grey Worldwide China has been tracking Chinese consumers attitudes, beliefs and values in the past 10 years and in-depth research amongst specific groups, including Chinese youths.

Youths in China are behaving quite differently from youths some ten twenty years ago and from their parents. Apart from what has been said by our panel of experts, the biggest difference is Chinese youths today are optimistic and more confident. In most urban areas, life has improved significantly and they no longer need to worry about having enough to eat or to wear. They can afford to go after higher hierarchy of needs.

The biggest difference is in the past, young people's aspiration is to have job security. Work for a big company, or get respectable job with the government or be a teacher/professor. Today, many more young people want to be their own boss. They are more willing to take risks, change jobs for a better future. Some of the youth idols are no longer just superstars on TV. They include internet song writers and internet writers who started their own business and may not even have completed college.

The other signficant change is young people knows how to ENJOY life. It is not just about work and making money. The best is if they can combine learning and enjoyment. That's why going on trips is so popular because it is both a learning experience and enjoyment.

This means that experential marketing will be big and of growing importance to market to Chinese consumers.

Posted by: Viveca Chan at July 12, 2005 02:32 AM

To give you the perspective of ‘the young’, I threw this question to two of my managers in the Deloitte Asia Pacific Regional Office – one of Indian origin, and the other Chinese. Here is what they said.

China

“I think the behaviour and attitude of young Chinese (those below 30 with higher education) is quite different in mainland China and Hong Kong. In mainland China, the young are quite spoiled by their parents as a result of the ‘one child’ policy. They are known to be quite self-centred and keen to express their ideas. Due to the open door policy and increasing exposure to the western world, they are aggressive and hardworking and look to seize every opportunity. Young Mainland Chinese are also enthusiastic to embrace knowledge and are highly adaptive to new technology. They are willing to spend on high-end technology products (digital cameras, ipods) or luxury items like Gucci and Louis Vuitton – even if they have to save a significant portion of their income to do so. Young Mainland Chinese are also quite patriotic.

In Hong Kong, young Chinese are well exposed to the West and their eagerness to acquire new knowledge is therefore relatively less than those in mainland China. They have more a ‘take it for granted’ attitude. On the other hand, young Hong Kong Chinese are certainly creative and smart; they are also efficient in problem solving. They closely follow technology trends, and especially chase after Japanese and Korean products. Since they are well blessed with material goods, many of them have a passion to lead a yuppie lifestyle.”

India

“One of the biggest advantages the youth of India have is mobility. It is very easy for them to move about the country and follow the opportunities; an edge the Chinese youth do not currently have.

The youth of India are quickly adapting to new technologies, and English is now being more widely accepted and spoken than before. India’s youth have a very unique advantage, a combination of mobility, language, education, a thirst for knowledge and technology savvy nature. Add to that a country that has an entrepreneurial spirit and a very clear intent to adapt to western culture, and you have a very solid case.

But it’s not all ‘hunky dory’ for the Indian youth. Parents of the burgeoning middle class in India are driving their children ever harder at academic and other activities. They believe this is the only way to stand out and survive in a system which is cut throat because of the exploding population, and as education becomes more and more accessible to the masses. The 18-25 year olds have now started to look at different professions besides becoming a doctor, engineer, lawyer, or government official; jobs that the earlier generations were expected to pursue, and did. Alternative professions are also beginning to gain credibility amongst parents.

The youth today are definitely more aware of the choices available to them. The large, middle class youth seem to be grounded within the value system and culture, since it is so unique. They are also more creative. The environment that currently exists warrants that, and competition ensures that creativity is likely to be the best way to get ahead.

Though it is largely believed that the "culture-and-value-system-torch-bearing" youth are losing their way, I still believe that relates to a small percentage. The combination of the Indian value system and the western approach is a winning one and if the Indian youth can manage to achieve the right balance, global organizations will court their skills vigorously.”

Posted by: Manoj Singh, CEO Deloitte Asia Pacific at July 12, 2005 04:05 AM

Every generation will experience change and so will India and China. This will be more dramatic especially in the context of development. Social changes are what is rapidly driving this as is evident from a walk around the Indian cities and even rural areas. I am unable to comment about China but I guess similar forces must be unleashed there from the comments above.

Simply put, young Indians are more aware about the world they live in. They are more materialistic (this is not to suggest that the spiritual side was more dominant earlier).They are consumers in the true sense. Frugality and conservation are not the virtues they grow up in. How can they ?

They are exposed to satellite TV (there was only 1-2 state run channels in India when I grew up), the internet (DSL/Cable access is growing but cyber cafes remain a key access point), freer access to social interaction, mobility (global and virtual). They are global citizens. Adoption of styles and fashion from anywhere (America still dominates) is quick.

But as several surveys have shown this openness and confidence does come with some sense of humility and purpose. I feel confident that they can dream and achieve. My generation could only dream. We we were hostage to a system that did not let us unshackle ourselves.

Posted by: Saurav Adhikari at July 15, 2005 04:10 AM


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