Thursday, September 10, 2009
Changing of the guard?
I met up with a friend yesterday who teaches business to graduate students here in Hong Kong. These kind of programs have grown in popularity while I've been living in Hong Kong, presumably because they are extremely profitable for the universities. They draw students from around the world - India, the US, the UK, and the mainland. Because I'll be giving a talk to a class of these students again this year, I asked the professor whether there was anything different about this class. Yes, he said. This year, the mainland students have arrived much more confident and even nationalistic. The financial crisis has emboldened them to feel that China's system is superior, and they could be very vocal in response to what you say about their country. Putting aside for the moment the question of system superiority, we all know that the environment you graduate into (whether from high school, college or grad school) affects how you see the world: graduating into Japan's big bang permanently altered the expectations of a generation of Japanese my age, for instance. And for Brits who graduated around the time my husband did, their troubles finding work dimmed their views of their country. What I hadn't considered is how the humbling of America, Inc over the past year will affect the way young Chinese see themselves - not just university students, but also middle class people like Lu Yuan, the woman in this photo. It's been a matter of hot debate among academics and business people here over the last few weeks: the shifting of the world order. While I haven't seen a definite rise in swagger among the Chinese students I know, this financial crisis has no doubt affected their views of the world and how they fit into it. I'm interested to see what, if anything, that means for China's policy and economy five, 10, 20 years down the line.